Page 1

JANUARY 28 – FEBRUARY 4 / 2021 | FREE Volume 55 | Number 2763





GREEN FINANCE New Vancity CEO Christine Bergeron is aiming for a net-zero-emission loan portfolio by 2040; plus, how to dig yourself out of debt






Consumer proposals are an option for major debt loads


January 28 – February 4 / 2021



Vancity’s new president and CEO, Christine Bergeron, is trying to implement an audacious goal: a carbonneutral loan portfolio.

by Martin Dunphy

By Charlie Smith Cover photo by Shimon Karmel



Vancouver’s Tamara Taggart and an apparel company teamed up to tackle a sexist term used to discredit women’s COVID-19 concerns. By Craig Takeuchi



Reverse mortgages enable people 55 years of age and older to borrow up to 55 percent of the value of their property. By Carlito Pablo

When faced with seemingly unsurmountable debt, insolvent B.C. residents choose consumer proposals over bankruptcy more than half of the time. Photo by Ehud Neuhaus/Unsplash.


t’s no secret that Canadians have been struggling financially because of the coronavirus pandemic, especially those in the low- to middle-income tax brackets. And the new year isn’t bringing much relief for many. A combination of postholiday bills coming due, deferred-payment programs for mortgages and credit-cards possibly ending, and even repayments of (and paying taxes on) federal financialsupport programs like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) might start weighing heavily on the minds of many. Equifax Canada reported last November that about 900,000 Canadians had taken advantage of mortgage deferrals and about 1.2 million had put off creditcard payments under programs offered by banks and other lending institutions. Although those deferrals should not affect credit ratings, the bills will still have to be paid. Results from a January 18 Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of MNP Ltd., a national insolvency-services company, found that almost 30 percent of Canadians are insolvent, meaning that they cannot meet all of their monthly financial obligations. When those who are only about $200 or less away from that status are added, that figure jumps to almost half of Canadians. Many financial experts advise those on the brink of financial crisis to create a strict monthly budget, pay off debts as quickly as possible, and avoid using credit. Those and others who might also be holding on to limited financial resources for fear of future hardships should probably take advantage of free credit-counselling services, such as those offered by the Credit Counselling Society. For those who are in a serious financial situation, where no way out is seen and creditors are in contact for repayment, there are options. One is consolidation of personal debts into one loan with a consistent interest rate



and set monthly payments. This can provide peace of mind by allowing debtors to concentrate on a single creditor, although the debts will all still have to be repaid, and interest still accrues. Another option is declaring personal bankruptcy, which is a relatively drastic measure that would probably see liquidation of most assets for distribution to creditors. This is usually done with the assistance of a licensed insolvency trustee (LIT) or with the help of the federal Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy Canada (OSB). Then there are what are known as “consumer proposals” to creditors, which is a legally binding but less onerous option to insolvency—again, done with the assistance of an LIT—that involves making offers to your creditors to pay off debts less than $250,000 within a fi xed period (not to exceed five years). Some proposals may include only a percentage of what is owed. Consumer proposals are fi led with the OSB, and creditor payments, lawsuits, and wage garnisheeing are all stopped at that point. Then creditors have 45 days to accept or reject the proposal. Lana Gilbertson, a Vancouver LIT and senior vice president of MNP Ltd., told the Straight in a phone interview that “more people in B.C. file proposals than bankruptcies” and that MNP offers a free consultation to consider all options. “It could be a one-hour meeting or a series of meetings.” Almost as important as a plan to get out from under a crippling debt load, Gilbertson said, is the peace of mind that comes with that. “To be honest, that feeling of relief starts as soon as they know their options. A common thing that I hear is that they’re not sleeping; they’re racked with worries.” Once a proposal is worked out, Gilbertson said, much of that worry is gone. “They are grateful and they feel like they have a new lease on life.” g

JANUARY 28 – FEBRUARY 4 / 2021



Composer Njo Kong Kie has created a multimedia cry of protest for workers, set to the poetry of a former Foxconn employee in Shenzhen. By Charlie Smith

e Start Here

13 15 14 2 8 6 10 12 13 14


Vancouver’s News and Entertainment Weekly Volume 55 | Number 2763 1635 West Broadway, Vancouver, B.C. V6J 1W9 T: 604.730.7000 F: 604.730.7010 E: gs.info@straight.com straight.com

CLASSIFIEDS: T: 604.730.7060 E: classads@straight.com

DISPLAY ADVERTISING: T: 604.730.7020 F: 604.730.7012 E: sales@straight.com

DISTRIBUTION: 604.730.7087

SUBSCRIPTIONS: 604.730.7000

EDITOR Charlie Smith SECTION EDITORS Mike Usinger (ESports/Liquor/Music) Steve Newton SENIOR EDITOR Martin Dunphy ASSOCIATE EDITOR John Lucas (Cannabis) STAFF WRITERS Carlito Pablo (Real Estate) Craig Takeuchi SOLUTIONS ARCHITECT Jeff Li ART DEPARTMENT MANAGER Janet McDonald

e Online TOP 5

Here’s what people are reading this week on Straight.com.

1 2 3 4 5

David Bowie’s final concert in Vancouver was a real doozy. COVID-19 in B.C.: Province at precarious point; several vaccine delays. Two Whistler restaurants and one in Vancouver have COVID-19 exposure events. Host of makeshift Vancouver nightclub hit with $2,500 in COVID fines. Rosemary Manor may be Vancouver’s most affordable condo building. @GeorgiaStraight


PETER WALL’S YALETOWN 1310 Richards Street, Vancouver • 604.261.0732


SAT & SUN 9AM-5PM Amazing Rental Incentives!

YALETOWN’S FINEST LIVING Studio ■ 1 Bedroom ■ 2 Bedroom


Located in the heart of Yaletown, overlooking English Bay and False Creek, Peter Wall Yaletown is a rare residential leasing opportunity www.pw-yaletown.com | suites@pw-yaletown.com

PETER WALL’S SHANNON MEWS 1515 W. 57th Avenue, Vancouver • 604.261.0732


SAT & SUN 9AM-5PM Amazing Rental Incentives!



1 Bedroom

2 Bedroom


Stunning, historical neighbourhood with many urban amenities. Close to shopping. www.pw-shannonmews.com | suites@pw-shannonmews.com JANUARY 28 – FEBRUARY 4 / 2021




Vancity aims for a new standard in green finance


by Charlie Smith

early 75 years ago—in October 1946—Vancity was officially designated as an open-bond credit union. Since that time, there has been a remarkable list of Vancity “firsts” in the financial-services sector. It was the first financial institution to offer mortgages to women without a male cosigner. It was the first with a daily-interest savings account and a socially responsible mutual fund. Among financial institutions, it launched the whole concept of registered education savings plans. Then, in 2003, foreshadowing its growing interest in sustainability, it became the first to offer preferred rates for those who bought low-carbon-emission vehicles. On January 18, the Vancity board appointed Christine Bergeron as president and CEO after she had been filling the role on an interim basis since Tamara Vrooman left last year. And Bergeron, a longtime advocate for sustainable finance, is planning to implement one of the credit union’s most audacious measures in its history. She’s hoping to make the entire loan portfolio carbon-neutral by 2040. It’s an astonishing goal when you consider that its loans and advances to members totalled almost $20 billion in its 2019 annual report. Vancity currently has $28.2 billion in assets plus assets under management, as well as 543,000 members, making it the largest community credit union in Canada. “We’ve been leaders, of course, with our own operations for many years,” Bergeron tells the Straight by phone. “But we also needed to do more with respect to what we finance and our actual portfolio. So we did put forward our commitments toward net zero by 2040 for all of our mortgages and loans.” For those unfamiliar with high finance, it’s not unprecedented for companies to strive to be carbon-neutral in their operations. Vancity was the first to do this among Canadian financial institutions several years ago. Nowadays, many organizations laud this as a standard, even if the products they ship or the business they’re in is highly polluting. As an example, TC Energy tried to win political support for the $10-billion Keystone XL pipeline by promising it would be carbon-neutral with its operations. However, the 830,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen being mined, shipped through the pipeline, and later refined and burned would exceed, each year, the annual output of carbon dioxide emissions from all of British Columbia. That’s why this project was killed by the new U.S. president, Joe Biden. It’s something altogether different to make a loan portfolio carbon-neutral, especially if you’re in the business of financing the purchase of buildings, which were responsible for 26 percent of Metro 4


Vancity’s board appointed sustainability advocate Christine Bergeron as its president and CEO after she had been filling that position on an interim basis since last year. Photo by Shimon Karmel.

