royal baby names placard

I have no problem with media covering and even celebrating the new royal baby. Why shouldn’t people cheer for a young couple making a family.

Yeah, it’s a tabloid story, nothing more than celebrity gossip and a distraction to important things that are happening. But I’ve come to accept that certain manufactured celebrity pablum gets reported as real news, so why shouldn’t this story.

There are people who truly eat this stuff up, just as there people who follow other celebrities with passion. For those who don’t care, there’s even a Chrome plugin to block royal baby coverage. It’s entertainment pure and simple, as long as we treat it as such, no problem.

I do have a problem when entertainment becomes law, or remains law because of veneration for a tradition that has itself morphed into a new mass-media celebrity animal. Sadly, in Canada, that is the case.

citizenship oath

New arrivals have to swear allegiance to Kate’s son’s great grandma if they want to become citizens. Fortunately, some potential Canadians are challenging this in court.

This has prompted the expected right wing backlash. Their argument breaks down to the idea that those who don’t want to follow “our” ways and pledge themselves to England (and one of the world)’s biggest land owner should go somewhere else.

Well, I’m already a Canadian citizen due to where I was born and I’ve never sworn my alliegance to the British monarchy. I don’t have to and don’t think others should to get the same privileges I enjoy.

I’d also be against having to swear an oath to a particular prime minister as well, because allegiance should be to a country not a leader. That doesn’t change the fact that the “leader” new Canadians have to devote themselves too currently is a particularly stupid choice.

The British crown has changed over the centuries from an actual government to feudal entertainment. Now don’t get me wrong, I love feudal entertainment, I just don’t think I should have to devote my life to it.

I love Game of Thrones, but you won’t catch me declaring my fealty to house Lannister to renew my passport. If anything, I’d go with house Stark or Targarian, the North will never forget that Danerys is damn hot.

got meme queen

All joking aside, an oath to a foreign monarch whose family went reality TV years ago as a citizenship requirement is just as dumb. Will, Kate and their baby already have enough willing devotees, why force anyone else to become their fans.

hockey riot montreal

They’re not even trying to hide it anymore. Montreal’s police force, the SPVM, is now openly engaging in political profiling.

Over the past few months, the cops have been enforcing municipal bylaw P-6, which outlaws any demonstration where no route has been provided and makes it illegal to wear a mask at a protest, every chance they get. Within minutes of a protest starting, no matter how big or small, SPVM officers surround, kettle and eventualy release the participants, handing them a $637 ticket on the way out. Last time they even confiscated beloved mascot Anarchopanda’s head.

Now this bylaw may be unconstitutional, but the SPVM brass and politicians like Mayor Michael Applebaum contend that it’s not that restrictive considering all protesters need to do is provide a route. But it’s now clear that only people they decide to discriminate against have to submit to this bureaucratic infringement on freedom of expression.

At a press conference yesterday, a reporter asked Police Chief Marc Parent how his department would treat hockey fans celebrating a hypothetical Stanley Cup victory by the Canadiens (it’s possible, go habs go). Presumably, they wouldn’t provide a route for their demonstration of support for the hockey team and that’s okay with the chief.

“We know very well,” Pare said in French, “that in that moment, we’re not there to ask someone their itinerary. It’s not organized, it’s spontaneous and that we know very well.”

You know what else is spontaneous? A student demonstration where the only bit of organization is where and when everyone is going to assemble. “Meet at Parc Emilie Gamelin at 8pm” is about as much pre-planning as “meet in front of the Bell Centre during the third period.”

So, a spontaneous demonstration of support for the Habs gets a pass whereas a spontaneous demonstration of disgust with the Marois government gets kettled? How can anyone justify this?

montreal police kettle

Well, maybe it has something to do with violence. Problem is that there was more violence and vandalism in just one night of hockey rioting the last time the Habs made it past the first round then there was in six months of nightly student protests. True, hockey rioters are just a few bad apples and don’t represent the broader fanbase, but so are those who caused the damage during the student protests. The “casseurs” don’t represent the student movement as a whole and the cops know it.

They also know that Jennifer Pawluck didn’t create the graffiti artwork depicting SPVM spokesperson Ian Lafrenière with a bullet hole in his head, she just photographed it and shared it on Instagram, much like an independent reporter might do. It didn’t stop them from bringing her from her home to the station and formally charging her with criminal harassment and intimidation of a police officer.

ian lafreniere graffitiDoes this mean that anyone can be charged for what’s happening in a photograph they post online? For a while it looked like that may be the case, but in light of how the chief claims the cops would treat a Habs victory celebration, it’s clear that the SPVM’s current tactics are much more sinister then a blanket oppression of the right to free expression.

It’s selective enforcement. If they don’t like you, they’ll charge you with something.

Cops may have been doing this for years, but at least they had the decency to try and cover it up and make token firings of the unlucky officers who got caught. Now the proverbial cat is out of the bag and they don’t seem to care. Their spokespeople are brazenly admitting to political profiling.

This is would be funny if it wasn’t so damn scary. The public needs to challenge this blatant discrimination and remind the police that they aren’t a gang loyal to each other but rather public servants who work for us, all of us, even those they don’t like.

* Top image thehockeyjunkies.blogspot.com, kettle image by Tim McSorley for the Media Co-Op

Canadian Money Shot

Forget The Sopranos, The Godfather even Goodfellas. Forget guns and sleeping with the fishes.

The Montreal mob has a new weapon in their arsenal. It’s not exciting, flashy or even remotely interesting.

Quite the opposite. They now know how to bore the general public to the point where we all lose interest.

It worked on me. Then, by chance, two people I respect brought up the same thing in the same night: the Charbonneau Commission.

Wait, that’s still going on? Yes, despite a large portion of the general public (and yours truly) loosing interest after the commission claimed the political careers of longstanding mayors Gerald Tremblay and Gilles Vaillancourt.

The sacrificial lambs were thrown to the slaughter…and by slaughter I mean a pretty comfortable retirement and no need to answer any more questions. Corruption problem solved!

