Dear clients, your attention please,” the announcement (in French) rang out with a sense of self-importance and urgency across the platform, “we are currently testing the announcement system.” Fair enough, I guess, though a little amusing in how it was so anti-climactic. Then it hit me: the voice had just called us clients.

We weren’t in a store. We were waiting for a train in a Montreal metro station, part of a public transportaion network spanning the island. The operative word being public. Yes, I did pay my fare to ride, as did everyone else on the platform (in theory), but that doesn’t make me a customer.

Call me passenger, traveller, transit system user, citizen even, just please don’t call me a client. I’m not. Just like the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) isn’t a business, or at least it shouldn’t see itself as one.

It’s a public utility that does need to charge a fee to function. It also should balance its books, but it should not be run like a for profit corporation.

Unfortunately that’s not how the brass sees it. Just look at how they’re policing the network: with real city cops. Now while the Montreal Police are, presumably, dealing with actual crime in the transit system (as they should), every time I see them, they’re doing something else, namely checking for proof of payment. They stand in lines four or five deep, stopping people entering and leaving the metro. I’ve even seen them board buses to check for that little ticket stub that you’re supposed to keep (whatever happened to faith in the driver, but I digress).

The logic put forth by those behind this scheme, or at least by those tasked with enforcing it, is that (as one cop told a friend of mine) the system loses money to fare jumpers. But how much money are they wasting dedicating resources and paying salaries to prevent those lost revenues? Surely more than they lose. Well, not if you factor in the hefty fines the cops give out to those they catch.

This isn’t about stopping passengers who are trying to avoid paying $3, it’s about generating large amounts of revenue through punishments. It’s not about saving money, it’s about making it from the public and using an actual police force to do it, intimidation tactics and all.

Let’s put this in perspective. Imagine a private business, say a clothing store, using actual cops to protect its business interests. Not fair, right? What makes that business worthy of public, armed security and the flower shop down the street not?

But wait, proponents of the armed cop ticket checkers on the transit system may argue, it is fair because the metro and bus network isn’t some ordinary private business, it’s a public utility and therefore, a public police force is a justifiable organization to use as security.

I’m confused. If they’re arging that it’s a public utility, which it is, then they may be able to justify the use of cops, but they can’t in any way, shape or form, justify using those cops to generate profits from travellers as though they were customers. Nor can they call members of the public who use this public utility clients or customers, as apparently they have started doing.

I realize they’re not the only utility that behaves like this. Hydro, for example, has been treating everyone as customers for years, but that’s a much larger nut to crack and one that people living in a modern urban setting really can’t avoid (well, there is off-grid, but that’s tricky). Public transit isn’t in the same boat.

Some people have cars, some people have bikes, some people have money for taxis and many have use of their feet. There are options. Public transit is an option that should be encouraged and promoted. Many agree with that notion, but not all of them, or more specifically not most of those in power to change things, realize that the way to promote a public utility isn’t through an ad campaign, it’s through making the service accessible to as many as possible and not making people feel like they are entering a profit-driven police state every time they head underground to get around.

Higher transit fares discourage people from riding. Getting rid of the six ticket pack (check it out, it just happened) doesn’t help either. Neither does not accepting monthly or weekly passes or even the two ticket discount when entering the Montreal metro system from off-island. Yes, I know that it involves a deal with one of the two other transit systems, but I think it’s worth it to either negotiate a better deal or else bite the bullet and pay the small expense that makes it possible for people to not have to pay different rates depending on where they enter the metro. Think about it, unified pricing helped strengthen the New York subway and the subway helped build the city.

At the very least, the STM should realize it doesn’t have a monopoly and start acting like a true public utility that works for the benefit of the public. It needs to realize that the citizens who use the service may be many things, but are in no way mere exploitable clients. Then, the statement in the following song would ring true…

It may seem like a joke at first: a magnet for controversy who comes across as vulgar and trashy every chance they get running for the highest office in the land. But enough about Newt Gingrich. Roseanne Barr is the real deal.

Barr, the former TV star, now author, fierce tweeter and even more fierce Occupy supporter, announced her intention to run for the Green Party nomination to be their candidate for President of the United States. That’s the same Green Party who proposed Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney to the American public as an alternative to the “two” party system.

Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to see her debating Obama and (insert walking wealthy or neo-con stereotyped Republican candidate here). The Green Party doesn’t always meet the requirements imposed by the networks to be included in the televised debates, and even if they do this time, there is another strong candidate in the field, Jill Stein, whom Barr would support if she doesn’t get the Greens’ nod herself.

But let’s say, for argument’s sake, that Barr wins the nomination. Her celebrity may just be enough to allow the Greens to qualify for the main televised stage. If it does, then we’d have a situation that would be interesting, entertaining and possibly comical at times but by no means a joke.

Yes, she’s a performer, but so was Regan. And let’s face it, in the US, the top political job has been all about performance and image for a while now. The real power and decision-making comes from the people the President chooses to surround themselves with.

For Obama, that meant people like Wall Street insider Timothy Geitner, the same type of people who ruined the economy in the first place and increased the divide between rich and poor. Not sure who Barr would surround herself with, but if her interactions with producers in Hollywood back in the 90s are any indication, she doesn’t seem like someone accustomed to giving in to or even endorsing the views of the powers that be.

Will she take votes away from Obama and effectively elect a Republican? That, after all, is what some argue happened when Nader ran against Gore and Bush back in 2000. The answer, succinctly, is no.

Never mind that Gore actually won so many moons ago, the past is the past. The real base of inspired, mostly young and all progressive voters who came out in droves in 2008, hoping for some change may very well sit this one out.

Disillusioned with a political process that brought more of the same save for a few improvements, it’s easy to see how many may decide to focus their energies on dismantling the state rather than trying to improve it again. Those votes were probably not Obama’s to begin this time around.

Instead, if there is a third choice, one who speaks bluntly to all the people fed up with Washington and who calls bullshit when she sees it, those now opting to stay home (or go out and occupy instead of voting) may start paying attention to political discourse again. It would start with those on the left of the spectrum, but it’s quite possible that some people on the right who remember her TV show with the same fondness they now offer to Fox News will listen to what she has to say.

Barr would force Obama to defend himself to the left, and offer solid plans he couldn’t back away from instead of moderate, centrist pro-corporate talk dolled up with dove-like platitude-ridden rhetoric. When the Republican, say Romney, tried to use what the President said in response to Barr against him, maybe implying that he’s some sort of socialist, I imagine Barr would respond in such a bare-bones way that such rhetoric would no longer work.

The corporate powers-that-be would have no choice but to abandon the Republican and put their resources behind Obama, the only candidate with some chance of maintaining the power structure. If he is re-elected, though, he would have to live up to at least some of the promises he made to fend of attacks from Barr.

Or maybe, just maybe, Barr wins and then we have a whole new ballgame.