How do we collectively think of shifting to a future that is cleaner and…also fairer? – Vancity CEO Christine Bergeron

Vancouver’s greenhouse-gas emissions in 2019. Transportation sources accounted for another 35 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions in the region that year, according to Metro Vancouver. “Basically, the carbon that gets emitted—from anything we finance—we want

JANUARY 28 – FEBRUARY 4 / 2021

to work to eliminate and significantly reduce that,” Bergeron explains. That will likely mean financing a much larger percentage of zero-emission vehicles and retrofits to existing homes and other buildings to reduce emissions. It could conceivably entail much greater use of carbon offsets to achieve this goal. “We really have been trying to be clear that it’s really not about what others are trying to do,” the Vancity CEO emphasizes. “We’re not really trying to compete in that sense. It really is more about putting this forward to challenge all of us together.” That includes governments, businesses, and the community. “How do we collectively think about shifting to a future that is cleaner and, ultimately

for us, also fairer?” she adds. “We know it’s going to be difficult, so we’re not naive to the work that’s required to get there.” Bergeron readily acknowledges that it’s very difficult to decarbonize commercial buildings. But she sees this as critically important for future generations. As a mother of eight- and 10-year-old sons, she is highly conscious that the choices she makes as a CEO can have a profound impact on their future. “So we’re on a path to work with others to think through how do we do this,” Bergeron says. “And how do we give the tools to our members—who are the ones buying a home or building a building—to do that in a way that’s more sustainable? So whether it’s retrofits, whether it’s about thinking about other resources, or financial products that really help people reduce the emissions from their homes and commercial buildings: that’s the work ahead.” So how did Bergeron become such an environmental keener? It wasn’t the result of some epiphany emerging from a long walk in the woods, though she does admit to a love of cycling and cross-country skiing. It came more as a result of nuts-andbolts business. Back in 2001, she was a founding team member of Vancouver-based Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital, as well as its vice president of investments. It was initially focused on fuel-cell technology before it later broadened its interest into cleantech. The firm looked at companies from around the world, and she discovered that even though certain organizations—like a solar-power outfit, for example—might have been doing great things for the environment, they may not have been treating their employees well. “So for me it really became this broader view of the social elements as well as the environmental elements,” Bergeron says, “and how do you think about business in that broader sense for the purpose and the positives that they can contribute to society?” Almost a decade ago she joined Vancity, first to help build out an impact investment fund. According to her, the credit union was looking to make direct equity investments to generate positive outcomes in businesses. From there, she rose up the ladder by becoming the director of community business for a couple of years; then the vice president of impact investing, wealth management, and community real estate for just over a year; and then chief member-services officer and senior vice president of member experience and community engagement. Along the way, she taught some courses at UBC’s Sauder School of Business. Bergeron says she loves teaching because it

see next page

keeps her humble. That’s because students ask questions that often bring matters down to the basics. “When you don’t know a subject really, really well, it’s easy, actually, to stay higher level and much harder to make it very simple, right?” she declares. “So their energy and enthusiasm for the future would give me an equal amount of energy. “These days, you have MBAs with a focus on sustainability,” the CEO continues. “You’ve got courses on all these subjects. That was not the case 20, 25 years ago.” Sometimes, CEOs of financial institutions can come across as reserved, buttoned-down, and very conservative. Although Bergeron can keep up with them on financial issues (just ask her what she’s doing as the North American board member on the United Nations Environment Programme’s Finance Initiative), she’s also refreshingly down to earth. This was clear when she discussed with her husband and sons last year whether she should take the Vancity CEO job on an interim basis. “It was a big commitment, obviously, for all of us,” Bergeron recalls. “And so I told my kids that we’d check in if they saw me enough and if they thought I was around for dinner enough. “I think my oldest is quite proud,” she adds. “Meanwhile, I think they also like to go play tag at night and ensure I’m perpetually ‘it’.” g


Hysterical Woman shirt tackles sexist term


by Craig Takeuchi

prominent Vancouverite and mother active in advocacy efforts has joined forces with a politically active Canadian clothing company to tackle sexist language used during debates about COVID-19 in British Columbia. Former news anchor Tamara Taggart joined forces with Calgary-based clothing company Madame Premier, which makes limited-edition fundraising shirts, to launch a capsule collection that addresses this issue. The collection includes shirts in black or white and a tote bag, available at the Madame Premier website. In an interview with News 1130, Taggart said that she heard the word hysterical being used during B.C. COVID-19 briefings to describe concerns about health measures and safety in schools. Accordingly, the shirt proudly states “Hysterical Woman” in a gothic heavymetal font. Madame Premier founder Sarah ElderChamanara explained that the effort aims to reclaim the term. It’s a strategy some minority groups use to neutralize slurs used against them, such as how LGBT communities reclaimed the words dyke and queer for themselves by using them for organizations.

Former Vancouver news anchor Tamara Taggart and Calgary’s Madame Premier launched the Hysterical Woman collection to counter how the term is used to invalidate women’s concerns.

The term has a centuries-long discriminatory history of being used to undermine and dismiss opinions and points made by women (as well as by LGBT people in recent decades) and as a means to control, suppress, and disempower women. In fact, “female hysteria” was once a medical diagnosis used for women exhibiting mental-health symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, irritability, expression of or loss of sexual desire, and more. The good news is that 30 percent of net proceeds from these shirts will be donated to Vancouver’s Battered Women’s Support

Services (BWSS). This cause is particularly timely because during the pandemic, many women and children have suffered from having to remain at home with abusive partners, parents, or other family members. BWSS, founded in 1979, offers education, advocacy, and support services for all women, with the goal of eliminating violence and to promote equality for all women. Last week, Taggart posted a photo on Instagram of herself wearing a shirt that says “Hysterical Mother”, and she delved into some of the etymology of the term. g

JANUARY 28 – FEBRUARY 4 / 2021




Vaccine queue jumpers generate angry responses Even Dr. Bonnie Henry has joined the chorus of those slamming a former casino executive and a local actor


by Charlie Smith and Craig Takeuchi

ore details have emerged about how a Vancouver couple that jumped the vaccine queue ended up being charged under Yukon’s Civil Emergency Measures Act. The former president and CEO of Great Canadian Gaming, Rodney Baker, and his actor girlfriend, Ekaterina Baker, posed as employees of a motel in the remote community of Beaver Creek. As a result, they were able to get the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, which was being administered at a mobile vaccination clinic to all the town’s residents. They have each been charged with two counts of violating the act, with each offence carrying a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $500 fine. In an interview with Mike Smyth on CKNW Radio, Yukon’s minister of community services, John Streicker, said the couple flew to Whitehorse and was supposed to remain in quarantine at their hotel for 14 days. Instead, they violated

Funeral & Cremation Services Inc.

The Best is



Essential Online Cremation Package $845 Funeral Services Package

from $2698

604.831.3023 (24/7) 1209 - 207 West Hastings St, Vancouver, BC

www.amherstcremation.com 6


an undertaking to do this and chartered a plane to Beaver Creek, where the vaccines were being distributed. After being vaccinated in the remote community near the Alaska border, they asked for a lift back to the airport. And that aroused suspicion. Streicker said the vaccine team later called the motel and asked if the Bakers were working there. “The answer was ‘no’,” Streicker told Smyth. “So then the vaccine team called back to Whitehorse and talked to our civilemergency-measures enforcement folks.” The enforcement people headed to the Whitehorse airport to meet the chartered plane from Beaver Creek, but it was already on the landing strip. “Then the enforcement team went to the hotel where this couple had declared that they would be self-isolating,” Streicker continued. Because the Bakers had already checked out, the enforcement team then returned to the airport to see if they were taking a domestic flight. “They found them in the departure lounge heading back out of the territory and charged them there,” the cabinet minister said. Streicker also revealed to Smyth that an all-party committee had been convened to start amending the Civil Emergency Measures Act. However, no changes have been made so far to the law’s penalties because territorial officials are focused on keeping people safe during the pandemic. To date, only 70 Yukon residents have contracted COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. On January 25, Baker resigned as president and CEO of Great Canadian Gaming after the queue-jumping became public. Baker had collected more than $6.7 million in compensation in 2019. The previous year, his pay package added up to $6.2 million. So he’ll have no difficulty forking over $500 fines for failing to self-isolate and failing to follow a declaration. Ekaterina Baker has appeared in the 2020 films Chick Fight (starring Malin Akerman), Fatman (starring Mel Gibson), and The Comeback Trail (starring Robert De Niro, Tommy Lee Jones, and Morgan Freeman). But the couple may have more trouble living down the infamy that has resulted from their actions. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told reporters on January 25 that the Bakers should be ashamed of themselves. “They put a community at risk for their

JANUARY 28 – FEBRUARY 4 / 2021

Rodney Baker quit as CEO of Great Canadian Gaming Corp. after he and his girlfriend, local actor Ekaterina Baker, took a charter flight to Beaver Creek to get immunized against COVID-19.