But the commission continued, undeterred and unnoticed. Witnesses testified, mainstream media reported on it out of duty not interest.

Yeah, a few times the commission tried to get provocative like when they asked city employee Gilles Vezina if he ever accepted the services of a prostitute as a bribe. But alas, the answer was no, the wine and hockey tickets were enough for him, and he wasn’t high profile enough to warrant pursuing the matter further.

Now, it turns out that one of the witnesses, Martin Dumont, felt pressured and asked for his testimony to be stricken. His lawyer threatened to take the matter to Quebec Superior Court if the request is refused. From there, the Supreme Court of Canada becomes an option.

Following a case up the legal food chain is hard enough to do even when it’s salacious and sexy. This is anything but.

If only it was this easy (image: http://earthenergyreader.wordpress.com)

How do you make something already mired in public apathy less appealing? You bog it down in legal procedure, that’s how. Absolutely brilliant.

If it gets to the Supreme Court, everything could be thrown out. If it does, who will notice and moreover who will care? We’ve already got the big names, who cares about the rest?

But we should care. Those are our roads cracking and overpasses crumbling because of shoddy work done by those who got insider contracts and overbilled the taxpayer. Those are our elected officials and unelected bureaucrats taking bribes from the mob. Those are our streets turned into impromptu rivers that sweep McGill students away for a kayak-less ride down to Sherbrooke. This is our public inquiry that risks disappearing without anyone noticing.

What is supposed to be a battle between right and wrong, public good and corruption has turned into a fight to keep the ratings up. On one side, we have the Charbonneau Commission trying to remain relevant and sexy without any big name talent. On the other, the mob and corrupt officials are working their hardest to get this show cancelled midseason. No syndicated reruns, no DVD box sets, just done and gone.

While this analogy may have almost run its course, so has the Charbonneau Commission. Maybe we should make some sort of petition to keep this show going or at very least start paying attention.

It may seem boring, but when you think about it, bringing down the graft that has been institutionalized in Quebec since the 50s or maybe earlier is probably the sexiest most exciting story possible.

sad face pennies

This article was originally published in April of 2012 but it seems fitting to take a look at it again!

Last week, my colleague Quiet Mike laid out the reasons why it’s a good thing the Canadian penny will soon be a thing of the past.  On a strictly logical level, I agree with him.

It doesn’t make sense to spend 2 1/2 cents producing something that is only worth one. Also, bars, buses and other common elements of our commerce don’t take pennies already.

However, on a deeper level, I mourn the loss of the penny. Can you blame me? It’s been with me my whole life.

While I may date myself when I say that I (vaguely) remember a time before toonies (the first time I got one as change I thought it was a chocolate coin), I think it’s safe to say that we are all familiar with the penny. Things change, and sentimentality isn’t enough to defy logic & economics. But, by losing the penny we are also forever altering or outright losing aspects of our lives.

Finding pennies in the couch is the first to go. Remember rooting through your sofa and finding enough change to make the difference in a purchase of a pack of smokes or a carton of milk? That will no longer be possible in a few months.

Next, what will happen with the take a penny, leave a penny tray. The beauty of such an insignificant denomination of currency is in its utter insignificance. Will there be a take a nickel, leave a nickel jar? Maybe with inflation some day, but probably not anytime soon.

But the single most significant loss is not so much economic as it is cultural. Penny for your thoughts? What does that mean? Nothing. Your thoughts now mean nothing.

What about people named or nicknamed Penny. Their names, while remaining cool and romantic (never met anyone named Penny, but I’m sure I’d love her if I did) are also now obsolete references.

What about references in songs. One of my favourite songs from my late teenage years came from a forever unknown NDG band named Lint (a friend’s old high-school band) and had the indelibly powerful and mood setting lyric “Just like a penny on the tracks…” (I can’t remember the follow-up line, but the rhyme was “turn back”)

Whether or not you have a better example, the penny has an element of nostalgia and can take you back to a specific time and place. The penny has permeated our popular culture and, dare I say, our very souls.

Stephen Harper, the Royal Canadian Mint and even the proprietors of the take a penny trays can’t take that away. Correction, they can’t take that away from this generation or even the next generation, but a hundred years from now, we’re looking at pennies being the new bootleg alcohol, 8-track cassette or paperboy.

Interesting. Someone who almost relishes and at the very least hopes to gain from the disappearance of the printed word lamenting the loss of the penny.

But you know, I can’t see anything better replacing this icon, so it’s a loss.

And that’s my two cents…whatever that means now.

* Currency porn photos by Phyllis Papoulias

aaron_swartz

Something just doesn’t add up. An Internet freedom activist facing the fight of his life decides to stop fighting and hangs himself?

I get it when rockstars and regular people down on their luck do themselves in. It’s an unnecessary tragedy, but sometimes one that fits the narrative of their life.

But an activist? A fighter? Someone who had just willfully provoked on a massive scale, knowing full well there would be a reaction?

When Reddit builder, boy genius and Internet freedom activist Aaron Swartz downloaded millions of academic journal articles with the intent of giving them away for free, he knew there would be repercussions. He wanted a response, he was trying to make a point.

He was succeeding and then he just gave up. Again, it doesn’t add up, why quit before you see if you win or lose?

Try to think of the last time you heard of an activist killing themselves. Now eliminate hunger strikes, self immolation and other very public, point-making ways to die.

Hanging, on the other hand, is very solitary and also a great way to disguise a murder as a suicide. Pointing to the fact that no autopsy was performed and the US has a history of silencing those they don’t agree with, some bloggers are arguing just that.

Despite my gut feeling that suicide just sounds wrong in this case, I’m not ready to jump on board with them. It’s true that Aaron Swartz’s public persona is antithetical to someone taking his own life, but no one knows, or at least I don’t know, what was going on in his mind.

I never met the guy, just know his accomplishments as a programmer (wrote one of the original RSS scripts at 14) and activist. Even those who did know him on a personal level couldn’t possibly know if he was suicidal. That’s a very personal matter and no one is inside someone else’s head.