To paraphrase Micheal Corleone’s only noteable line in Godfather III: “Just when we thought we were out, they pull us back in!” I had to paraphrase it because I wouldn’t dare embed the YouTube clip these days and am even a little skittish about a direct quote from such a heavily copyrighted film. Yes, we all know that SOPA and PIPA got shelved in the US, thanks in large part to sites like Wikipedia going dark for a day and showing everyone just what a heavily censored and regulated internet might be like. But that doesn’t mean they’re done for good.

It also doesn’t mean that content owners (not to be confused with content creators) like the major film studios and record labels and big telecom corporations, the real forces behind such legislation, along with their paid legislators, are ready to throw in the towel. Far from it. The day following the internet’s temporary reprieve from a pit of SOPA-dom, the US went on the warpath and shut down MegaUpload.com (along with other affiliated sites) and arrested founder Kim “Dotcom” Schmitz and other employees.

Now regardless of what you may think about some of what happens (or happened) on MegaUpload one thing is clear: by seizing the 72nd most visited site on the internet, you’re bound to be affecting a whole whack of people who aren’t using the site to share copyrighted content, but rather to share their own larger documents. Some of those people are now looking to sue the FBI for those lost files. Others, like Anonymous, took a more eye for an eye approach to the fight, knocking out the websites of the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry of Association of America, Universal Music, the FBI, the Department of Justice and others.

It’s a battle that needs to be fought. Even if you don’t believe there is an ulterior motive behind the MegaUpload takedown, namely one to prevent MegaKey (a service that allows artists to distribute their music directly to consumers and get paid 90% of what they make) from launching, it’s clear what’s really going on here. This isn’t about copyright or protecting content creators. It’s about what it’s always been about for major corporations and the establishment: maintaining power and profit. The internet as we know it threatens that, so their plan is to threaten the internet as we know it.

It’s a little more clever than that, though. When we all rise up and face the draconian measures before us and win, we think we’re safe. Then, they try to sneak the same thing or something a little worse by our false sense of security, changing only the location the law originates (irrelevant because the web is worldwide) and the letters of the alphabet used. Maybe they’ll throw in a number or two.

anti-ACTA protest in the Polish Parliament

Have you heard of ACTA or the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement? That’s an international treaty that if ratified by the European Parliament (the vote is now scheduled to happen in June) would create a global body tasked with clamping down on copyright vioations and even generic drug sales on the internet while removing safeguards that protect Internet Service Providers from being liable for the actions of their subscribers. ISPs would also be banned from hosting free software that can access copyrighted material. Basically an all-around attack on civil and digital rights and freedom of communication.

What about Bill C-11 (aka SOPA’s evil little brother), not yet in the committee stage, though on the horizon in Canada? While this is not to be confused with the C-10 Omnibus Crime Bill, it is another attempt by the Harper Government to re-brand and pass a previous failed piece of legislation. In this case, the Conservatives are bringing back Bill C-32, which would put digital locks on DVDs and course material, and throwing in a bunch of stuff from SOPA including website takedowns and forcing ISPs to block sites accused of copyright violation. Basically most draconian parts of SOPA that drew all the opposition.

So how do we continue to oppose measures like this? While our recent tactics worked, they won’t always. If Wikipedia goes dark every other week, it will start to lose effect. There is the hacktivism of groups like Anonymous which is respectable but can’t be the only means of protest and is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. There is political lobbying, for which we are seriously underfunded compared to the media and telecom giants. There are awareness campaigns which work, but they can’t be the only thing in our arsenal.

So how do we fight back? I once suggested we essentially pirate the internet by creating our own. It may come to that, but until it does, we shouldn’t be afraid (or too lazy) to take to the streets as they did in Europe over ACTA yesterday. It’s also extremely important that we oppose without fear and show that as the people who love a free and open internet, we’re going to keep being open and free with our internet. With that in mind, I think I will post the YouTube clip of that line from the Godfather after all…no, wait, I think I’ll post a different line:

* Images: globalpost.com, ccer.ca, venturebeat.wordpress.com

Since the Kennedy-Nixon debates of the 60s, politics have been almost all about what the candidates look like, and how they hold themselves on camera. Sure, what they have to say, and how they say it is important too, but this ain’t radio. For me last Sunday, though, it kind of was like radio and way more about what was said then how the candidates looked saying it.

Instead of watching the first of six NDP leadership debates at home online (my version of tee vee), I was there in person at the Ottawa Convention Centre. When I got into the room, the only decent seat I could find was on the stage itself (that’s me with the beard), behind the nine candidates vying to replace the late great Jack Layton and become the leader of Canada’s Official Opposition and hopefully Prime Minister of Canada in four years.

That meant two things: I felt a need to hold my phone low and out of frame to Tweet and, most importantly, I didn’t get to see how the candidates looked responding to the questions but rather hear what they had to say. That was a good thing.

This debate wasn’t about putting the other candidate down or throwing out catchphrases. No, all these people were ultimately on the same boat, a boat without a captain and they were all trying to fix that problem.

I can honestly say that I believed everyone up there. They were articulating as truthfully as they could just what direction they would take the party in, not hiding anything ulterior.

It’s no secret that I was partial to Brian Topp going in; hell, I had even hitched a ride on the Topp campaign bus from Montreal. Topp didn’t disappoint. I believed him when he said that it wasn’t enough just to win if winning meant abandoning core NDP values and when he argued that we needed to adress “the central issue of inequality in our country” before anything and the rest would essentially follow.

I also believed Martin Singh when he said he wanted to help out small business, not close to a full platform, really, but he does seem honestly committed to his one cause. When Nathan Cullen said that “a government that believes a national housing strategy is to build more prisons is out of touch and perhaps out of its mind” (nice one) I believed him too just as I believed Robert Chisholm when he said he needed to brush up on his French (seriously, dude).

I also believed Thomas Mucair when he said that the NDP needed to go beyond it’s traditional base to win. No, I don’t think that that approach is necessary. To the contrary, while reaching out to different cultural communities is key, you don’t need to leave your progressive base of ideas to appeal to them. In fact, retaking its progressive base in Quebec from the Bloc is what won the NDP all those seats last election. But I do believe that’s how Mulcair feels and am confident that it’s the direction he will take the party in if elected leader.

Meanwhile Nash, Ashton, Saganash and Dewar all echoed party principles in what they had to say. Peggy Nash spoke of inclusiveness and bringing people together, both urban and rural Canadians. Nikki Ashton, from a rural riding herself, brought up youth issues like accessible education. Romeo Saganash has seen first hand what unequal distribution of wealth can do to a community argued that Ottawa needs a better plan for First Nation communities like Atawapiskat. Paul Dewar has plans for better use of resources that can help us build a stronger green economy.