They put a community at risk for their own benefit. – Dr. Bonnie Henry

own benefit,” Henry said. “And that, to me, is appalling.” Solicitor General Mike Farnworth described the couple’s actions as a “Marie Antoinette let-them-eat-cake moment”. “I can’t believe I’ve ever seen or heard of such a despicable, disgusting sense of entitlement and lack of a moral compass,” Farnworth told News 1130. By flying to the Yukon, the Bakers also disregarded Henry’s recommendation to British Columbians to avoid nonessential travel outside of the province. However, doing this does not leave them vulnerable to any penalties in this province. Beaver Creek is home to elderly and high-risk residents with limited access to

health care, which is why they were selected for early COVID-19 vaccinations. The Bakers’ decision to fly into the community has upset the White River First Nation, which alleged in a statement that they placed others at risk. Streicker has told many media outlets how angry Yukon residents are about what happened. “We were outraged,” he told Smith. “I don’t think that’s me alone, as the minister. And, especially, the folks in Beaver Creek are really choked that Canadians would act—that anybody would act—in such a selfish fashion to put themselves ahead of a community.” In addition, the queue-jumping has infuriated other Indigenous people in Canada, including Ginger Gosnell-Myers, the Nisga’a-Kwakwaka’wakw Indigenous Fellow with the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue. She pointed out over Twitter that these vaccines were meant for Indigenous elders. “A $500 fine does not fit this selfish crime,” Gosnell-Myers declared. Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq was equally outraged. “These people deserve a lot more than a fine, or at least a fine that reflects their financial status,” she tweeted. “This is unacceptable. They put a vulnerable community at risk.” g


Reverse mortgages helpful but are not for all


by Carlito Pablo

anadian homeowners are sitting on a pile of wealth. The value of residential properties across the country increased from at least $3.8 trillion in 2011 to more than $4.8 trillion in 2015. Although Statistics Canada has yet to update these numbers, the picture is sufficiently clear. Moreover, Canadians have a huge equity in their homes. (Home equity is the difference between the current value of a home and how much one owes on a mortgage or loan.) Home equity increases in two ways. First, the more payments an owner makes to chip away at the loan, the higher the person’s equity gets. Second, it rises as the value of the home increases. Based on another set of numbers by Statistics Canada, homeowners have an average home equity of 73.69 percent on their home’s value as of the second quarter of 2019. Michelle Byman is a Vancouver mortgage broker with more than 25 years of experience. Among the clients she has worked with are seniors who have significant equity on their homes. However, Byman related, a number of them were struggling to get by because they have limited incomes as pensioners. For many, getting a reverse mortgage worked. “It makes their lives easier,” Byman told the Straight in a phone interview. With a reverse mortgage, a homeowner who is at least 55 years old can tap into the equity by borrowing up to 55 percent of the value of the property. “You can take money out of your house tax-free,” Byman said. One does not have to make regular payments on the loan. The mortgage is not re-

According to Vancouver mortgage broker Michelle Byman, those who wish to make use of the equity built up in their homes have options, include reverse mortgages and refinancing.

payable until the homeowner sells or dies. “It doesn’t affect your pensions or anything because it is your money, and it comes out of your house,” Byman said. For a long time, there was only one financial institution that offered reverse mortgages in Canada: the HomeEquity Bank. Reverse mortgages in the country started in Vancouver in 1986 when accountant William Turner came up with the idea of a Canadian Home Income Plan, or CHIP. Turner founded the CHIP Corporation, which eventually offered its product in all provinces. The company became the HomEquity Bank (and, later, the HomeEquity Bank). The CHIP name became CHIP Reverse Mortgage. On January 14, 2020, HomeEquity Bank announced that it had processed $820 million in new reverse mortgages in 2019. In addition, the company noted that it had, at the time, a portfolio of about $4 billion in reverse mortgage loans. In 2018, Equitable Bank entered the reverse mortgage market, becoming the second

It doesn’t affect your pensions. It is your money, and it comes out of your house. – Michelle Byman

and only other institution to offer the service. “It’s nice to have competition,” Byman said of the two players in the industry. Reverse mortgages aren’t the only option available for homeowners who are 55 and older. Online, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation lists three ways to access equity without having to move or sell. One is through refinancing, which CMHC describes as “usually the simplest option”. One can borrow up to 80 percent of the home’s value and repay the loan in monthly installments. “This option often

4 874 E GEORGIA ST I $999,000

604 983 E HASTINGS ST I $489,000

2 bed, 1 bath, 1,189 SF renovated Penthouse Co-op Terrific floor plan fts. fir floors, bright open kitchen w/ quartz counters, island, exposed brick & integrated fridge. The spacious living room has a gas fireplace & French doors opening to a Juliet balcony. Features a covered south-facing deck with a canopy of mature grape vines. Oversized Principal bedroom was originally 2 bedrooms & has a stained glass window & mountain views OPEN BY APPT: THURS Jan 28th, 5 - 7pm OPEN BY APPT: SAT Jan 30th, 2 - 4pm OPEN BY APPT: SUN Jan 31st, 2 - 4pm

1 bed + den, 1 bath, 575 SF Strathcona Condo Open gourmet kitchen with s/s appliances & stone counters + a balcony with bright North/East/South views Perfect for 1st time buyers, investors, young families or anyone looking to WFH. Close to Downtown, shopping, and some amazing amenities. BONUS: Parking, personal bike storage locker

provides the best interest rate,” the housing agency explains. A second way is the Home Equity Line of Credit. With a HELOC, one can borrow up to 65 percent of the home’s value. Borrowers are required to make minimum monthly payments on the interest. The interest rate is variable. The line of credit can be combined with a regular mortgage to a maximum of 80 percent of the home’s value. The third one is a reverse mortgage. It’s a “more complex contract”, according to CMHC. Moreover, “This option is ultimately more expensive, and seeking independent legal advice is highly recommended.” In the interview, Byman noted that interest rates on reverse mortgages are higher than standard home-purchase loans. “People have to keep in mind that it is a compounding interest,” she said. This means that interest accrues and the loan keeps getting bigger. As a result, the equity gets less and less. “If somebody is figuring that they’re going to leave the full equity in their house to their kids, then it’s probably not a good idea,” Byman said. She also said that a reverse mortgage may not be a good idea for homeowners who are still able to make regular payments on their loans. The fixed rate for a five-year mortgage is currently less than two percent. According to Byman, a five-year rate on a reverse mortgage is presently at least 3.49 percent. “If people can afford to make their mortgage payments, why would you do a reverse mortgage at this time?” Byman said. As with a lot of things, she noted, a reverse mortgage is not for everybody. “Neither is a Ferrari,” she added. g

OPEN BY APPT: THURS Jan 28th, 5 - 7pm OPEN BY APPT: SAT Jan 30th, 2 - 4pm OPEN BY APPT: SUN Jan 31st, 2 - 4pm JANUARY 28 – FEBRUARY 4 / 2021




Sutton West Coast Realty I 301-1508 W Broadway




Second B.C. restaurant shutdown can be avoided

Here is some context for an online commentary on Straight.com that enraged many hospitality workers


by Charlie Smith

ast week, I ticked off a fair number of restaurant-industry workers with an online-only commentary offering 10 service tips for a pandemic. The hostile reaction indicated that the only tips they’ll ever want from me are gratuities—if I’m even allowed in the place. Here’s the fallout. It prompted many commenters to conclude I was entitled. Others thought I was a jerk. One suggested that if I entered their restaurant, someone should spit in my food. I’ve been banned from the Keefer Bar. I was described as a high-school writer and tone deaf by the owner of one restaurant that I’ve tried to promote in the past. And on it went. C’est la vie. Now for some context. I worked in the hotel business for many years, both at the front desk and waiting on tables. I worked in a hotel beer store. I was robbed at gunpoint at the front desk and at knifepoint in the beer store. I survived just fine. In addition, I worked at a fine-dining restaurant many years ago. I pay attention to service because of all of these experiences. I also know that although restaurants appear glamorous to customers, it’s a real grind. And as a hotel night auditor, I spent a fair amount of time swapping stories with people who worked in the bar and restaurant before I balanced their ledgers. Bouncers didn’t have it easy either. As a server, I attempted to be as efficient as possible. Like many working today, I would scan the room, trying to figure out what everyone needed. This ensured I could make the most of each trip onto the floor. If I was doing my job well, I would spot whether the ashtray needed replacing (yes, people smoked in restaurants then) or if the water glass needed a refill before the customer asked for this. I eat out a lot—up to four or five dinners a week. It’s one of life’s pleasures. I’m respectful to servers and I don’t bill the company for my meals. It’s probably going to come as a surprise to my critics, but I never intended this online commentary to be taken as an attack on restaurant workers. Chalk that up to my stupidity. I mentioned 10 restaurants by name in the column that did something I liked over the past year. I thought that would convey my appreciation. But it was clearly felt as an attack by many readers, even though it was an attempt to wake people up to the downside of not taking COVID-19 seriously. In retrospect, had I known it would have elicited this reaction, I would have written some things differently and acknowledged the difficulty of working in a pandemic.



The pandemic has been particularly tough on restaurant workers, who toil in exceptionally difficult conditions. Photo by Jay Wennington/Unsplash.