So while I’m not comfortable saying it wasn’t a suicide, I still do believe that Aaron Swartz was murdered.

Who did what with a noose in the middle of the night is irrelevant. This murder happened in broad daylight.

If a group of armed thugs working for the government storm into someone’s place, drug someone and hang them, it’s clearly murder. If a group of government thugs armed with law books and respectable titles decide to take away someone’s freedom for 35 years even though that person had not technically done anything illegal, they are effectively ending his life, or at least a good chunk of it.

If that person keeps fighting, then it is attempted murder. If they are unable or unwilling to deal with the bullshit and hang themselves, then we’re looking at murder.

Swartz’s father made a similar claim at his son’s funeral. Time reported on this and brought it back to mental health while admitting that prosecutors may have “wrongly used their discretion” in the Swartz case.

Um, yeah. 35 years for making a point with no profit motive? Nothing for bankers who tanked the economy with clear profit motives?

Forget “wrongly used their discretion,” the US Justice system has it’s priorities completely ass-backwards. And now they’ve gone and killed someone…and a genius at that.

We can only hope that Aaron Swartz did not die in vain. That people will keep fighting for Internet freedom and new people will join the cause.

The government can’t kill everyone

728 fake movie poster

Some cops think they’re above the laws they are charged with enforcing—that’s nothing new. But now it looks like the Montreal Police force (SPVM) thinks it’s above the unwritten laws of celebrity and fame.

Warhol said that everyone gets 15 minutes in the spotlight. And Stéfanie Trudeau, better known as Constable 728, used those up well before the Maple Spring went on its summer break. So why did she turn up again in the news mid-October?

Because the SPVM let her. They let a cop who got caught on video unloading pepper spray for no reason on peaceful protesters twice keep her job.

Despite the video spreading (over 600 000 views for a Quebec-centered story is local viral), they didn’t stick her behind a desk. They kept her in the field, patrolling the Plateau.

You’d think, at the very least, they would re-assign a cop, who clearly had issues with protesters, to a beat where there weren’t so many red squares among the citizens she was charged with protecting. With a whole island, that includes suburbs, quiet affluent neighbourhoods and working class areas where everyone is too busy working to protest, they threw her in with the artists and political activists.

Are the SPVM brass really surprised that she put some guy in a chokehold in his own house for merely holding the door open for a friend who happened to have an open beer? Are they really surprised that her report to her superior contained references to artists and red squares living upstairs whom she referred to as guitar picking rats?

They can’t be. But they will try and seem like they’re dealing with it. She’s been suspended. “Charges” against the dude she put in a chokehold and others there that night have now been dropped.

That’s it, the one bad apple in the force has been dealt with. All the abuses the force is accused of—the kettling, declaring protests illegal without any violence coming from the protesters, attacking student media—is now dealt with. It was 728’s fault and now she’s gone…we good now?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that the cops wanted something like this to happen and helped it along with bad decisions. I’m only implying it.

Remember the UC Davis security guard who became famous as the pepper spray cop? He spawned many a meme but did you ever hear of him doing anything since? No, because they got rid of him. Yes, 728’s fame came in the middle of a much bigger event, the Maple Spring, but the pepper spray cop hit his stride during Occupy, and he’s gone.

Yes, the Montreal Police Brotherhood is a powerful organization notorious for protecting its own, but the SPVM brass are dealing with 728 now regardless of what the union has to say—so it stands to reason they could have prevented what happened last week, too. Instead the SPVM chose not to, they chose to put her back in a place where she could repeat.

They risked increasing her 15 minutes and created circumstances where that outcome was more of a likelihood than a possibility. I wonder what they’ll try when her time in the spotlight is finally up.

* Images: la-rabia-del-pueblo.tumblr.com, tagtele.com

justin

On Tuesday a two-term MP announced his bid for leadership of the third-placed party in the House of Commons. News, for sure, but hardly the main headline.

The MP in question, of course, is Justin Trudeau and the party is the Liberal Party of Canada—the same one his legendary father led. So for the mainstream media, this is the political story not only of the day but maybe the year.

He’ll probably win the nomination. The libs losing with him is one thing, but losing without him would make them, the party that turned their back on a Trudeau, and that would be the sole reason given for the loss, no matter what actually happened.

If he becomes the leader, expect stories on the rebirth of the Liberal Party and how they’re galvanizing the youth.

Yes, at 40, Trudeau would be young for a major federal party leader. But he knows how to use the Internet, beat a conservative senator in a boxing match and has a great head of hair.

Take a look beyond him, though, and you get a Liberal Party that is as old-school as they come. The NDP has by far more young MPs and young organizers and volunteers.

These liberals are the same people who pulled for Ignatieff and Dion and some of them even thought Paul Martin represented a new fresh way of doing things. Yeah, Martin had Bono, but he also facilitated a coup in Haiti.

But the media will eat it up, they never got over “Canada’s natural governing party.” They will, though, mention constantly that Justin is not his father and bring up PET every time they do.

It’s true, he’s not his dad. But what’s more significant is that this is also not the ’70s.

Canada is now a polarized nation. On one side we have Harper who is moving us to the right in unprecedented ways and changing how we’re seen around the world, and how we treat people here at home.

The polar opposite of this is not the Liberals clearly but it’s also not the NDP.  It’s social movements like Occupy and Quebec’s own Maple Spring, now spreading its message across the country.

If the Liberals want to be the party of youth and revolution, they’ll have to compete with the existing movements and those on the way. And they will lose.

Sure, Trudeau’s young looking, good looking and has a great head of hair, but he’s no Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois.

Sure the liberals can inject a bunch of money into making themselves appear hip, stopping short of US Republican antics like putting the constitution up on hydraulics on their website (hopefully), but they will never be able to capture the authenticity of real grassroots activism.

People are more politically savvy now than they were just a couple of years ago. They now have a choice and a voice outside of the political establishment.