A greener economy, better housing, and a fairer distribution of wealth were themes echoed by all candidates. While none of them went as far as Topp in defence of the working class, they all had good ideas and something to offer. Since this is a preferrential ballot (you can pick runner-up choices as well), I was busy making my list of backup choices.

But who has what it takes to beat Stephen Harper? From what I heard at this debate, both Topp and Mulcair were quick on their feet with intelligent responses to questions, spoke with fiery confidence, have the experience necessary and are fluently bilingual. Nash comes close, but she’s not as fiery, at least she wasn’t during this debate.

So, with both Topp and Mulcair capable, it comes down to what they plan to do to win and what they plan to do after victory. I don’t fear that Mulcair will turn into Stephen Harper overnight, that would be a stretch, but turning into the Liberals to beat them is a possibility and one that he left the door open to with his statement about moving away from the base. If you’re comfortable with moving to the right in hopes of reaching the center, then Mulcair’s your man.

If, instead, you see the political tides turning and think, like me, that the Occupy Movement, gobal economic troubles, mass strikes and other factors will push the political center to the left, making an option with NDP core values the winning choice against Harper, then Topp’s approach rings true.

I know where I stand and thanks to the honesty of the candidates, NDPers should know too. I’m glad I caught this debate the way I did. It was the perfect radio debate, the kind of debate Canada needs now.

* photos by Chris Zacchia

You know when you dislike someone and then they go and do something really cool and you start thinking that maybe you’ve misjudged them? Inevitably, they go back to their old ways and you realize that nope, you were right about them all along and you kick yourself for doubting your preconceptions.

That’s exactly how I feel right now about Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay and I doubt I’m the only one. For weeks, Tremblay kept a drastically different tone than the mayors of other major cities with an occupied public space.

Following the 1am commando-style raid on the original #OWS, Tremblay told the press that Montreal policy does not take its cues from the mayor of New York. When Toronto occupiers were going to court to fight the city, Montreal protesters were still working out details with the city on how Occupy would survive the winter, dismantling wooden structures deemed too permanent by the Tremblay administration and preparing for large multi-person tents to stave off the cold weather.

Shortly after those structures came down, Tremblay changed his tune. Bringing up supposed “fights” that may have occurred over the weekend as his reasoning that everyone had to go. This culminated in the cops forcing everyone out Friday morning, a few days after the original statement from the mayor. In this announcement, Tremblay brought up the fact that the city had let the occupiers camp for five weeks, and said that they now had to find other avenues to express their disappointment in the economic system.

This “you kids had your fun, now it’s time to go home” approach mirrors the paternalistic tone NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg took when he claimed that he was only “temporarily” evicting protesters for their own safety.   He said the park needed to be cleaned and occupiers would be allowed back in after, but without tents or sleeping bags.

Not only did Bloomberg’s statement miss the whole point of this being an occupation instead of an easily contained and just as easily dismissed protest, but it also ignored the fact that #OWS had its own cleaning crews and medics. The mayor was well aware of this situation, in fact, it’s what foiled his attempted eviction a month earlier. Well, that and a mass mobilization on the internet to get everyone and their uncle jamming the city’s phone lines and those of public park “owner” Brookfield Properties.

Bloomberg wasn’t ignorant of what he was really doing, the choice of an unannounced 1am brute force eviction when many politically motivated people had gone to sleep for the night proves that. He probably is guilty of a more profound ignorance of what scenes of NYPD officers and sanitation workers throwing 5000 books in the trash means for his place in history, as Keith Olbermann pointed out, but that’s another story.

While Bloomberg tried to put a somewhat liberal spin on what was clearly a repressive act, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his administration didn’t bother, opting instead to keep repeating that what the protesters were doing was illegal. Makes sense, stay on your own superficial message but shut down occupy at all costs. They were, after all, probably part of the same conference call (and apparently so was US Homeland security).

Now, it looks like Tremblay was on that call too. What superficial political message did he have to maintain while getting the job done? Well, he’s not really left or right, nor is he progressive or repressive. He got in on an anti-merger ticket and then made life tough for de-merged communities. He claimed to be a champion of the arts then fought hard to remove a performance space from artists and replace it with an office tower in his brand-new entertainment district (dude likes to evict, just sayin’).

Now, he rode a wave of praise for a respectful and unique approach to occupy, possibly due in part to the legal precedent of huge fines for a similar eviction and the fact that Square Victoria is technically a public square so park hours don’t apply, then switched over night and copied what other mayors were doing. Classic Tremblay, really.

While we may have been duped by what seemed like a really cool, trend-bucking thing our mayor was doing, Montrealers have now been reminded of just who he works for. We’ve also just seen him attack our city’s foothold in the most important global social movements in ages, treating it like a bureaucratic nuisance.

His nuisance was a thing of beauty. I went there on the first day and witnessed people peacefully assembled, dancing, cooking for one another and planning something big. I returned a couple of times and witnessed a growing community, living in the shadow of tall buildings and big money. They were planning for winter, had invested in giant tents so people didn’t freeze, it was continuing and adapting.

In one swift gesture, Tremblay got rid of that. But he didn’t kill the movement in Montreal, just as Bloomberg didn’t kill it in New York, in fact he made it stronger.

As it’s been said, you can’t evict an idea, so now occupiers around the world are talking about what form the next phase of this movement will take. If phase two, three or even four gets rid of the ultra-rich politicians like Michael Bloomberg, a small-by-comparison lackey like Gerald Tremblay may simply one day be disregarded as a nuisance himself.

While sometimes it sucks to be wrong about someone, at least it’s better than being on the wrong side of history.

* Photos: CBC, OccupyWallSt Facebook Page and by Chris Zacchia for FTB

BREAKING NEWS: New York City is under occupation and has been for a few days.

You’d think that would be breaking news, wouldn’t you? Even if it’s not the whole city, just the financial quarter. And even if it’s not an invading army, but people upset with the way their own country is running things (in this case, the economy). After all, domestic upheaval in Egypt and people occupying a public square in Bahrain was headline news all around the world just a few months ago, wasn’t it?

Come to think of it, the lack of media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street protest is just like the Arab Spring. State controlled media completely blocked the protesters’ side of the story in the Middle East and Africa just as corporate (pretty much the state in the West) controlled media is shutting up about what’s currently unfolding in Lower Manhattan.

In both cases, social media took the lead in getting the news out. In the case of the NYC action, it started on Twitter, or rather was started on Twitter by Adbusters Magazine. Now, before you say manufactured protest, I think Adbusters starting this one has a lot more credibility than, say, Fox News starting the Tea Party.

For #OccupyWallStreet, there is even a live video stream that’s been running since the beginning of the occupation. It was re-running footage when I checked it out last night, footage of a general meeting where a group of people called the People’s Microphone used their voices to amplify what speakers were saying.