Here’s the point, folks: the Toronto restaurant business has been shut down for a second time and for a long time. There’s no dine-in service in Canada’s largest city. We certainly don’t want that in Vancouver. And if we take COVID-19 protocols seriously and address customers’ fears and concerns, we’re less likely to endure a second shutdown. The emergence of COVID variants has heightened the risk for the industry. I’m freaked about COVID, but I still eat out for dinner frequently, and for several reasons. First off, I’m busier than ever at work as a result of the pandemic. I also feel it’s imperative to support our restaurants because they’re a cornerstone of the culture of our city. It’s why I recently gave very positive reviews to two of my favourites, Les Faux Bourgeois and Maenam. One is on the East Side; one is on the West Side. Normally, reviewers visit new restaurants, but I chose to write about two of the great existing places. It’s why I highlighted one of the city’s sensational chefs, Michel Jacob at Le Crocodile, in our Best of Vancouver issue. He’s been written about a million times before, but I thought that right now he could use a boost. If we were to lose landmark restaurants like Les Faux Bourgeois, Maenam, and Le Crocodile, it would be like cutting the creative heart out of the culture of the city. Because I want restaurants to thrive, I recommended four in West Vancouver in last week’s paper. It’s why I’ve highlighted Ismaili

JANUARY 28 – FEBRUARY 4 / 2021

There’s no dine-in service in Canada’s largest city. – Charlie Smith

restaurants across the region, as well as a little family-run Indonesian place in Marpole. It’s why I have been encouraging our writers at every weekly story meeting since late last year to write food articles during this pandemic. I was happy when staff writer Carlito Pablo wrote last week about Grit in Port Moody. I’m glad that another staff writer, Craig Takeuchi, has made time in his busy schedule to write about several restaurants. Because live music is dead right now— unlike dine-in restaurants—I asked another writer, Mike Usinger, to write a great deal more about liquor. And he has delivered. I believe he’s writing the best weekly liquor column in Canada. He wasn’t writing a regular column on liquor before the pandemic. THE BIG PICTURE

Billionaires, most of whom live out of province, own many grocery stores. As

the percentage of food spending increases for groceries and declines for restaurants, it makes the billionaires with out-ofprovince shareholders wealthier. And it devastates the local restaurant industry, a lifeblood of our city’s culture. If all of us who are employed can all keep our restaurant food-spending percentage at prepandemic levels, we’re supporting local small businesses and keeping restaurant workers employed. I’m spending a higher percentage of my income dining out now than before the pandemic. If we can avoid being Covidiots, the restaurant trade won’t be shut down a second time, like it has been in Toronto. Kudos to Ian Tostenson at the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association and his members for all the hard work they’re doing to prevent this from happening. It’s especially important as we head toward Dine Out Vancouver. (See the story on the opposite page.) BCRFA members know that it’s better for patrons to dine in rather than pay some commission to a corporate food-delivery service. That’s because that commission also goes into the pockets of shareholders, almost all of whom don’t live here. I’ve never ordered from the corporate food-delivery services. Not once. I don’t have their apps on my phone. I pick up takeout myself at the restaurants. I’ll reiterate what I wrote in the online piece: please think about patronizing the

see next page

FOOD higher-end establishments if you can afford it. That’s because they may not be able to generate as much income from takeout. And they’re the ones that have often spent more upgrading their ventilation systems to make for safer dining experiences. Last September, our regular food writer, Gail Johnson, resigned, which saddened me. Our newsroom is much smaller because of the pandemic, but I wanted to ensure that after she left, the restaurant industry would continue to be covered. Clearly, my online commentary wasn’t how the food workers wanted this to be done. Fair enough. But don’t even try to suggest that the restaurant industry is paying my wage, because that’s blatantly false. I laughed out loud when a high-profile bartender in our town made this claim in the comments section. That’s because years ago, many restaurants shifted marketing budgets in ways that sharply reduced advertising in media outlets like ours. They prefer marketing with PR agencies. It’s a similar tale in other industries. As the PR industry has grown, media companies shrank to the point where publicists have trouble finding anyone to write about their clients. It’s why we no longer have the West Ender, Asian Pacific Post, and Vancouver Courier newspapers, which all provided exceptional restaurant coverage in their heyday. Our company has spent, easily, tens of thousands more dollars each year covering food and drinks and featuring people in this local industry than we have generated in revenue. This has gone on for many years. TO REVIEW OR NOT TO REVIEW?

So now to the million-dollar question: why the hell did Charlie write that commentary if he likes the restaurant industry? It sprang from a meal that I recently ate. The food was fine. The décor was impressive. I’ve eaten in two other restaurants owned by this group and I was very satisfied there as well. But the service wasn’t close to what I’ve experienced at the two other places. I am not going to go into the details except to say that I didn’t feel I got my money’s worth. I went to this place specifically to review it. I don’t announce these visits beforehand. The server was a young guy, and I think he was inexperienced. It may have been his first or second week, but maybe not. I didn’t want to get him in trouble with his bosses by writing an honest review. And I didn’t want to inflict damage on this particular establishment in a pandemic. So, instead, I wrote a commentary that highlighted many service successes I’ve experienced during the past year. Hence, the naming of 10 restaurants that have done things I like. I could have mentioned more by name, such as Tamam and Bodega on Main, which are other favourites. But for anyone who eats out as often as I

do, there are going to be disappointments, and I wrote about them too. A chronic one is not getting water after asking for it. In fact, it happened again on January 23 at another place I visit regularly, just as I was being hammered by the commenters online. The server, who is outstanding, apologized. I mentioned to her that the owner didn’t provide enough staffing on that evening. That was obvious because she and that restaurant’s other phenomenal server were run off their feet. The owner probably underestimated how busy it would be that night. COVID FEARS

I also know that readers were pissed about what they felt was my entitled view around seating. But from a customer’s perspective, if you’re worried about COVID-19, you don’t want to be in a high-traffic area or in proximity to people whom you suspect are not taking the pandemic seriously—particularly if there are alternatives. I’ll share a story. I was recently in Swad in West Vancouver. An elderly woman entered without a mask. She was literally trembling in fear. She covered her mouth with her hand as she shuffled toward the table. Even though I was eating, I immediately put on a mask to help put her mind at ease. Swad’s manager, Kamal Mroke, rushed over to the table with a mask for the woman. She immediately relaxed and was ready for her dining experience. Mroke offered an example of outstanding, thoughtful service. She appeared happy for the rest of the time I was there. I hope she returns. This incident also influenced me to write the commentary in order to convey the “COVID complex” that some diners have and which is having such a detrimental effect on the food and beverage industry. I know there are many people who will continue to think I’m a complete twit for highlighting the perspective of customers in the COVID era in the way that I did. Some thought I was acting like a COVID cop. But let’s keep an eye on the big picture: avoiding a restaurant shutdown. My intention was to convey that COVID-19 is a serious issue for many diners. COVID-19 is not only a potentially fatal respiratory illness but a circulatory disease that can cause havoc on the kidneys, brain, heart, and other internal organs. It causes cytokine storms, disrupting the immune response. Then there are the “long haulers”—about 10 percent of those admitted to hospital, according to published studies. They suffer for months after the virus clears their system. In life, we reap what we sow, so I’ll just take my lumps for the commentary. Not much I can do about that. The critics won’t change their mind. I know that. It’s normal to feel enraged when you don’t feel you’re getting your due. But if you’re thinking of spitting in my food, I would appreciate knowing about that in advance. That’s because I don’t want to contract COVID-19 from your saliva. g

At this year’s Dine Out Vancouver Festival, more than 330 restaurants will participate, offering their customers multicourse meals ranging from $15 to $54. Photo by Dine Out Vancouver.

Record-shattering number of participants in Dine Out


by Charlie Smith

his year’s Dine Out Vancouver Festival is the longest-lasting in its 19-year history. Running from February 5 to March 7, Tourism Vancouver’s annual fixed-price menu feast will have more than 330 participating restaurants. That shatters the previous record of just over 300 last year. Multicourse meals range in price from $15 to $54. This offers a tremendous bargain to diners and a fabulous opportunity to check out establishments that they’ve never tried before. “We are grateful and delighted to have a record number of restaurant partners participating in this year’s Dine Out Vancouver Festival,” Tourism Vancouver president and CEO Royce Chwin said in a news release. “Our restaurant and hospitality partners have implemented health and safety measures to ensure a comfortable experience and to protect both guests and their employees.” The Dine Out Vancouver website enables people to search by restaurant, menu price, cuisine, and neighbourhood. It also makes it possible to search for menus for breakfast and brunch, lunch, and dinner, as well as for takeout, vegetarian, and gluten-free options. “We encourage residents to stay local and support local, so that these celebrated businesses and exceptional culinary tal-

We encourage residents to stay local and to support local… – Tourism Vancouver’s Royce Chwin

ents are here for many years to come,” Chwin said. In addition, Dine Out Vancouver will include virtual culinary experiences, talks, and exhibits, including an online Valentine’s Day cooking class through Belgard Kitchen’s Apron Club. The hotel industry is also participating by offering a $50 gift card for each night— up to a maximum of five nights—for those who book rooms. This means diners can drink as much wine or craft beer as they like without having to worry about finding transportation home to the suburbs. The festival’s charitable partner is the B.C. Hospitality Foundation, which supports industry workers in crisis due to health reasons. g

JANUARY 28 – FEBRUARY 4 / 2021




Mixing coffee and liquor is a part of pandemic life


by Mike Usinger

ne of the strangest things about this most strange period in history is the way time, for many of us, is nowhere as important as it seemed a year ago. Think about what life was like in January of 2020. Assuming you weren’t independently wealthy, chronically underemployed, or unable to get out of bed in days with “day” in them, everything was on a schedule. The alarm went off at 7 a.m., work began at 9, lunch was at noon, and quitting time was at 5. After which, in a desperate and often futile attempt to make ends meet, you toodled off to your second job, embitteredly wondering why you couldn’t have been a trust-fund kid, tech genius, or one of the Olsen twins. Now that you’re working from home, you wake up around 10 a.m., spend 45 minutes doom-scrolling through Twitter, Instagram, and Tinder, then hop in the shower. After a 12 p.m. leisurely breakfast, it’s hard at it until lunch at 2, followed by happy hour at 3. And then, sometime around 5, it’s time to fix a double espresso spiked with Baileys and get seriously at it. Shit still gets done, but these days it’s on your terms. And who cares if you don’t cross the finish line on a project until 1 a.m. while wearing Deadpool pyjamas, duck slippers, and a Japanese-import tuque that reads “Cold Today Isn’t It?” And you know why shit gets done? The answer involves two crucial liquids: coffee and alcohol.