I doubt pitching someone who grew up in wealth and a highly political culture as a maverick will work anymore in Canada. Even Obama’s gone from Hope and Change to “I did my best, will keep doing it and, trust me, that Romney’s bad news.”

But the badly broken Liberals will look to the past while claiming they’re thinking of the future. They’ll try and repopularize one of their old hits: Trudeaumania.

Problem is that Justin has the Trudeau, but the mania has to come from the people. This time, they won’t bring it.

The NDP, meanwhile, should focus on crafting policies that appeal to those in the social movements without trying to mimic the style and theatrics of those movements while still thinking of the population as a whole.

They should leave the cult of personality stuff to the Libs and accept that the concept of politician-as-celebrity ended with Jack. They need to focus on the substance of their policy and why it’s better than Harper’s.

They very well might do that. And if they do, we could be looking at Prime Minister Mulcair with the cons a very close second (never count Harper out). If they don’t, well, I think it’s clear at least what I think we’re looking at.

Either way, the liberals will once again be left to pick up the pieces. They’ll have to admit that Trudeaumania died a long time ago and they just let some trust fund kid with limited political chops and a great head of hair lead their once grand party.

*Photo by batmoo via Flickr (under a CC license).

new harper nope

George Orwell taught us that sometimes, with the right reinforcement, war is peace.  This week, the Appeal of Conscience Foundation in New York proved that they were paying attention when they declared Stephen Harper World Statesman of the Year.

This announcement comes a few days after Canada decided to cut off all diplomatic ties with Iran. Regardless of what you may think of the Iranian regime (I for one think it’s rather shitty), such a bafflingly bold move is at best counterproductive and at worst a provocation.

No matter how you cut it, though, a deliberate decision to close all diplomatic channels is not very diplomatic. For me, a statesman (or stateswoman) should be a diplomat first and foremost.

To be fair, though, the foundation probably chose to give their award to Harper before his government announced its plans for Iran. That means they looked at the rest of his record.

And what a record it is. Let’s see, he formally pulled out of Kyoto, effectively backing out on Canada’s commitment to the international community. He also lost a bid for a seat on the UN Security Council, not a very proud day for Canada or something a statesman would want to put on his CV.

Beyond that, well, there really isn’t much to mention internationally, except maybe for how he annoyed a bunch of politicians in Europe. Harper’s record at home doesn’t help him either—an embarrassment actually.

A decade ago, American tourists were pinning the maple leaf to their backpacks when they travelled around Europe. Now, that’s not the case, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Canadians were now doing the opposite. That’s Harper’s record as a statesman.

And then there’s his unquestioning, unwavering support for Israel, no matter what their government does to the Palestinians. Oh wait, that’s exactly why Harper is getting this award.

New York rabbi Arthur Schneier, the foundation’s founder, admitted that it was a major factor in selecting Harper, while claiming that his organization was not a one trick pony. Given the rest they had to go on, or rather the lack of tangible reasons to pick Harper, I beg to differ with Schneider’s assertion.

So that explains why Harper is getting this award, but it doesn’t explain why he is accepting it, or rather when he is accepting it. He’ll grab his trophy when he heads to New York this month and skip out on a chance to speak to the UN general assembly to do so.

Call me old fashioned, but wouldn’t you think that a world statesman would rather spend his time speaking to a roomful of active players on the world stage than getting a pat on the back from a banquet hall full of former players and politically like-minded people? It seems like Harper is more interested in playing the statesman to his friends then actually being one for everybody.

While the headline that Harper will be named World Statesman of the Year smacks of 1984, the reality of his decision to accept the award the way he will is not so much Orwellian as it is very high school and kinda lame.

* Image by Sherwin Arnott

election night fire quebec

It was a tense election, but I didn’t think it would end this way. In the alley, behind Metropolis, one person on the ground, held there by cops making his gun visible to the cameras, another, sound technician Denis Blanchette, dead and another injured.

PQ leader Pauline Marois, newly minted Premier-designate rushed off stage by security mid-speech. She had just won a minority government.

That’s right, the same kind of government that made Harper hold a damn kitten on his lap for years. A minority PQ can’t and won’t call a referendum. They can’t even hold a bake sale without at least some Liberal, CAQ or QS MNAs supporting it.

The election result was perfect for progressives, even for progressive anglos like me. Charest was gone (officially as leader this afternoon) and the PQ can’t do much, except maybe stuff that’s good for everyone.

And then some idiot goes and brings a gun to the PQ victory party. And he has the nerve to say as the cops were parading him in front of the cameras, in French, that the English were waking up.

Waking up from what? Waking up from years of voting for the Liberals no matter what? Waking up from the Federalist/Sovereigntist English/French debate that has dominated our political discourse in Quebec for too long?

Apparently, the shooter hasn’t woken up yet. Sad. Even more sad that one person is dead.

For the rest of the evening, well, here’s what I was planning to write up until the plot changed:

Quebeckers sent a message that they reject Bill 78, tuition increases and Charest’s corruption. That’s a good thing, in my book, because enforced austerity must be rejected. Charest had to go.

They also elected our first-ever woman premier. While I’m not a fan of some of the things Marois said during the campaign and am disturbed by others, I’m happy that our local political glass ceiling has been shattered and believe that she will do her best to make her new government work.

The impact of the CAQ was muted—also good. Quebec Solidaire doubled its seats, now both leaders, Francoise David and Amir Khadir, are MNAs and the party finished second and third in quite a few ridings. This is a big step forward for a forward-thinking party.

There was a chance, that finally, the discourse would change. The parties were forced to work together, Marois even spoke English during her speech (that’s finish your drink time in our Quebec Election Night Drinking Game).

All this, sadly, will take a backseat to one confused individual’s attempt to bring us back to that same discourse.

There is a vigil tonight at 8pm in front of the Metropolis for the victim of last night’s shooting

25-Star Wars Identities-9

“May the force be with you.”

With those words, the Montreal Science Centre employee completed her description of how the sound equipment you were supposed to wear during the Star Wars Identities exhibit worked and ushered me into the exhibit.