It also re-ran footage of the NYPD arresting people seemingly at random, and on the flimsiest of grounds. They even cited an anti-mask law from the 1800s and arrested people for chalking on the street. While this is a peaceful protest and even speaker Roseanne Barr called for the crowd not to fight the cops and try to bring them onside, it looks like the cops have other plans, roughing up protesters to chants of “shame” and “the whole world is watching.”

And the whole world is watching, just not through American (or Canadian, for that matter) mainstream media. While things have started to change in the last couple of days with Keith Olberman and even Stephen Colbert making mention of the protest, the majority of the new found coverage has focused on downplaying the numbers and the significance of this event.

In Egypt, the government shut down the internet to stifle the usefulness of Twitter and Facebook to the protesters. While that hasn’t happened here, there were unconfirmed reports of posts mentioning Occupy Wall Street simply not showing up in people’s Facebook feeds as they should.

Whether or not the powers behind Wall Street who own our media, including social media, decide to exercise their authority and censor the web has yet to be seen. Whether or not this protest continues to grow has also yet to be seen.

Right now, it looks like it very well might. There are solidarity actions springing up around the world, including one in Montreal tomorrow (Friday) afternoon in front of the World Trade Centre (yes, we have one of those). Meanwhile, people from other American states and other countries (and continents) are headed to Manhattan to keep this action going.

It has almost all the elements that made up the Arab Spring: a tyrannical authority (the economic tyranny of Wall Street in this case), mainstream media censorship and people who have no plan on leaving getting their message out and communicating via social media, in a grassroots person-to-person fashion and any way they can. Whether or not those elements will lead to the sort of upheaval that is needed is yet to be seen.

For now, all I can say is that New York City is under occupation. Let’s hope it lasts. Viva la occupation!

Watch the live video stream: http://www.livestream.com/globalrevolution

Info on the Montreal sattelite protest is available on Facebook

Photos: adbusters.org, blogs.flickr.net

Ten years ago I was working the night shift in a call centre. I had been up kind of late the night before and a phone call before 9am was not what I wanted, but it’s what I got. My initial reaction to news of a plane hitting the World Trade Center was blunt: “Yeah right, Jerry, I’m trying to sleep.”

But he insisted that he wasn’t joking and that I turn on the TV. After a bit of groaning, I left my bed that I had only reached a few hours prior, went into the living room and clicked on the tube. It wasn’t hard to find what he was talking about. There it was, smoke coming out of the iconic building.

A few minutes later, I wasn’t fully awake but still on the phone trying to rationalize what I was seeing. Then live on my TV, a plane slammed into the other tower. After another phone call, this one to my boss to confirm what I already knew, that I wasn’t working that night (our clients were in the US), I settled in for a morning, afternoon and early evening of watching the TV in disbelief.

I doubt I’ll devote nearly as much time, if any at all, to coverage this year. It’s not because the event wasn’t important. Far from it. Three thousand people killed in a matter of seconds is absolutely horrific. The thousands of deaths in the two wars that followed from this event are equally as tragic. The loss of freedom through laws like the now-defunct Patriot Act, “enhanced interrogation techniques” and even things as seemingly unimportant as not being able to bring shampoo on an airplane or having to get a passport to cross the border by bus or car are also unfortunate consequences of 9/11.

It’s certainly an event that should be remembered and a loss of life that should be mourned. Mourned on any day, not just today. It’s also not the only tragedy that’s happened in the past few decades or even the only tragedy that happened on today’s date. In fact there are quite a few 9/11’s throughout history, the most  notable  being what happened in Chile.

Chile, Sept. 11, 1973
On September 11th, 1973, Augusto Pinochet’s well-funded and CIA-backed forces overthrew democratically-elected Chilean president Salvador Allende in a military coup. This ushered in a brutal 17-year dictatorship responsible for over 3000 deaths and tens of thousands of people tortured and unjustifiably arrested. The regime even killed dissidents that had made it to the US.

While I’m sure people remember this event, I’m also sure that there won’t be any wall-to-wall coverage. In fact, I don’t imagine any mention of what’s been called the “other 9/11” showing up on mainstream North American media today (or any other day for that matter).

I also don’t anticipate other tragedies that did get major media coverage like the recent rampage in Norway or any recent earthquakes, Tsunamis or even Hurricaine Katrina getting a mention today. And why should they? They aren’t still happening. Well, 9/11 isn’t still happening either.

Anniversaries are important; if you don’t think so, then you probably don’t care if someone forgets your birthday. They make it possible for us to collectively commemorate important events. But it’s important to remember that they are only symbolic markers of events and not the events themselves.

The main reason I was glued to my TV ten years ago wasn’t just disbelief, it was sheer desire to know what the hell was going on. That’s not the case this time around. I know what’s going on. There will be memorials and rememberances and stories.

They should be covered, just not with the same furvor of the actual event as it was unfolding a decade ago.

I just hope that we don’t ignore what’s happening now and overlook other tragedies. I hope we rememer that what happened in 2001 is history and not still a live event.

Photo creds:  welovesoaps.com,  1.bp.blogspot.com

We all know those people. The kind that proudly don’t own a TV, don’t need one and don’t want one. I know people like that and I sympathize. I agree that TV can be an intrusive presence and a real conversation stopper, not to mention it’s a medium dominated by corporate advertising which I despise.

Still, I never counted myself among those ranks because there is something mind-numbingly pleasing about watching a good show, even a cop show. Yes, this anti-authoritarian, anti-corporate activist likes him some CSI.

We also all know people who feel that owning a TV is needless, because anything that can be watched can be watched online these days. I know these people, in fact I am one of these people. At least publically, I’m a huge advocate for and promoter of the idea that the web will replace all conventional media one day.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy sitting down from time to time and letting some programmer offer up what I’m going to consume. We all enjoy a good sit, don’t we? There’s something pleasing about knowing that I can just flip on the tube and something (at least remotely) interesting will be playing.

Sadly, I don’t have that privilege anymore. You see, I have rabbit ears and for years, those have served up almost all the shows I needed. But now, thanks to a CRTC ruling designed to make more room for cellphone and other signals, all over-the air analog TV signals have been replaced by digital ones.

That doesn’t mean that rabbit ears don’t work anymore, they just don’t work on their own. You need to pay for a converter, which costs up to $100. I don’t see myself doing that anytime soon. It’s almost like buying a new TV and TV just isn’t my top priority right now. I also don’t see myself getting cable or sattelite TV. It’s just not worth it given what I watch and what I can get online.

It’s not like we weren’t warned. In fact I wrote about this very subject as an impending threat on this site over a year ago and the US has been living without analog signals for over two years. But all the warnings in the world are meaningless when you really don’t want to have to go out and buy an additional device just to watch free TV.

Beyond the price, though, the concept just bugs me and not only because I can see the transmitter from my window but can’t access what it is sending out. It’s the fact that something that was free for years now costs money. It’s not progress, it’s profit. Small profit but profit nonetheless.