A balanced part of any pandemic breakfast includes a fresh and hot Scotch Coffee.

A prepandemic lifetime ago, those two used to mark very distinct parts of the average working day. Coffee was the bohemian breakfast that got you off and running in the morning and the soccer-mom speedball that kickstarted the afternoon. After punching out at 5, alcohol was the reward for surviving another day. But because the world is all messed up right now, it’s no surprise that the lines

between the two have become hopelessly blurred. And that’s okay, because coffee and alcohol have long had a relationship. Conventional thinking is that the first perfect union of the two started with the creation of the Irish coffee circa 1942. Popular legend traces the cocktail back to an airport near Limerick, Ireland, where bartender Joe Sheridan decided to create something unique and warming for a group of travellers who’d had their flight delayed. Cream, coffee, sugar, and whiskey went into the glass. When a clearly uppity American—probably a pioneering Brooklyn barista—asked, “Is this Brazilian coffee?”, Sheridan reportedly retorted, “No, that’s Irish coffee.”. Let’s flash forward a bit. Think about how far we’ve come in a short time when it comes to both coffee and cocktails. At some point in the ’50s, convenience started to become king, which is why your grandfather considered a steaming cup of instant Sanka the greatest thing this side of a Swanson TV dinner and prerolled cigarettes. By the ’70s cocktailmaking was becoming a lost art, unless your idea of fancy was a Jack and Coke. Then things changed, with artisanal attention to detail becoming a thing—and not just in Williamsburg. As anyone who’s been to Revolver on Cambie, Agro Coffee Roasters on Clark, or Kafka’s on Main will happily inform you, coffee is now a full-blown experience as much as a drink. And we’re not just talking the crema

on the espresso but the importance of things like acidity and flavour profiles. Yes, praising coffee for notes of “mulberry, cocoa nib, tangerine zest, thyme, and agave syrup” has become a thing. Snobbish? Fuck off—somewhere there’s a cup of Kirkland with your name on it. The rest of us will give up our freshly roasted beans when you pry them out of our flat-white-warmed hands. Beans, we might add, that usually speak to an undying devotion and loyalty to our favourite coffee shop. As for cocktail culture, as a dedicated liquor nerd, you know full well that we’re in a golden age that shows no sign of cresting any time soon. And speaking of things that won’t be ending, hello COVID-19. If there’s one good thing about the mess we’re all in, it’s that nothing is stopping you from accessorizing your 1 p.m. breakfast of toast and jam and coffee with a shot of whiskey. No one’s going to judge you, especially if you’ve just scored a sweet pair of Breaking Bad pyjamas. It’s called multitasking. Here’s a drink you can make to get your day underway. SCOTCH COFFEE

1.5 oz Glenmorangie 10 Year Old 1/3 oz Giffard chestnut syrup 4 oz quality coffee 1 oz cream Pour whisky, syrup, and coffee into a clear mug, mix, and float cream on top. g

Odd Society’s bourbon-style whisky a winner


by Mike Usinger

ometimes you’ve got to jump fast if you want to avoid being disappointed. Remember that time before the COVID-19 apocalypse that you waffled on buying tickets to see Paul McCartney at BC Place only to have it sell out in 17.2 seconds? So you ended up singing “Hey Jude” outside to the Terry Fox statue instead of having the time of your fool life in Row 2, where you had tickets on hold for a 15-minute window but couldn’t pull the trigger? The importance of being quick on the draw is particularly important if you’re a fan of Odd Society Spirits. The East Van distillery has just taken its first kick at the whiskey style that made legends out of Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel and Johannes “Jacob” Beam. For reasons that those who know their liquor history will get, Odd Society has dubbed its new release Powell Bourbon-Style Whisky. The reason for the word style? That would have everything to do with the fact that if a bourbon whisky isn’t made in America, you can’t call it bourbon. (While we’re talking technicalities, not only does it have to be produced in America, it needs to be made from at least 51 percent corn and matured in charred oak.) Powell Bourbon-Style Whisky ticks some of those boxes. The mash is 75 percent corn, 20 percent rye, and 10


Odd Society almost beats America at its own game with its bourbon-style whisky, which is worth getting before it’s gone.

five percent malted barley. As part of a collabo with the nearby Powell Brewery, the mash was soured overnight at the brewery, then aged for three years in virgin American white oak back at Odd Society. And what did we end up with? Here’s the thing—you’re not going to Kentucky, Lynch-

JANUARY 28 – FEBRUARY 4 / 2021

burg, or anywhere else in America anytime soon. And that’s okay because Odd Society has, if not almost beaten America at its own game with Powell BourbonStyle Whisky, at least added something truly outstanding to the conversation. Think burned honey and rich caramel with a gorgeously smooth espressolike finish. A whisky that gets you thinking no one’s going to judge you for having a second and maybe third splash before, during, and after dinner. Yes, it’s that outrageously good, to where you’ll start worrying about it being gone the second you pop the cork. And why is the thought of an empty Powell BourbonStyle Whisky bottle so horrifying? Remember how we talked about the importance of acting fast? Powell Bourbon-Style Whisky is the fourth in a series of Odd Society brewery-collaboration whiskies. The first three editions sold out almost overnight. This one has a limit of two bottles per person ($40 each, including tax) available at the distillery as of January 22. After that, you can try your luck online or at private liquor stores. But if you choose the latter, don’t forget that time you cheaped out on Paul McCartney tickets, thinking “Oh, he’ll be back in 2020. Or 2021. And I’ll get to sing ‘Hey Jude’ then. Not to mention ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ ”. g


PuSh’s Moon pays poetic tribute to the exploited


by Charlie Smith

ost people don’t think much about how their electronic devices are created. Somewhere in a factory in a faraway land, a worker is toiling to create a cellphone, a laptop, or a television set. But every once in a while, something dramatic occurs to force this issue into the consciousness of people living in the West. Like in 2010, when there were 10 suicide deaths at Foxconn’s operations in Shenzhen in China’s Guangdong province. Nearly every one of them threw themselves off a building, generating media coverage around the world. There were fewer suicides publicized in subsequent years, but one that occurred in 2013 again attracted global attention. This time, it was a 24-year-old poet, Xu Lizhi, who had come to Shenzhen several years earlier from a farming community in the southern province. One of his most famous poems was “I swallowed a moon made of iron”. It has been translated into English, and it encapsulates the misery of factory life. Here’s how it ends: “I swallowed the toil, swallowed the displacement/Swallowed the overpasses, swallowed the life full of lime scale/I can’t swallow anymore/All I’ve swallowed down is surging out of my throat/ Spreading out across the territory of my country and becoming a/Poem of shame.” To Toronto musician Njo Kong Kie, Xu’s story was utterly compelling. So Njo, who was raised in nearby Macau, decided to create a song cycle, I Swallowed a Moon Made of Iron, set to Xu’s poetry. The words will be presented on-screen in English and in the simplified Chinese script in three livestreamed performances as part of this year’s PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. “I made this piece to honour the poet,” Njo tells the Straight by phone from his home in Toronto. “And his words are the most important aspect of the work, as far as I concerned, even though I am the composer. I am the vehicle for his words to live in this context.” Shenzhen, 50 kilometres from Hong Kong, was established as China’s first special economic zone in 1980. Xi Zhongxun, a Communist revolutionary and father of Chinese president Xi Jinping, launched this initiative to turn a small town into his country’s version of Silicon Valley. Foxconn, a Taiwanese company, built its largest factory in Shenzhen in what became known as Foxconn City. There, hundreds of thousands of employees built electronic devices for major U.S. corporations such as Apple and HewlettPackard. But labour activists blamed the low pay and dismal working conditions for workers taking their lives.