I had always known that one day that phrase would send me on my way, but I thought it would be coming tongue in cheek from the slightly intoxicated mouth of a friend as I had to leave the party to go to work or somewhere else undesirable. This was different.

Come to think of it, the exhibit, running in the Old Port until September 16th was quite different than I had imagined. Yes, there was all the memorabilia I had expected, but there was also an interactive multimedia component that added another level to the experience.

We were to create a character and develop that character’s attributes, species (yes, you can be a wookie), personality traits and backstory, we did this by scanning bracelets they gave to us at interactive stations then making choices on the touchscreens as we walked through the displays of original costumes, props, production stills, storyboards and video presentations that made up Identities. At the end, we got our character’s life story emailed to us.

The interaction was an interesting way to experience an exhibit. Having a Star Wars character all of my own was amusing, though not really what I had come for. The videos were well done and I liked how when you walked near one playing, the audio would kick in on your headset. While developmental psychology explained through Star Wars plot is certainly interesting, it wasn’t exactly what I had come for either and I’ll admit I didn’t watch each video in its entirety and skipped some outright near the end.

What I had come for was all the stuff. Stuff like the original Vader costume from Return of the Jedi (check). Stuff like the original Yoda puppet from Empire Strikes Back. Well, they had the one from Phantom Menace, but at least they put it in front of a Dagobah backdrop (so check, I guess).

There were also a fair assortment of models of ships used in the original trilogy: Star Destroyers, X-Wings, even an AT-AT. Looking at the display, I finally realized that the Millenium Falcon toy I had as a kid was the exact same size as the one they used in the movies. Kinda cool, but also kinda…

What really intrigued me, though, were all the original sketches, storyboards and production stills and the stories attached to them. Yes, some of these tidbits of information I already knew from DVD extras and the internet. Did you know that only Mark Hamill, Lucas and director Irwin Kirschner knew the real line when everyone else on the Empire set heard Vader say “Obi Wan killed your father”? I did.

Some, though, I learned for the first time that day at Identities. Did you know that George Lucas had been toying with the idea of a female heroine instead of Luke and even had storyboards drawn with her in some of the Tattooine scenes in A New Hope? I didn’t, but I do now.

I may be giving the impression that this was all original trilogy stuff. Far from it, there were plenty of costumes, sketches and other memorabilia from the prequel trilogy (even Jar Jar) and the Clone Wars and the story of Anakin played equally with that of Luke in the multimedia aspects.

I’m just an original series kinda guy. Even though I think Revenge of the Sith is right up there in the pantheon of great Star Wars, I grew up with the puppets and models, so that’s what I focused on.

Other attendees probably focused on something different and I’m sure they found plenty of what they were looking for, too. As has always been the case with Star Wars, Identities had something for everyone.

Just happy to say that this exhibit most definitely had something for me, too.

* photos by Gabrielle Gallant, see our Facebook page for the full album

quebec 2012 election signs montreal

Ever been asked if you’d rather contract herpes, gonorrhoea or crabs? That’s pretty much the question facing progressive Quebec voters on September 4th, at least when it comes to what the mainstream media (and TVA in particular) see as the three main parties. I’m beginning to understand why so many politically active students are considering not voting.

First we have Jean Charest’s Liberals (PLQ). If this election is about anything, it’s a referendum on Bill 78, Charest’s handling of the student strike and corruption in the construction industry.

Unless you’re a supporter of one or more of those things, then one thing is crystal clear: everything else aside, Jean Charest has got to go. But you replace him with who or rather what?

The PQ? True, Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois was really playing to progressives a few months ago. Her MNAs were passionately speaking out against Bill 78 and she seemed to be stepping away from the PQ boilerplates of sovereignty and language towards more socially-driven causes. She even wore a red square.

Now in campaign mode, her red square is gone and that boilerplate is back on the table. Just a reminder that today’s PQ and PLQ are essentially the same corporate party, with minor philosophical differences. Voting PQ to get rid of Charest is like banging a nail through your thumb with a hammer to take away the pain from the brick you just dropped on your toe.

That brings us to the Coalition de l’Avenir du Quebec or CAQ (most unfortunate acronym when said as a word in English, ever). François Legault left the PQ, hooked up with some Adequistes and formed a new party. Well, new if you’re talking dates, ideas are a different story.

This is basically the ADQ all over again. While they’re making a big deal about cleaning up corruption and have a better track record in that department than the PLQ or PQ (not hard given they’ve only existed since last year) their platform includes some right-leaning gems like exploring the idea of a two-tiered healthcare system.

They originally voted for Bill 78, but now are suggesting that they would eliminate some of the law’s provisions. I’m not usually one to champion a black or white approach to politics, but the unconstitutional suspension of basic rights and freedoms is a pretty cut and dry topic.

It’s something you really should be either for or against. There are fences you can sit on. This one, they’ll find, is particularly uncomfortable.

All this is not to say that there aren’t choices out there that lean left or are full-on progressive. In fact there are three.

Option Nationale is interesting. They’re advocating two things primarily: free tuition and sovereignty.

While I support the former wholeheartedly, the latter really isn’t my cup of tea (not a fan of any type of nationalism: Canadian, American or Quebec) and is something that has been played to death in Quebec.

What’s interesting, though, about ON, is their marketing approach. They released a video in French talking about the tuition issue and one in English talking about sovereignty.

It’s rare for a Quebec party to make ads in English in general, but aiming a separation pitch squarely at anglos is a unique approach to say the least. Can’t quite tell if it signifies a bold new way of doing politics or that they sent the wrong script to the translator by mistake

There’s also the Quebec Green Party. Not usually a ballot box favourite anywhere in North America, these Greens seem particularly confused.

First they made former MERSQ (a group for the tuition increase) president Karolane Baillargeon their candidate in Outremont. Then, after news of her recent job spread in the media, they backpedaled and announced that she wouldn’t be their candidate.

While Green squares apparently aren’t a great fit in the Quebec Green Party, I doubt any of them would have even thought of approaching Québec Solidaire to run. Party co-leader Amir Khadir was, after all, arrested at a casseroles demonstration and was very vocal against Bill 78, urging civil disobedience shortly after it was passed.