It also takes away from the possibility of TV being used as a public service. I know that it’s been far from that for years already and was even created as an advertising medium in the first place, but at least it was possible.

Just a week ago, community radio in Vermont proved just how useful it was in getting vital information out when Irene knocked out the Internet. It’s a shame that TV will never get that chance.

It’s also bringing us one step closer to being fully a part of the grid. Yeah, a converter box is anonymous, but how long will it be before we just plain need cable or satellite to watch TV.

In England, they have a TV Tax and inspectors. That sounds kinda Orwellian to me. I wonder how long it will be before we have something like that here.

Now, this may be a little overboard and paranoid, but at least it would make a great plot for a new series. Too bad it’s the kind of series that I wouldn’t ever look for but may enjoy if it shows up on my TV. Guess I’ll be missing that one.

* photo by Cindy Lopez

Well, the freedom to speak out, protest and criticize injustice just got a whole lot more complicated in Canada. The Canadian Parliamentary Commission to Combat Antisemitism released its report and to the surprise of almost no one, it opted to pretty much redefine criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic, instead of proposing ways to deal with real instances of antisemitism.

Well, not quite. In fact, it states that criticism of Israel isn’t by definition anti-Semitic, but then goes on to say that “applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation” is. It continues by claiming that “singling Israel out for selective condemnation and opprobrium let alone denying its right to exist or seeking its destruction is discriminatory and hateful, and not saying so is dishonest.”

So basically, if you want to criticize Israeli government policy or practice, you have to criticize some other nation at the same time or else be labelled an anti-Semite.

Well, that can be difficult, particularly for those organizing events specifically dealing with what’s going on in Gaza like Apartheid Week, seemingly the real target of this commission’s findings. But on the other hand, I’m always up for a challenge so I think I’ll give this a shot. Now, I’ve got to remember the rules: I can criticize Israel all I want, I just need to criticize someone else for the same thing or something comparable. Let’s get started:

Okay, so I’m against how the Israeli government cuts off freedom of mobility to Palestinians in Gaza, passes laws effectively creating a second class of citizens who are then discriminated against and labels any attempt to resist a terrorist act. Now, I’ve got to think of another regime guilty of the same thing and speak out against them, too. Got it! Pre-Mandela South Africa, I’m against that regime, too.

No, wait, it’s a dated example. Things have changed in South Africa in the past little while and it’s a bit of a cheat to say I’m protesting something that isn’t happening there anymore along with what’s happening now in the occupied territories. I’ll try again…

I’m against how the Israeli government continues to authorize and even encourage new settlements on occupied land, evicting Palestinians for no good reason, further aggravating a situation that is already pretty damn tense. Okay, so far so good, now for the second part…hmmm…ha. I’m also against the way the Canadian government under Harper (and let’s face it, under previous administrations, too) continues to ignore Native land claims while permitting new encroachments on un-ceded territory like they did for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. I’m also not thrilled with the way they issued a tepid apology for what happened in the Residential School system without acknowledging the extent of what really happened.

Ha. I’m starting to like this game. I’ll try another one:

I’m appalled at how the Israeli Knesset recently passed a law making it illegal to criticize what’s going on in the occupied territories or organize a boycott of products from there or anywhere in Israel. This is a violation of the very principles of freedom of speech and such a law has no place in a free and democratic society.

Now, to cover my ass, the second part:

I am equally appalled at how Canadian parliamentarians from almost all parties (the Bloc opted out of this commission shortly before voters opted out of the Bloc) decided to use the spectre of antisemitism as a weapon to stifle criticism of the actions of a government, not the actions of a country’s citizens or people of a particular religion. It’s an attack on freedom of speech, that much is clear, but it’s also an attack on logic.

It’s a move that makes no sense unless you’re thinking in an Orwellian sense, but it does make for a fun game as I just demonstrated. This game isn’t free, though. To play it, you have to give up your right to protest injustice, a fundamental right in any democracy.

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”  
Spock, Star Trek II

But when the few control everyone’s cash, their needs seem to predominate. Unfortunately that’s what’s happening in Canada these days, at least when it comes to arts funding. Two recent stories, the Sun News interview with Margie Gillis and what happened to SummerWorks, paint a pretty bleak picture of what might be on the horizon in the next four years of a Harper majority.

A little over a month ago, there was a big stink over an interview on a little channel with a big star in the Canadian dance world. Tons of people watched someone named Krista Erickson attempt to slam interpretive dance legend Margie Gillis over the amount of grant money her and her organization received over the years.

Most of the audience, though, came to the clip via Facebook and other social media posts, generally from irate arts lovers or people who found the blatantly over-the-top right-wing narrative of the host a wee bit comical north of the border. You see, Sun News doesn’t really have that many viewers. As a Globe and Mail writer pointed out, their primetime average of 7000 is nothing compared to, say, the 7 million who tune into hockey.

Erickson’s style and her show’s outlook are comical in Canada. In the US they would be scary, because there are actually a bunch of people who fall for the most extreme of right wing political punditry, and the cheese-ball way some of those ideas are delivered in media. In Canada, there are probably more people who attend actual tea parties than people who would go to a tea party rally.

Canada is a center-left country. You can explain the Harper majority government a number of ways: flaws in our electoral system, Liberal vote-splitting, people in Ontario just not ready to accept Layton as Prime Minister and attempts by the conservatives to appear more centrist then they actually are. One thing that you can’t intuit from the results of the last election is a fundamental shift to the right in Canada.

We’re still pro-peace, we’re still progressive, we’re still a country who cares about the arts. We still accept controversial work even when it makes us uncomfortable. Unfortunately Harper doesn’t and he controls the purse strings. He doesn’t seem to get that the money he’s playing with is everyone’s and he can’t apply his social philosophy when deciding who gets it.

Take a look at what happened with SummerWorks, the Toronto theatre festival that had been receiving money from Heritage Canada for the past five years. Last year, they produced a play by Catherine Frid called Homegrown about Shareef Abdelhaleem, a member of the group known as the Toronto 18. This led to an anti-tax group decrying any funding going to a play “sympathetic” to terrorists (even though the work was not, according to every critic who actually saw it performed) and then the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement that they were “extremely disappointed” that federal money was funding a play that “glorifies terrorism.”

Now, surprise, surprise, just a few weeks before the festival was supposed to begin, Heritage Canada yanked their funding, which amounts to 20% of the festival’s budget. While Heritage Minister James Moore put on his best poker face to deny that the move was made for political reasons, it doesn’t take a genius to see what is happening.

This is in perfect keeping with Harper’s plan to use his power, and the government’s financial clout, to re-shape Canada in the image of what his base thinks it should be. To grasp who his base is, well, think of the 7000 people who make up the Sun News prime time viewership, give or take a few thousand.