Music Picnic artistic producer Njo Kong Kie composed and performs in the one-man show I Swallowed a Moon Made of Iron, which pays tribute to exploited migrant workers everywhere; it will be livestreamed on three consecutive nights as part of the PuSh festival. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

When Njo presented I Swallowed a Moon Made of Iron at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival a couple of years ago, he also showed it to a few university students from mainland China. “Most of them had not heard of Xu Lizhi or knew about the events in 2010— the series of suicides,” he says. “For them, it was actually quite revelatory.” Njo says he wanted to showcase Xu’s poetry because it’s really about a life unfulfilled. “Myself and other people can identify— relate—because most of us are not fortunate to live the life we want,” he declares. Njo, artistic producer of Music Picnic, first came to Canada as a 16-year-old student in Grade 12 in the early 1980s. He lived with relatives in Burnaby while attending a university preparatory school downtown. Later, he studied at the University of Western Ontario and eventually immigrated to Canada in 1991 with his mother to join a brother who was already working in the country. Since then, Njo’s career as a composer has taken off, most famously in Canada’s arts community as the longtime music director of Montreal-based La La La Human Steps. He has also composed songs for other highly regarded dance companies, including Ballet BC. In addition, he composed the touring show Mr. Shi and His Lover, a Mandarin-language tale of a French diplomat falling in love with a male opera performer

Most of us are not fortunate to live the life we want. – Njo Kong Kie

whom he thinks is a woman. Njo is a sensitive artist, and he admits that Xu’s sad fate made him cry a few times as he was writing the music for I Swallowed a Moon Made of Iron. “I’ve done this show now probably 70 or 80 times, and it doesn’t get easier,” he says. But Njo also emphasizes that this isn’t simply a song cycle about one man—it’s intended to raise consciousness about exploited migrant workers across the globe. To date, Njo hasn’t experienced any backlash from mainland Chinese expats for presenting a side of Shenzhen that isn’t very flattering. “I keep expecting it to happen, but so far, no,” he says. “Also, the poetry is widely available. It’s sensitive, but it’s not sensitive to the extent that some other

work could be.” He describes the base of the music as European or American classical, with a minimalistic feel. In addition, he’s injected references to the type of folky pop songs that Xu would have heard in the years when he was working in the Foxconn plant. Njo adds that he likes to write “tunes” that are very singable, and in this show, they’re quite contemplative. “One of my hopes is that when I’ve done enough of these shows, other people might want to sing them,” he says. Initially, he planned to make I Swallowed a Moon Made of Iron as a two-person production, with a singer and a pianist. But because the story is so personal, he realized that it could only work as a solo show. To him, this was the best way to capture the poet’s solitary life and death. “By the end of it, it does get pretty heavy,” he concedes. “But I guess there’s really no other way, I suppose.” g The PuSh International Performing Arts Festival will present three livestreamed performances of I Swallowed a Moon Made of Iron, on February 4, 5, and 6. For anyone in distress, helpful resources include the Crisis Line (604-8723311), postsecondary institution counselling departments, and family physicians or medical clinics. Those in distress can also visit a hospital emergency room.

JANUARY 28 – FEBRUARY 4 / 2021




Paul Pigat doing his best to avoid going stir-crazy


by Steve Newton

hen COVID-19 killed concerts last year, professional musicians who relied heavily on revenue from live shows were put in financial peril. That fact wasn’t lost on Vancouver guitar ace Paul Pigat, who normally chalks up plenty of gigs with his bands Cousin Harley, Boxcar Campfire, and the Paul Pigat Trio. “There’s easier ways to make a living than being a musician,” Pigat says on the line from Murfitt Guitars in East Van, “and this has made it a lot harder. But honestly, I’m doin’ alright, because I’ve been productive. I put out the Cousin Harley record, and I’m workin’ on a record with Kevin Breit—he’s my favourite guitar player in the world, pretty much. And my pastime is building guitars, so I’ve built a boatload of guitars. And then I teach, as well; I’ve been teaching since I was 18. So that’s been able to keep me above water.” As well as being skilled at making guitars and showing folks how to play them, Pigat is one of those musicians whose versatility keeps them ahead of the pack. If he’s in the mood to play some bluesy roots tunes, he turns to Boxcar Campfire; when he’s got a hankering for jazzier stylings, he’ll go the Paul Pigat Trio route. And when he wants to get in touch with his inner Stray Cat, he’ll round up bassist Keith Picot and drummer Jesse Cahill and set Cousin Harley on the road to rowdy rockabilly.

Equally at home exploring the worlds of jazz, bluesy roots, and revved-up rockabilly, the everbusy Paul Pigat is no stranger to juggling multiple musical projects. Photo by Adam PW Smith.

“Having a [musical] diet like that is really important for me,” he points out. “If I do one thing and only one thing for too long, I get a little stir-crazy. So I’ve always had a few projects going, and it just keeps me interested in all of them.” Pigat’s current project with Toronto guitar genius Breit is a remotely recorded, all-instrumental venture that will include drum tracks laid down by Damian Graham on Vancouver Island and bass licks sent in from Tommy Babin in Palo Alto, California. Pigat composed all the songs, except

for one that Breit wrote. “I think we’re gonna call the record Hillbilly Circus,” he says, “ ’cause it’s kinda like hillbilly circus music, ya know. Anything that Kevin touches instantly gets weird and superfun.” From the sound of the latest Cousin Harley album, Let’s Go, there’s plenty of fun to go around. The trio has been described as “the Motörhead of rockabilly”, and how it earned that moniker is a story in itself. “We were in Holland on our first tour to Europe,” Pigat recalls, “and one of our gigs got blown out. A friend of ours over there

put this makeup gig together in a tiny little club, and it was literally shoulder to shoulder, wall to wall. It can be pretty fierce with us when we’re on the road—we like to play hard and have a good time—and we were havin’ a really aggressive musical night. A Dutch guy came up and said, ‘You are like zee Motörhead of rockabilly!’ and it stuck with us ever since.” A guitarist Pigat cites as influential is Telecaster master and “redneck jazz” purveyor Danny Gatton, who he discovered in the late ‘80s. When it comes to displaying his own intensity on guitar, Pigat almost always plays a Gretsch, the brand he has endorsed since 2009. He owns a one-ofa-kind Gretsch that he designed with the company’s master builder, Stephen Stern. When asked who his all-time favourite Gretsch player might be, Pigat forgoes the better known Brian Setzer in favour of ’50s jazz guitarist Mary Osborne. But when I remind him that Malcolm Young also played a Gretsch, he changes his tune pretty quick. “You know what,” he reflects, “I’ll put Malcolm Young on the top of the list, ’cause I still love AC/DC. As a treat to my daughter, if we arrive at school before she has to go into class, we have an early morning ‘Thunderstruck’. So I don’t think there’s gonna be a band that will stick with me from when I was an early teenager until the day I die other than AC/DC.” g

Documentary to feature political punk legend


by Mike Usinger

.O.A.’s Joe Keithley isn’t the first high-profile punk rocker who has plunged into the world of politics. Recall, if you will, Dead Kennedys legend Jello Biafra running for the mayor of San Francisco back in 1979. (He lost, the biggest tragedy of that being his platform included forcing all businessmen to wear clown suits within city limits). TSOL singer Jack Grisham ran for governor of California in 2003, losing to Arnold Schwarzenegger by roughly 4,198,000 votes. Former American presidential candidate and Democratic party rising star Beta O’Rourke, meanwhile, made it to Washington’s House of Representatives. Once upon a time, the American underground knew O’Rourke as the bassist for El Pasobased Foss, which featured future At the Drive-In and Mars Volta member Cedric Bixler-Zavala. And speaking of punks who have successfully transitioned into politics, D.O.A. mainstay Joe “Shithead” Keithley has established himself as someone as comfortable in a suit as he is on-stage with his



Joe ‘Shithead’ Keithley has established himself as someone as comfortable in a suit as he is on-stage.

D.O.A. founder Joe Keithley has successfully straddled the worlds of punk rock and politics.

signature Gibson SG. And that has led to a project looking at the iconic frontman’s ongoing journey from punk founding father to Burnaby city councillor. Documentary filmmaker Scott Crawford (CREEM: America’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll Magazine) and producer Paul Rachman (American Hardcore) recently announced a Kickstarter for Something Better Change.

JANUARY 28 – FEBRUARY 4 / 2021

The film—named after D.O.A.’s seminal debut full-length—will touch on Keithley’s rise from suburban Burnaby kid to punk rock icon to politician and dedicated family man. The hook will be Keithley’s upcoming reelection bid to Burnaby city council in 2022. In announcing the film’s Kickstarter campaign, Something Better Change’s team

has promised a film dedicated to “exploring how music and activism often interlink via raising awareness about important social issues, inspiring people to get involved, and fostering real, dynamic change”. Those who have already sat down for the camera include punk legends like Henry Rollins, Keith Morris (Circle Jerks), Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat) and Krist Novoselic (Nirvana). Also making appearances are Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan (who cut his teeth in the Seattle punk scene), as well as Biafra and O’Rourke. This project will be funded if it reaches its goal of $38,000 by February 21 2021. g


Cannabis can help cut down liquor consumption by John Lucas

A study published in Addiction showed that people who consume cannabis decrease their alcohol intake on the same days they use weed. Photo by Antonia Guillemi/Getty Images Plus


ccording to a recent study published in the journal Addiction, people seeking alcohol treatment drink less on days when they use cannabis. Researchers affiliated with the University of Colorado at Boulder and with Colorado State University looked at the relationship between cannabis use and alcohol intake in 96 cannabis-using individuals en-

rolled in an alcohol-treatment program. They found a significant decrease in alcohol intake on days when participants consumed cannabis. This was true among heavy cannabis users and those who used only light amounts occasionally. “Across the sample, individuals drank approximately 29 percent fewer drinks and were 2.06 times less likely to have a binge-

drinking episode on days that cannabis was used compared with days cannabis was not used,” the authors reported. “These patterns were observed in males, females, and the infrequent and frequent cannabis use groups.” Paul Armentano is the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Commenting on the study’s findings, Armentano said: “Several previous studies have examined whether cannabis is more likely to act as either a substitute or as a complement for alcohol and, thus far, they have yielded mixed results. This study’s findings are an important addition to this growing body of literature and offer strong evidence that cannabis can act as an intervention for certain persons seeking to reduce their alcohol consumption.”