I like QS. That is to say I like most of their ideas. I’m not too fond of their insistence on sovereignty, but at least their vision for it is an inclusive one that goes beyond one dominant culture seceding. They even got slammed by former Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe, you know, the guy who oversaw the decimation of his party when the Orange Wave hit last year.

Will there be a Vague Solidaire sweeping Quebec in September? Well, while I admit that it’s not likely, stranger things have happened in Quebec. QS is the one left-leaning party with a chance (albeit a small one) of winning. Maybe the climate is right.

If not, then we can all go back to protesting and demanding real change out of whatever “major” party takes or keeps power in hopes of washing the bad taste out of our mouths.

* photo by Iana Kazakova

 

Anarchopanda meets Just for Laughs

Montreal’s newest festival has already begun. It runs every night, features music, athleticism and is very inclusive. It visits all neighbourhoods and in just its first year, this born-in-Montreal event already has worldwide media attention and spinoffs across Canada and in places like Paris and New York City.

You’d think such an event would make a mayor very happy. But for some reason, Mayor Gérald Tremblay is not. In fact he’s quite worried and upset, and he’s not the only one.

Some of the city’s other festivals have raised the alert level and even cancelled events because of the new kid on the block. Not very neighbourly, if you ask me.

If you haven’t already figured it out, the new festival I’m alluding to is the Maple Spring, student strike, anti-Bill 78 protest, Casseroles, call it what you will. Just don’t call it a threat to Montreal’s culture. It is part of Montreal’s culture – and lately a rather dominant part at that.

It’s not a threat to tourism either. We’re talking about a few hundred, few thousand, sometimes tens or hundreds of thousands of people, vibrantly though peacefully marching in the streets, rain or shine, banging on pots and pans, some of them dressed as giant pandas and such.

Sounds like an attraction to me. And this doesn’t even count those who come here just to witness and be part of an inspirational movement at it’s core. At the very least, these marches aren’t the type that will scare those not interested in activism away.

That is to say, they won’t scare tourists away on their own. Throw in draconian laws like Bill 78 that create tension on the streets where there wasn’t before as well as a corporate media bent on showcasing the few instances of violence causally linked to the protesters that occurred over the past five months (not a bad ratio given the number of people and timeframe) and you get a different picture.

Yes, it’s not the students or the casseroles that may drive tourists away from the city, it’s the actions of those in power, their media associates and their police enforcers. The same people warning of disruptions to festiville are those causing that potential disruption.

What about local business? Well, if you’ve ever marched for hours, you know that at some point you’re gonna need refreshment. I’m sure dépanneurs on the march route do a brisk business in thirst-quenching drinks and even cigarettes and other provisions.

Once the nighttime manifs end, there are tons more people in the streets than would otherwise have been there, and not just protesters but journalists (both mainstream and independent) and other hangers on. Many of them may seek another type of refreshment before heading home, the kind that local bars are very equipped to provide.

But wait, you say, weren’t there some problems at bars during the protests a few weeks ago? Wasn’t lower St-Denis a warzone? Sadly, yes. But don’t blame the red squares.

Surveillance camera video and lawsuits brought against the police by very disgruntled bar owners who had their terraces pepper sprayed and establishments raided show that it was, once again, the cops who provoked the problems. Cops having a difficult time differentiating between protester and ordinary patron, because, well, the protesters are ordinary people, the kind that have been keeping the bar economy and other economies including the festival economy going long before wearing a piece of red felt or banging on some pots and pans.

It’s about time festival organizers like Just For Laughs’ Gilbert Rozon realized that and instead of begging the movement to stay away, sought out ways for the two events to co-exist. Maybe instead of cancelling their opening event on Crescent, the Grand Prix organizers should realize that a tourist clientele that wasn’t scared off by constant violence in the streets of Bahrain won’t be scared off by Anarchopanda. Maybe it’s time that bar owners like Peter Sergakis, whose Station de Sports recently barred people holding pots and pans, realized that when your big attraction is a cheap 60-oz pitcher, you’re attracting the type of people who may have issues with austerity measures and economic inequality.

It’s time the stewards of the city’s established culture realized that the real threat is not a festive social movement but rather the likes of Tremblay and Jean Charest who will risk destroying the city’s economy and tourism industry just to maintain a status quo that benefits themselves and their wealthy friends. It’s time for the other festivals and the rest of Montreal’s culture to welcome the city’s newest festival with open arms.

funeral for the main

I’d like to take a break from the revolution for a moment to say goodbye to a few old friends: several historic buildings that were part of Montreal’s fabled Red Light District. That’s what the activist artists in the Save the Main Coalition did this past Sunday as they staged a Funeral for the Main.

The mock funeral, complete with a priest (heritage activist and Infringement Festival creator Donovan King) giving the last rights, pall bearers (FTB contributor Laurence Tenenbaum and others), hysterical mourners (burlesque dancer Velma Candyass and others), a coffin and everyone dressed in black, drew 40 people in front of Cafe Cleopatre. The same group had spent the past couple of years trying to save the storied performance venue from eviction in order to build an office tower in its place.

They were successful. The Cleo will remain. Unfortunately, her neighbours, all buildings populating the west side of St-Laurent Boulevard between Rene-Levesque and St-Catherine and dating back over a century, have a date with the wrecking ball.

While there has been talk of preserving some of the facades and stones of these historic structures, the living, breathing culture that once inhabited them is already dead. It hasn’t been that long, though.

In 2009, the area was going through a resurgence. New performance venues like Katacombes complimented more established spots like the Cleo and legendary fast food restaurant Montreal Pool Room.

Then, Montreal mayor Gerald Tremblay handpicked developer Christian Yaccarini and his Angus Development Corporation and gave them a no-bid contract to redevelop the area as part of the Quartier des Spectacles project. His idea: build a giant office tower for Hydro Quebec.