So what’s the next step? How do we cope with four more years of this. Until we figure that out, the needs of the few in Harper’s base will continue to outweigh the needs of the many.

Access to the Internet is a human right. At least that’s how the UN sees it. I see it that way, too, but I don’t think the UN goes far enough.

The UN report, which deems cutting people off from the Internet to be a violation of their human rights and of international law, seems to be mostly concerned with stopping dictators from blacking out the Web in times of civil unrest (think Egypt and Syria) and preventing countries from removing access to people found to be in violation of copyright law (think England and France). Those are very valid concerns, but what about those whose rights risk being trampled not by a government but by their own lack of funding?

With the looming threat of Usage Based Billing in Canada and constant attacks on the principle of Net Neutrality in the US and around the world, maybe treating Internet access as a human right just isn’t enough. Maybe it’s time to classify the web as an essential service and public space, just like the streets.

Now, I’m not saying that you need the web to survive, like you do food and water, but you don’t need the streets either. Still, they exist and since most people use them to get around, they are considered essential to modern urban life.

The web is no different. It’s what people use to get their ideas around and therefore everyone should have access to it. While your own economic prowess and willingness to invest money will determine the speed of your computer or modem, it should not determine where you can or can’t go. Just as whether you’re riding the roads in a sports car, a van, on a bike or just walking the sidewalk doesn’t determine where you can or can’t stop.

Sure, there are financial restrictions on entry to some buildings, but those are determined by the building owners, just as some sites charge for entry. That’s fine. That’s commerce. Commerce exists in public space just as it does in cyberspace.

Things become problematic, though, when ISPs want to charge you more to get to certain sites or stay there. It’s kind of like a traffic cop asking you for a kickback to let you make a legal right turn in order to reach a movie theatre or the same cop charging you a fee on top of what the theatre charges to see the movie.

Right now, companies like Bell are trying to play the corrupt traffic cop and there really isn’t anything in place to stop them. If we don’t want to lose the ability to move around our virtual public space as we please, then we need to act now.

The UN started us off on the right track and now it’s up to us to lobby, push and shout if we have to. We need it to be known that the Internet belongs to all of us and we all have a right to our public space.

The next frontier in defending our access to a neutral net is the attempt to put in place warrant-less online spying.   For more information please visit our good friends over at openmedia.ca and sign the petition below.

I’m one person and that’s who’s writing this. Despite my editorial duties on this site, when I write in this space, it’s my Soapbox and mine alone. I’m speaking for myself and not any one of the twenty plus other writers you read here regularly. Some of them, in fact, may have drastically different opinions. This site is a conversation, and in that conversation I’m but one voice. If you have a difference of opinion, there is a comments section and you’re also invited to offer an alternate view, whether you’re a regular writer on this site or not.

What you’re about to read is biased, incredibly biased, just like any good op-ed piece. I’m a co-founder of the Infringement Festival, a festival which I hold near and dear to my heart. This post, however, also does not necessarily reflect the views of the thousands of artists and volunteer organizers who have participated in the Infringement and continue to do so around the world or the hundreds who infringe here at home.

The Infringement is a festival dedicated to using art to challenge oppressive structures, and having fun while doing it. It was designed to capture the spirit of the original Fringe, lost when the festival started charging artists several hundred dollars to perform and trademarked the word Fringe itself.

I always felt that the best way to achieve this goal was to offer a real alternative. While I am an avid culture jammer with Optative Theatrical Laboratories, theatrically opposing companies like Starbucks, American Apparel and Canadian mining giants over the years to name a few, I always felt that the best approach with the Fringe was just to do better on our own terms.

While not all of my colleagues agreed with me on this, it was a large part of our approach recently. And it worked. The Infringement grew and even the folks at the Fringe seemed to mellow a bit. Gone were the days of blanket bans on anyone remotely associated with our festival entering the Fringe beer tent. Gone were the malicious rumours that all Infringement shows were cancelled and that we weren’t a “real festival” anyways.

I personally went with Infringement colleagues to Parc des Ameriques, a public park temporarily converted into the private “Fringe Park” (also known as the “Fringe Beer Tent”) for the duration of the festival, on the first day of the Fringe this year. People at the Fringe were very cordial with us and it seemed like this year it could very well be the time to start building bridges.

We had a plan to present new Fringe producer Amy Blackmore with a giant novelty cheque and legitimately offer her a free trip to the Buffalo Infringement Festival. While the Infringement in Montreal is small and underground, Buffalo Infringement is one of the largest festivals in the region and is comparable to the Montreal Fringe in size and scope, while also incorporating a much larger line-up of music and arts not traditionally associated with the Fringe. We hoped that she would see such a huge event operating very well without charging the artists a penny to participate and without depending on huge corporate sponsorship money to survive. We hoped that she would bring these experiences back with her to Montreal and help us shake things up a bit.

I wasn’t supposed to be part of this scene, opting instead to perform in an alleyway as part of Car Stories, an interactive guided theatrical walking tour/show that this year was connected to the scene at the Fringe Tent. Now, to clarify, this is a show for three spect-actors at a time. It’s a very intimate experience that does not take attention away from whatever is going on near it in the streets or on a stage in a bar or in Parc des Ameriques.

Given the innocuous and light-hearted nature of what we intended to do, the seemingly more open approach of the new Fringe administration and the fact that all this involved, really, was Donovan King and a few associates sitting down and having a beer in a park, we had every reason to think that there wouldn’t be any problems and our olive branch might be accepted and even welcomed. Well, that wasn’t going to be the case.

I received a call informing me that there was “a huge problem at the Fringe” so I headed down to see what was going on. When I arrived, Donovan King and two other colleagues were being told by Fringe security chief Ace Lopes that they could not enter the park. Lopes then informed me that, regardless of my involvement with what King had planned to do that day and because of my general association with Infringement, I was denied entry as well. Not only that, “anyone associated with Infringement” was not permitted to pass.

Now, despite the gall of, in one sentence, barring thousands of artists worldwide, including artists performing in both Fringe and Infringement, from a festival that is supposed to be inclusive, it gets worse. They also told a man that I have seen at countless activist and community events but never been introduced to that he couldn’t enter. This man has no association with me, the Infringement or Donovan King and was in no way aware of what was going on that day.

Why couldn’t he go into the Fringe Park and meet his friends? Well, he had been given a flier by Donovan a few days earlier and recognized King on his way in. He gave King a fist-bump hello gesture and that was enough to get him barred. This takes   guilt-by-association to a whole new level, it’s now guilt by casual gesture of acknowledgement of brief conversation.

OTL has released a video of these events, so have a look for yourself:

What this video doesn’t show is that Lopes attempted to intimidate and bully my colleagues and I with insults. It also doesn’t show him later letting the actors carrying the giant cheque and expecting to be stopped enter the tent only to personally shove them out. This could either be due to incompetence or a desire to further escalate the aggression level in hopes of making us look bad. He used classic schoolyard bully tactics to try and get a rise out of us.