Limited, with the results published in Communications Biology. According to a news release from the university, the study could lead to the first new class of antibiotics for resistant bacteria in 60 years. “This is the first time CBD has been shown to kill some types of Gram-negative bacteria,” said UQ Institute for Molecular Bioscience’s professor Mark Blaskovich. According to Blaskovich, CBD can penetrate and kill a wide range of bacteria. These include Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which causes gonorrhea. “We think that cannabidiol kills bacteria by bursting their outer cell membranes, but we don’t know yet exactly how it does that, and need to do further research,” Blaskovich said. g


Researchers in Australia have found that synthetic cannabidiol (CBD) can kill the bacteria responsible for gonorrhea, meningitis, and Legionnaires’ disease. This research was undertaken as a collaboration between the University of Queensland and Botanix Pharmaceuticals


Military vet hopes to break new psilocybin ground


by Carlito Pablo

cott Atkinson left the battlefields of Afghanistan more than a decade ago. The Canadian veteran now wages a different war, a fight to heal himself. This all goes back to when he returned home “with anger”. “I was full of anger, and I didn’t know how to take care of it, you know,” Atkinson told the Straight in a phone interview from Smiths Falls, a town outside Ottawa. “The guilt from things that may have happened. So many things,” the military veteran added. His emotional wounds exacted a heavy price. “I put myself through a lot, not admitting my mental health injuries,” Atkinson related. “And I was drinking for a long time. I was using opioids to try to stop the pain.” His suffering also hurt the ones he loves, including two young adults. “It took a toll on my family, on my wife, on my children,” Atkinson said. Many of his comrades in arms went and continue to go through this kind of mental ordeal. Some veterans have fallen. “I saw so many friends took suicide just in the last year, year and a half,” Atkinson said. He left the Canadian military with the rank of master corporal. He joined in 1992, and he hung up his uniform in 2018. The former infantryman did one tour in the former republic of Yugoslavia; he did two in Afghanistan. “If you look at my whole career, I probably have 15 to 20 close friends that have committed suicide,” Atkinson said. “I don’t want to see that with more friends.” Atkinson currently lives on a military veteran’s pension. He also said that he spends time with a group called Vanguard Wellness. This outfit connected him with Field

Scott Atkinson (right) has applied for an exemption to give him access to psilocybin. Photo by Devonyu/Getty Images Plus

Trip Health, a psychedelics company based in Toronto. With Field Trip, Atkinson has found new buddies in his quest to heal himself. The company supports his application for an exemption under Canada’s drug laws to use psilocybin, a banned substance. Psilocybin is the hallucinogenic compound found in so-called magic mushrooms in the genus Psilocybe. Proponents say the substance increases a person’s sense of optimism. Moreover, it’s touted to promote well-being and reduce negative feelings. Studies also indicate that psilocybin lowers anxiety and depression. Atkinson needs all the help he can get. He suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder, treatment-resistant depression, treatment-resistant generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder with agoraphobia, and chronic pain syndrome, according to a Field Trip media release. If Atkinson gets legal access to psilocybin, he will undergo psychotherapy in Toronto under the supervision of Dr. Michael Verbora, medical director of Field Trip.

Ontario lawyer Ronan Levy cofounded the company, where he serves as executive chairperson. “Of anyone, with his valour and distinguished career, Master Corporal Atkinson is certainly amongst the most deserving to be given this exemption,” Levy said in the release. That depends on federal Minister of Health Patty Hajdu. The minister has the power to grant an exemption under Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. She can do this for medical or scientific purposes or if she deems it to serve the public interest. In the media release, Field Trip stated that, if granted, the Section 56 exemption would be the first for a Canadian military veteran. Also, it would be the first granted to a Canadian without a terminal illness or not in palliative care. In August 2020, Hajdu granted exemptions for four terminally ill patients to use psilocybin to ease their end-of-life distress. “Also, if approved, the application will open the door for Canadians and other military veterans to pursue access to psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy,” the release said. Atkinson told the Straight that he has written Hajdu for such an exemption. “In Afghanistan, we were mortared and bombed every day,” he said. Soldiers returning from war to reintegrate themselves in peace don’t have it easy, he noted. “You come back home to Vancouver or Toronto and it’s supposed to be normal,” Atkinson said with a chuckle. “It’s really hard.” Victory is sometimes difficult to measure in a war, but not for Atkinson in his new battle. “Now I’m working to heal myself, but it’s always going to be healing the relationship with my wife and children,” he said. g

JANUARY 28 – FEBRUARY 4 / 2021




Pussy-averse partner possibly a necrophiliac by Dan Savage

b SEX-POSITIVE BI woman here. I have recommended your column to many people over the years to help them feel normal and human in their kinks, fantasies, sexuality, etcetera. But I’m having a more difficult time extending similar acceptance to myself. I was in a three-year relationship with a cis straight man. I recently moved across the country for graduate school, and this was the catalyst for me to put my foot down about opening the relationship in order to get my sexual needs met. He agreed and we tried being open, but he found it too emotionally challenging, so now we are on a “break”. When we were together, he showed me love in many ways, Dan, but he would not eat my pussy or finger me or use a vibra-

Scan to conffess

tor or any other sex toys on me. He quit his own therapy for depressive symptoms and anxiety after just three sessions; he won’t do couples therapy; he won’t even have a conversation with me about why, exactly, my pussy and sexual pleasure are aversive to him. Even hearing me moan in pleasure or arousal seemed to make him recoil. All he wanted was blow jobs and occasional sessions of intercourse. He had some ED issues that he felt bad about, but I told him multiple times that erections are not a big deal for me—what I like about sex is the intimacy, the play, and mutual pleasure. He is not a bastard, but the sex remained phallocentric. Writing this, I know that I made a reasonable The Georgia Straight Confessions, an outlet for submitting revelations about your private lives—or for the voyeurs among us who want to read what other people have disclosed.

How’s it going to be I’m not ready for it to be over. It’s scary to admit it aloud. I’ve truly enjoyed the space, the quiet, the slowed pace. There’s suddenly time to think. I don’t want to go back to the busyness, the crowded spaces, and the cacophonous monotony that comes with filling in the gaps with things to feel like it’s justifying time. It’s been rough for a lot out there. But I’ve realized, I’m built for this.

Hate To Say It But if all of your friends, especially those in your photos, are all Caucasian, that’s a big red flag for me when it comes to relationships.

My rst live concert After the pandemic, I am pretty sure I will be crying with tears of joy. Kleenex pocket pack will be ready.

Leftovers Soup Flour. Unsalted butter. Leftover Thai chicken soup stock. 1/2 cup rice. Leftover cheddar. Salt. Pepper. Undeglazed sauce pan from lunch (sauteed smoked turkey meat). Had nothing else left in the kitchen and it turned out tastier than I thought it would.

Ungrateful I got one of those meal kit boxes for free. Did not care for it. Back to regular grocery shopping I guess.

Visit 14


to post a Confession JANUARY 28 – FEBRUARY 4 / 2021

decision for myself. Yet I continue to be wracked with guilt over pursuing (pandemic-safe) sex when I know this guy, who I love very much and care about very deeply, still has feelings for me and still wants to us be together exclusively. Two questions: do you have any idea of what gives, based on your experience? I’ve been trying to understand and open the lines of communication for years. And how do I stop beating myself up for hurting his feelings when my friends keep telling me I gave the relationship my all and I know that my soul couldn’t stand any more one-sided sex? - Feminist Under Compulsive, Kink-Induced Nauseous Guilt

for the hurt feelings your ex-boyfriend—please make that break permanent—more than earned. You gave him three years and God alone knows how many blow jobs, and he either didn’t love you enough to work on himself or he’s so damaged he’s incapable of doing the work. Either way, FUCKING, your ex-boyfriend is not in good working order, sexually or emotionally, and that’s not gonna change. He won’t talk to a shrink about his own shit, he won’t see a couples counsellor about your shared shit, he won’t touch your pussy and he doesn’t want anyone else to touch your pussy—oh, and if you make even the slightest sound during sex, if a moan or, God forbid, a request should escape your lips, he recoils. Charitable reading: your ex-boyfriend is a closeted necrophiliac and any sign of life from you turns him off. Slightly less charitable read: your ex-boyfriend was raised to believe that sex is something a woman endures, not something a woman enjoys, and any sign that you might actually enjoy sex turns him off. I don’t know what his issues are, FUCKING, and neither do you. All we know for sure is that he has issues and, whatever else they might be, they are disqualifying. You asked for the only accommodation that might make it possible for you to stay in this relationship and stay sane—opening it up so you could seek sexual satisfaction elsewhere—and he couldn’t handle it.