Despite opposition (and irony), Yaccarini spent the next few years buying out all the businesses, all but Cleo, and leaving their buildings vacant and effectively killing most of the organic culture and community on the block. Now, all we are left with is the empty shell of what once was and a perfect justification for demolition.

The Quebec government agreed and gave the go-ahead. The final act of burying real culture and replacing it with a gentrified, “safe” and most likely banal pseudo culture is scheduled for August.

Barring a miracle (hey, Cleo being saved was kind of a miracle, so it’s possible), this funeral will be the last true act of underground art the buildings next to Cleo will see. Rest in peace.

* image: SE Amesse Photography

may 23 kettle

After a couple of nights of pavement pounding, I decided to settle in for a bit of armchair activism. I fired up CUTV and Twitter and watched what was happening in the streets of Montreal.

“Oh, man,” I thought, “this one looks fun!”

The mood seemed so festive. All the protesters looked like they were having a great time. It wasn’t just the main march, there were impromptu marches and people banging on pots and pans all over the city.

While I caught some reports of police repression in Quebec City, what was happening in Montreal was the very definition of a peaceful protest. I went  into the kitchen to make a snack.

When I came back, the mood had changed…significantly. Hundreds of people were now being kettled by the SPVM on St-Denis just north of Sherbrooke. They were still peaceful, but the cops seemed anything but.

From my vantage point, the same one that roughly 6000 live viewers had, one cop was telling journalists that they had to turn off the camera and mic if they wanted to get out of the kettle:

http://youtu.be/GyNVTAV84jw

Nevermind the fact that anyone, not just media, have the right (and some feel the duty) to observe and document police actions with any electronic means at their disposal. Nevermind the fact that this officer was just being an all-out jerk and probably only stopped because the Twitterverse got word of what was happening to his superiors. The message was loud and clear, the SPVM didn’t want the world seeing what they were doing.

And why would they? For the first time in this 100+ days conflict they were arresting a large group of people without the usual megaphone dispersal warning and without a pretext that they could later use as justification.

There were rumors of rocks being thrown, rumors later repeated in the mainstream media because the source of the allegations was a police spokesperson. Throwing stuff really didn’t jive with the festive feeling on the streets that night. If you factor in that Public Security Minister Jean-Marc Fournier wanted mass arrests and the SPVM’s almost baiting approach both on the streets and Twitter, you start to get a clearer picture.

They were, for the first time, enforcing Bill 78 (in this case, technically a municipal bylaw that mirrored one of the bill’s parts and carried a slightly smaller fine, but the argument remains). They were arresting peaceful protesters whose only crime was being in a group larger than 50 people without having provided an itinerary eight hours prior.

While my heart and sympathies go out to all the people who got scooped up for happening to be there when the state decided to rear its ugly head, my pity goes to the cops, tasked with being on the wrong side of history. As Quebec Solidaire MNA Amir Khadir reminded the press after trying to negotiate with the authorities on the scene, “we have to remember that the police are an instrument…they are also victims of this absurd law.”

It is, after all, politics that brought in Bill 78 and inspired these arrests. Therefore, everyone arrested Wednesday night and those who will be arrested for doing nothing more than exercising their charter rights in a way the government disapproves of are political prisoners. Yes, Jean Charest has taken political prisoners.

I’ll give you a minute to let the absolute absurdity of the situation sink in. A premier with a razor-thin majority government is detaining free citizens at will. Now I’ll give you another minute to let the outrage grow. There were more arrests Wednesday night alone than during the entire October Crisis. For those who don’t remember, the October Crisis involved kidnapping, bombs and murder. The Maple Spring involves people walking around wearing red felt squares and banging on pots and pans.

Fortunately, those pots and pans and the generally festive nature the protests have taken lately are the light at the end of the tunnel and the path towards winning the war. If you have political prisoners, you usually have a full blown social uprising to go along with them. Now, in Quebec, we have just that.

As word spread of the kettled protesters Wednesday, people started showing up and staged an impromptu sit-in on the other side of the barricade, pots and pans in hand. A truly beautiful moment of resistance and one that is now being repeated nightly all around the city.

At 8pm, ordinary people start banging on pots and pans from their balconies, in parks, on the street, you name it. When they see others doing the same, they congregate and sometimes they march, regardless of whether the group is 20 or 200 people. This is spontaneous and peaceful disobedience at its finest.

It is a thing of beauty and it inspired this now viral video, also a thing of beauty:

Now it’s spreading beyond Montreal, to other parts of Quebec and just today to Toronto. The red square itself has already spread further, including the states and Europe.

Quebec is now the focal point for peaceful social uprising and civil disobedience. Charest’s political prisoners were not taken in vain.

* Images: Canadian Press, Globe & Mail

st-denis fire

Police barricades on fire in downtown Montreal, photo Patrick Chartrand

It doesn’t matter what you think about the protest against tuition fee hikes, this isn’t about accessible education anymore. Now, everyone in Quebec’s right to protest, organize and express themselves freely is at risk. As of last night, people’s right to just go out and have a good time is at risk, too.

Friday, after a last-minute 48 hour session of the Assemble Nationale, the Charest government passed Bill 78. This “special” law originally defined any gathering of ten people or more who had not provided police with a trajectory and duration eight hours prior as an illegal riot.

That figure got changed to 50 people. The original number was laughable and prompted tongue-in-cheek phonecalls informing the police of upcoming family gatherings as well as satirical observations that people waiting for a bus, for example, could constitute a riot. Any number imposed as a limit, though, is unconstitutional and oppressive.

Image: Al Korkidakis

The law also makes it illegal to protest within 50 meters of a school, effectively barring protests from Montreal’s downtown core. Not only that, Twitter is apparently under surveillance, too. People’s tweets in favour of the strike protests or critical of the new law could land them in trouble for being a protest organizer.

In a nutshell, this is the most repressive piece of legislation passed in Canada since the War Measures Act. It’s a desperate act by a desperate administration trying to hold on to authority. Unfortunately, everyone has to pay for that desperation.