It worked. I’m not proud to admit it, but it worked with me briefly. When he said I was someone who couldn’t string two words together to make a sentence, I temporarily lost my cool. When he called a colleague a “real pussy” after shoving him, he lost his cool, too.

While Lopes seems to be proud of his actions and genuinely seemed to enjoy playing the thug, I wonder how hundreds of artists, two levels of government and McAuslan Brewery (brewers of St-Ambroise beer and major sponsor of the Fringe) feel about paying this guy to turn his workspace and our public space, into the schoolyard.

Since this event, I’ve seen a Gazette article mocking the Fringe’s actions and heard a CKUT radio commentator disgusted (mp3, right click, “save as…”) with how security behaved. I also read the lone report critical of infringers for going to the park in the first place. While the article itself had a pretty standard “let’s bury the hatchet” tone, the comments (now more than 40) tell another story.

People close to the Fringe have come out in droves, making very personal, and in some cases slanderous, attacks against Donovan King and others. I even read the former editor-in-chief of the Hour admit his bias, attack King and never explain why he found it justified to block coverage of Infringement artists for years at the Hour regardless of their personal involvement with King.

It’s this clique-ish mentality that unfortunately permeates the Montreal Anglo arts scene. It’s present at the Fringe, it’s present in some of the press and it’s what’s driving us apart.

I think that, if it is truly interested in peace and progress, the Fringe should distance itself from the actions of Lopes and the wrong-headed decision to blanket-bar anyone remotely connected, or casually associated, with the Infringement from Parc des Ameriques. I may be dreaming in Technicolor here, but an apology for that decision and the security boss’ actions would go a long way to building bridges in our community.

There are plenty of good people who perform at, work and volunteer for and attend the Fringe year after year. It’s a shame that the actions of a few in security, and one would assume Fringe administration, are distracting from what everyone else is doing.

At the very least, it has become crystal clear to me that a festival that puts permits, fees and borders above all else is anything but fringe. Maybe that’s why when people hear the word fringe, they don’t think of the Fringe, they think of the Infringement.

* Images courtesy of Optative Theatrical Laboratories

If you’re reading this, you’re a godless heathen who has been left behind. I’m either at the top of Mount Royal with enough provisions to last me a few days or out looting. After all, I did say I’d attend post-raputure looting on Facebook and we all know to say one is “attending” something on Facebook is a sacred trust. Yes, the rapture happened yesterday at 6pm eastern, according to various people online and some guy who already predicted it would happen once before and that’s good enough evidence for me to write this post in advance and head to the hills.

While I’m sure the next seven years of planetary destruction will be interesting to say the least, I do have some regrets:

SlutWalk: It’s unfortunate that the end of the world will pre-empt the Montreal SlutWalk scheduled to happen next weekend. A few months ago, a Toronto cop correlated provocative attire with an invitation to rape, which inspired the original Toronto SlutWalk, an event that has since spread virally around the world. Knowing Montreal’s penchant for politics and colourful dress, this event has all the hallmarks of a real good time with a powerful message. If the world doesn’t end, for some reason, expect coverage right here on FTB.

Lord Harper’s Majority: I can’t say that I’m all that disappointed to be missing out on four years of a Harper majority government. If the last half decade of him trying to appear somewhat centrist while still acting like a corrupt despot leaving police states and broken promises in his wake are any indication, four years of no one being able to remove him won’t be a good thing. Global catastrophe might not be that bad of an alternative, considering Stephen and his Tarsand Tories would probably leave the environment in just as bad a shape. Too bad they’re not really as devout as they claim, then they’d be swept away and let the rest of us run things for a change.

Orange to block: On the other hand, I was looking forward to what the prospect of a truly fresh national alternative in the form of the NDP opposition could bring to the table. We’re talking about a voice firmly rooted in the left elected with a strong mandate from Quebec and offering many candidates that haven’t had the chance to be corrupted by the system yet. They’ve already started, too. Before parliament resumed, a group of NDP MPs already came out pushing for greater funding for the arts.

A summer of fun: Montreal’s summer is always chock-full of festivals. Guess that won’t happen this year (if by fluke it does, check out our coverage here on FTB). I’m really looking forward to Infringement running June 16-26 in Montreal, July 28-August 2 in Buffalo, September 1-11 in Hamilton and finishing up it’s last night for the season in Brooklyn tonight (May 22). Normally I wouldn’t be so brazen as to hardcore plug an event I’m involved with, but it’s the end of the world, so sue me!

Regrets out of the way, it’s been a real fun ride. If everything goes downhill from here, at least we can say that we accomplished quite a bit before the apocalypse (not just FTB getting number 3 on BOM, but society as a whole). So here are my parting thoughts…

Editor’s Note: Um, uh, yeah. So the world didn’t end like expected. I haven’t fled for the hills, though I am considering going to Tam Tams (pretty nice weather, not super hot but you can leave the house without a jacket). While I may have egg on my face, at least I didn’t give my lifesavings away like some people did.

Guess not everyone saw this as comical internet meme. Speaking of memes, guess I’m going to have to explain to our promo team (yes, we have one of those now) why I wrote about a trending topic with a date and time limit and posted it the day after that limit had expired.

I guess jumping on artificial deadlines for the end of existence helps bring us closer together. It creates a universal concept that we can all either get behind, fear, or even mock en masse.

I’m going to start working on a post for the real end of the world in 2012. At least that’s when the documentary I saw with John Cusack and Woody Harrelson said things would come to an end. While the internet may mislead, at least Hollywood doesn’t lie.

NDP supporters watching Layton speak at the Montreal victory party

By all accounts, this looked like it was going to be an election that would really change the political map in Canada, and it was. It looked like some political careers would be over, and a slew of new MPs would come to Ottawa. That happened too. It looked like an unstoppable wave would sweep through Quebec, then head west and not stop until we had a new Prime Minister with a new vision for a better Canada, and that’s exactly what happened – at least, the first part happened, then something went wrong, really wrong.

As the dust settles, we see a Quebec painted NDP orange with 58 MPs, a huge leap for a party that held just one seat (Thomas Mulcair in Outremont) after the 2008 election. We also see the party in second place nationally with 102 seats, something that has never come close to happening before.

There is now a strong, left-of-centre national opposition to the Harper Conservatives. Quebeckers have decided to stand up, en masse, for progressive social policy ahead of the sovereignty-versus-federalism, anglo-versus-franco dialogue that has dominated the discourse for so long in this province.

New NDP MP Hélène Laverdière speaks to the media after defeating Gilles Duceppe in Laurier Sainte-Marie

The Bloc is broken, reduced to just four seats from 49 in 2008. Even leader Gilles Duceppe lost his Laurier Sainte-Marie seat to the NDP’s Hélène Laverdière.