You’re not responsible

b MY GIRLFRIEND OF six months got drunk one week into a work-related physical separation, ghosted on me, went to a hotel, and had sex for two days straight with another man. She then called and confessed everything. She’s remorseful and says it was alcohol-related and that she doesn’t remember the details. My take is that if she was too drunk to remember the details, she was too drunk to consent, which equals rape, right? I encouraged her to file a police report and get this rapist off the streets. She says she doesn’t know his name or number and doesn’t want to pursue legal action. She

does remember the sex was unprotected and took Plan B today and is getting a full STI screening. She’s exhibiting signs of trauma—I’ve been down this road with an ex—and I’m trying to be supportive but I don’t think I can continue. Would I be the biggest asshole in the world to end this? Other details: she was married to a woman for the past five years and I was the first man she was ever with until this rape happened. I’m 50 years old, she’s 28 years old. What the fuck do I do? She’s fragile and I have been supporting her financially for the last six months, which is weird since her job pays twice what mine does. - Just Seeking Guidance

your girlfriend was blackout drunk that whole weekend and incapable of offering meaningful consent and the person she was with knew she was too fucked up to consent to sex—and wasn’t too fucked up to consent to sex himself—and she was raped. It’s also possible your girlfriend was drunk but not so drunk she couldn’t consent, JSG, and is overstating how drunk she was because she doesn’t want to share the details with you—details you aren’t entitled to. It’s also possible she was raped and is reluctant to go to the police because she knows telling her story— which could be entirely true—won’t result in an arrest, much less a prosecution, and so going to the police wouldn’t get this rapist—if the guy is a rapist—off the streets and could cause her further trauma. Zooming out for a second… You assume a man forced your girlfriend to do something she didn’t want to do (fuck him all weekend), and your response is to force your girlfriend to do something she doesn’t want to do (file a police report). You need to stop that. If you think she’s showing signs of trauma, you should urge her to seek help from a rape counsellor or trauma specialist, i.e., someone in a better position to assess the situation than you are, JSG, someone who doesn’t have cause to feel conflicted or resentful or angry about what did or did not happen that weekend. And if you want to end the relationship, you should, JSG, and you can break up with someone without being an asshole or abandoning them. Offer her your support—offer your emotional support, withdraw your financial support—and give her the names of some local rape crisis centers in your area.

It’s entirely possible

b I’M A 59-YEAR-OLD gay man with a problem I’ve struggled with for all of my active sex life. I rarely orgasm during sex. I’m now involved with a couple that has welcomed me to be part of a loving relationship and they want me to be as satisfied as they are. I enjoy pleasing both of them, but see next page

they also want me to be pleased. I appreciate this but I feel pressured to come and I just can’t. Any time I feel pressured to do anything, I start to feel defensive and shut down. I enjoy being with these men very much and I want so much to share myself with them. How can I overcome this? I feel like I’m letting them down, and, to be honest, I feel like there’s something wrong with


Eurohouse Construction Inc.

is looking for an Interior Designer. Perm, F/T (40 hrs/w). Wage - $ 26.00 /hr, medical benefits. Main duties: Determine requirements for the project;Create interior spaces, develop design plans; Advise on selection materials;Create detailed 3-D models; Estimate cost of projects;Create sketches of furniture; Oversee construction;Work in a multidisciplinary environment. Requirements: 1-2 years of experience; Good English; Knowledge of interior design software; College diploma in interior design. Bachelor’s degree is an asset. Company’s business address and job location: 2474 Marine Dr, West Vancouver, BC V7V 1L1 Please apply by e-mail: admin@eurohouse.ca

NARAH SHISHA CAFE INCORPORATED dba Kayan Shisha Hookah Café is currently seeking a Food Service Supervisor, Perm, F/T, Shifts, Weekends. Salary: $15.00 /hr (35 hrs/week) Requirements: high school, several years of experience in food preparation or service, good English. Main Duties and Responsibilities: Supervise and co-ordinate the activities of workers; Hire and train of new employees; Assign workers to duties; Establish methods to meet work schedules; Ensure that food and service meet quality control standards and safety procedures; Estimate and order ingredients and supplies; Resolve customer complaints; Maintain records of stock. Business address and job location: 5593A Kingsway, Burnaby, BC V5H 2G3 Please apply by e-mail: employment.kayancafe@gmail.com

Tricom Building Maintenance Ltd. is looking for Marketing Specialist – Advertising. Perm, F/T, Wage - $ 29.00 per/h Requirements: experience 3-4 years, good English, completion of college program Main duties: Increase company recognition in the market; Develop communications strategies and promotional activities; Create advertising campaigns; Prepare or oversee preparation of brochures and reports; Maintain content on our website; Develop videos and post ads on various outlets; Evaluate competitors activity, provide recommendations to management; Act as spokesperson for the company. Company’s business address and job location: 307 – 1477 West Pender St. Vancouver, BC V6G 2S3. Please apply by e-mail: hr@tricomservice.com

Top Locksmith LTD

is hiring Locksmiths. Job location: Greater Vancouver, BC. Perm, F/T, Shifts, Weekends Hours: 40 per week. Wage - $ 28.00 /hour Requirements: high school, good English, min. 1-2 years of experience; Main duties: Install, service, adjust and repair various types of locks; Perform locks openings, respond to emergency lockouts; Cut different types of keys; Install electrical strikes, locks; Service and repair electronic locks, change lock combinations; Use hand and power locksmith tools. Company’s business address: 90 Arrowood Crescent, Woodbridge, ON L4H 2N6 Please apply by E-mail: hr.toplocksmith@gmail.com

- Can’t Orgasm Mostly Ever

This couple sees orgasm as a sign of sexual satisfaction, COME, and it’s usually a pretty good sign. And while it’s always better to err on the side of satisfying a sex partner—you don’t wanna be like FUCKING’s ex-boy-

Orbis Facade Inc

is looking for Glaziers. Greater Vancouver, BC. Perm, full time. Salary: $26.00 /hr Requirements: experience 3-4 years, good English. Education: high school Main duties: Read and interpret blueprints; Lay-out frame and window wall position; Fabricate, fit and install frames; Measure, mark and cut glass; Position pre-cut glass panels; Install pre-build glass panels; Replace damaged glass or faulty sealant; Assemble, erect and dismantle scaffolding, rigging and hoisting equipment; Follow established safety rules. Company’s business address: 7060 Waltham Ave, Burnaby BC V5J4V5 Please apply by e-mail: hr@orbisgroup.ca

Phone Services


Professional EMPLOYMENT Services


Dating Services

Awakening Your Bliss Tantra Massage Somatic Sexologist Zara 604-222-4178

Milano Dating Services Date Local Russian & Ukrainian Ladies 604-805-1342



Exotic Mature Filipino/ E Indian Massage! Coquitlam Mall area. In/Out calls & all Hotels.

FREE 2 TRY LIVE CHAT! 1-855-538-8866 1-900-783-5446 MOBILE #4565



friend—there are people who can’t come during partnered sex or at all. We should do whatever it takes within reason to get our partners off, but if a partner tells us they don’t need to come or can’t come but still enjoy sex? We need to take their word for it. So, COME, explain to your boyfriends that you love sex and you love getting them off but you rarely come during sex yourself and that

Mina 604-512-3243 No Text!


(Incl. 45 min. Hot oil massage)

Reg 120




emax ax MA MASS MASSAGE S AGE E Totally Renovated!

3272 W. Broadway (& Blenheim)

604.568.5255 3-3003 KINGSWAY @ RUPERT



10am m - 10pm





Thai Jessica




Follow Dan on Website: www.

Burnaby. No text or Outcall



Email: mail@savagelove.net. Twitter @FakeDanSavage. savagelovecast.com.


Welcoming Old & New Clients!

75 MIN


feeling pressured to come makes those rare events rarer still. Promise them that you’ll say something when you feel like coming and be clear about what they can do for you when that time comes. g



$180 / 7 HRS (Only $25/HR) $67 (Tip inc.) 2 for 1 Free FR EE


$28 / 50mins (FREE HOT STONE)

$10 Off

with this ad!

8642 Granville & 71 Ave., Van.



me because I can’t orgasm during sex. Any help you can suggest is greatly appreciated.


Stay C onnec ted @ GeorgiaStr aight

604.436.3131 www.greatpharaoh.com

5-3490 Kingsway, Van. NEWLY RENOVATED! ESTABLISHED 1993 HIRING: 778.893.4439


Chinese Meridian Massage Relaxation Massage Body Scrubbing GRAND OPENING! Reflexology Cupping Pedicure • Manicure Facial Waxing Eyebrow Tinting Eyelash Tinting #201 – 1789 Davie St. | 604-423-5828

DREAM & CITY Massage







VANCOUVER. Our city is facing an unprecedented health crisis. We’ve lost loved ones, jobs, and community connections. Many have suffered financial hardship due to COVID-19. Please stay strong and follow the recommendations of our public health officials.

Vancouver’s News & Entertainment Weekly

Find the Georgia Straight in print throughout Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, online at straight.com, or on your favourite social media channel @georgiastraight. MURAL BY JOCELYN WONG




JANUARY 28 – FEBRUARY 4 / 2021

Profile for The Georgia Straight

The Georgia Straight - Green Finance - January 28, 2021