The student movement is locked down, so is any other movement that wants to get their message out in public space. A chill is being felt all across Quebec. Charest can now pass whatever he wants without having to deal with the consequences.

Well, not quite. If you were out in downtown Montreal Friday night, it didn’t look like any activists were in hiding. Protesters responded to their right to protest being removed by, well, protesting, in larger numbers than before. Some media said there were 10 000 people in the streets, others online argued that the figure was way higher. To be safe, I’ll just say that there were more than 50.

Image: Canadian Press

And that’s the point. Way more than 50 people marching without providing police with a route eight hours in advance by all the major schools in the downtown core and tweeting about it. That’s the only kind of response that will work, direct, point-by-point defiance.

And it was, for the most part, peaceful. Yes, there was a brief exchange of molatov cocktails and teargass and the cops declared the march illegal (kinda pointless, really, given the fact that all marches like this one are now technically illegal from the get-go), but as tens of thousands of people marched on, that passed and the protest continued until around 2am.

Those marching weren’t alone this time. They were cheered from terrasses and by car horns. Even a group of bikers revved their approval, prompting one CUTV (the best source for live coverage of this movement) commenter to observe that it “looks like Charest has lost his base.”

Last night wasn’t so jovial. The SPVM not only arrested 69 people, but they also teargassed a terrasse full of bar patrons unrelated to the protest on St-Denis (and even arrested a random woman). When the cops erected a barricade, quite possibly to kettle people in and arrest them, protesters set it on fire.

Regardless of whether or not you think going all St-Jean on the barricade was a good idea, I think we can all agree that the right course of action by the authorities would have been to put the blaze out right away. Instead they let it burn for a while, just enough time to get headlines about protesters burning things into the major corporate media.

It was for effect. Just as the attack on random Saturday night drinkers was for effect. Sure, they may explain it away as being some rogue cop acting inappropriately, but I think the real motive is to let people know that if the protests continue, they too may become a target.

The problem for them is people aren’t stupid. We’re savvy around these parts. We know that with this law, we are all targets automatically.

Because of law 78, this is no longer just a student struggle. It’s everyone’s struggle. Unions are coming on board and there’s a major march planned for Tuesday. Opposition politicians are urging civil disobedience and asking if the government has lost its mind. Xavier Dolan brought the movement to Cannes. The Arcade Fire brought it to Saturday Night Live. Ordinary people are waking up, too. Jean Charest woke them up.

I don’t think they will go to sleep until this law is removed from the books. At least I hope they won’t. We can’t afford to lose our most primal political rights. We are all red squares now.

student protest montreal city hall

You know what’s really scary? I think Jean Charest, Gerald Tremblay and their colleagues actually believe what they’re spinning about the ongoing student strike.

For months I thought that they were merely both cynically toeing party line in hopes of holding out long enough to avoid having to pass the debt they are trying to pin on students onto their rich buddies instead. Charest had his “pay their fair share” angle while Tremblay just kept repeating how we Montrealers need to “take our city back” from the protesters.

But at education minister Line Beauchamp’s resignation on Monday, something looked different about Charest. He looked genuinely upset and determined, like a pissed-off man on a mission.

Could this be true. Did he genuinely feel like he was the victim. Did he think the two offers his government made to the student groups were an actual compromise?

What about the violence? Does he think the police violence in Victoriaville and elsewhere was justified? Is it worth it to let the streets turn into a warzone just to enforce a small tax hike on students when there are clearly other ways to get the needed revenue, namely by listening to proposals like those of the CLASSE that would see a freeze on administrators’ salaries and raised taxes on the banks?

Let’s look at Tremblay. Last Thursday night, he called a press conference to address the coordinated smokebomb attack that prompted a shutdown of Montreal’s metro system earlier that morning. Instead of addressing the specific issue, the mayor spent about fifteen minutes talking about the student protests and the affect they have had on the city.

The problem here, and it’s a big one, is that as the mayor was speaking, there was absolutely no proven link between the incident and the movement. Since, some of the suspects have turned themselves in, but there is still no proof that they were acting on behalf of anyone but themselves and maybe a group that thinks the CLASSE isn’t radical enough.

Even in the unlikely event that a stronger link comes to light, Tremblay’s speech and especially his condescending remark that parents and grandparents should tell their kids to “go back to school” are off-topic at best, uncalled for and offensive. But you could see it in his eyes that he believed what he was saying and felt he was doing the right thing.

For him, there is no validity to this protest, the activists have had their fun and should give up so we can get back to the more serious, grown up matters of commerce, demolishing buildings and banning masks at protests. Unfortunately, he’s not the only one who feels this way.

The usual suspects are all present. Sun News released a “comedy” segment asking if Charest has the balls to stand up to protesters (sidenote: if he had balls, he’d stand up to his corporate and mob buddies and give the students what they want) and only referring to the activists as “student rioters.” CTV Montreal executive producer and guy I’ve agreed with maybe once in five years Barry Wilson went on a diatribe against the students, even blaming them for the police violence in Victoriaville.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. Now, following the scare in the metro and constant anti-student talking points in the media, ordinary people, even some whose views I respect on many other issues, are getting on board with Charest and company. I think it has to do with the emotion that those in power are now speaking with.

It is real emotion, too. You see, this is no longer about a few hundred dollars in fee increases. It is an ideological war. On one side you find neoliberal austerity, corporate kickbacks and bureaucratic defense of the status quo. On the other, you find a fairer society, progressive ideas and the voice of the future.

It’s no wonder people like Charest and Tremblay are so passionate about protecting their interests in this matter. Their very authority and way of life are at stake. It’s also no surprise the students are passionate as well. Their future and the global revolution that started with the Arab Spring and spread to North America with the Occupy movement is being challenged here at home. That’s why they won’t cave, no matter how many cops and editorial comments the establishment throws at them.

The time has come for everyone else to take sides. The time has come for everyone else to realize that this isn’t about a few hundred dollars in fee increase. It’s about what kind of future we hope to have.

* photos by Phyllis Papoulias