The Liberals aren’t doing much better, falling to third party status with only 37 seats, something that has never happened to Canada’s “natural governing party.” Leader Michael Ignatieff also lost his seat in Etobicoke-Lakeshore to Conservative Bernard Trottier.

This was an election that saw many prominent politicians lose their seats and political careers, making way for a slew of new, mainly progressive candidates. A wave of change, an orange wave of change, was all around. The perfect storm, right? Well, there was one huge problem. This election produced a nightmare scenario that pretty much everyone on the now-united left dreaded happening. Stephen Harper got his majority.

Alberta and the rest of the Prairies were pretty much a lock for the Conservatives already and BC fell a little more into the blue column than expected, but that alone didn’t change the game. It’s southern Ontario and the Greater Toronto Area, and even parts of the City of Toronto itself, that put Harper over the top, bringing his total to 167 seats, enough for a majority.

A closer look at those ridings shows that Liberal support didn’t bleed to the NDP as anticipated, or at least not as anticipated by those like myself. We were hoping that strategic-minded anti-Harper people in Ontario would clue into the fact that Quebec and a good chunk of the rest of the country would vote for Layton, giving the NDP enough seats to take power with their help. The old two-party far right/centre-right-posing-as-centre-left dynamic still applied.

Some might claim that NDP supporters in Ontario should have voted Liberal to give the Grits a few more seats and the Conservatives a few less. Others argue, as my colleague Megan Dougherty does, that our voting system, which allows a party that doesn’t have the majority of votes to form a majority government, should be reformed.

No matter how you analyze it, one thing is clear. People living in and around Canada’s largest city actually voted for Stephen Harper.

Whether they realize it or not, they voted for corporate tax breaks, fighter jets, an endless war in Afghanistan, no more CBC, an internet unprotected against corporate interests, more prisons, less social programs, no federal funding for other political parties and a police state. Remember the G20? Remember the mass arrests for no reason? That’s what this guy did in a minority position. With a majority, who knows what he’s capable of.

He’s going to try and implement his far-right platform as soon as he can, so it’s up to the opposition NDP and all of us to stand up to it however we can.

Tyrone Benskin greets supporters at the NDP victory party after being elected in the Jeanne-le-Ber riding

For those in opposition, I have high hopes. If the energy in the Rialto at the NDP victory party isn’t reason enough, it’s knowing that people like Laverdière, whom I proudly voted for (not a chance to knock out Duceppe, my ass) and new Jeanne-le-Ber MP Tyrone Benskin, whose campaign I proudly helped out with, now have our back in Ottawa.

It’s also knowing that people without tons of corrupt political baggage like new Sherbrooke MP Pierre-Luc Dusseault (at 19, the youngest MP in Canadian history) and McGill students Charmaine Borg (Terrebonne-Blainville), Matthew Dubé (Chambly-Borduas), Mylène Freeman (Argenteuil-Papineau-Mirabel) and Laurin Liu (Rivière-des-Mille-ÃŽles) will bring new ideas to Ottawa.

We can only hope that this newly invigorated party will do three things: oppose, oppose and oppose! Whenever Harper tries to shove one of his unethical, destructive policies down our throats, let’s hope the NDP makes a huge fuss about it in Parliament and gets the rest of us energized, too, through the media, through grassroots organizing and through any (legal, of course) means necessary.

No, they can’t vote down any proposed laws, but they can make sure the rest of us know about them so that we can bring them down with our voices and our actions. It now becomes our turn to take action and hopefully that’s just what we’ll do. We know it’s possible to bring our voices to Ottawa, now let’s make sure they get heard loud and clear so that the next time around, with all the pseudo-progressives out of the way, Harper won’t stand a chance.

* photos by Cindy Lopez

In case you haven’t heard or seen the signs up, there’s an election coming up in Canada May 2nd. A bunch of my colleagues here on the site will be covering it and offering their opinions over the next few weeks. Makes sense that I do the same, right?

That’s what I thought. Until I saw this ad via Facebook:

(loose translation: the Liberals and the Bloc are leaving the door open to illegal immigrants, fortunately we have Stephen Harper and the Conservatives)

I guess you could say that it really inspired me. So simple. So basic. So to the point. In fact, it’s such paint-by-numbers fear mongering that anyone could do the same. Wait, I thought to myself, I’m anyone. So, with that in mind, please allow me to announce my candidacy with this video:

On second thought, maybe I’m rushing into this one a little quickly. After all, an election campaign requires investment of money, time and keeping a straight face. Plus, the real downside is if you get elected, you actually have to do stuff.

So with that in mind, I’m just going to leave all the fear-mongering to the pros:

The crime: littering

I’d like to report a crime. It happened during the Anti-Police Brutality March in Montreal last Tuesday.

I’m not talking about breaking windows or anything so violent. Instead I’m talking about a crime that is a dire insult to the people of this city. The crime is littering. In particular, horseshit. Horseshit left on the ground in the brand-spanking new Quartier des Spectacles.

While no one can be certain just who’s responsible for leaving this mess, a good guess would be the horses ridden by some members of the Montreal Police Riot Squad. Since horses can’t be held responsible for cleaning up their own mess, it falls to their human companions to pick up after them.

So why did these cops miss so obvious a responsibility? Were their riot helmets on too tight? Maybe they were worried because their commanders had issued an unprecedented statement warning people to stay away from the QDS. Surely upon witnessing the rather calm scene at the beginning of the march they must have realized that the warning was just an elaborate PR stunt by their bosses to minimize the amount of people who might, by accident, see some of the signs condemning the SPVM for brutality and start to question the force.

The culprits? Montreal cops on horseback

So how could they have missed such an obvious infraction? Maybe they were preoccupied with the preventative arrests happening just down the street and hoping that they would get away with it like they did during the anti-Charest budget demo. What was their ruse again? Oh yeah, arrest people for breaking a municipal bylaw. Wait, isn’t littering also a municipal bylaw? So I guess that’s not the reason they missed the mess.

Sign of the times? Protest placard at the march

Maybe they were thinking about how the march would end and whether or not they’d get an excuse to round up a couple of hundred protesters as they have done several times before. If so, would the mainstream media take the bait? Would they justify the arrests based on windows broken by a few? Would suggestions that the damage was caused by agent provocateurs that came from behind police lines and disappeared again behind those same lines be relegated to activist websites and the twenty-sixth comment from the top under a quite biased CTV article on the event? Well, duh. That’s pretty much a given, so why worry about that when there are turds to be removed from the ground?

So maybe they just didn’t care. After all, when they get away with beating, killing and arresting people for no good reason, what’s a little littering? Or maybe it’s intentional. What better way to show the protesters and the city just who’s in charge than by letting their horses discharge in public and do nothing about it.

Either way, I’d like to report a crime, I’m just not sure who to report it to.

Photos by Jason C. McLean