On Tuesday, gunmen burst into the FM 103.5 studio in San Pedro de Marcos during a live news broadcast. They shot and killed the station’s director Leonidas Martinez in his office before doing the same to journalist Luis Manuel Medina, just as he was reading the news on air. The station’s secretary, Dayana Garcia, was also injured. Mr Medina was hosting Milenio Caliente (Hot Millenium), an investigative news show.
Part of the event was livestreamed through Facebook. The video shows Luis Medina attempting to continue his program as shots can be heard in the background. Then a female voice warns “shots, shots!” before the transmission cuts off.
Three men have been arrested in relation to the attack, but no charges have been filed yet, according to Al-Jazeera and the Independant. The motive behind the attack is still unknown.
Reporters Without Borders ranks Dominican Republican as 62nd out of 179 in their 2016 World Press Freedom Index. According to RWB “Journalists who dare to tackle corruption or drug trafficking are often the victims of physical violence or even murder.”
Two years ago,Blas Olivo, the press director of the Junta Agroempresarial Dominicana, a politically active association of agribusinesses, was murdered. The crime was linked to the Latin Kings gang, though some suspected foul-play from the authorities.
When you look back on 2016, you may think of all the greats we lost like David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and, most recently, Carrie Fisher and her mom Debbie Reynolds. You may also remember it as the year the UK decided to leave the EU or the year the US decided to leave its senses politically.
No matter how you saw it, though, you have to admit that quite a bit happened. With that in mind, we take a look back at 2016 in the News.
As this post had two authors, parenthetical initials indicate if the section was written by Jason C. McLean (JCM) or Mirna Djukic (MD).
2016 was the first year of the post-Harper era and it was an agitated one in federal politics.
Justin Trudeau’s popularity soared for a while, still largely carried by the expectations built during his campaign and his undisputable quality of not being Stephen Harper. To his credit, he did score some significant points in his first months in office by immediately opening the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and rebuilding relationships with our neighbours (which gave us both the most hilarious handshake attempt of all time and the TrudObama Bromance).
One of the first flies in the ointment was the infamous #elbowgate incident in the House of Commons. Last May, the Prime Minister took it upon himself to escort Conservative Whip Gordon Brown through a cluster of opposition MPs in order to move the procedures along and accidentally elbowed NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the chest. This was perhaps a fairly embarrassing show of temper for the PM, but it degenerated into something out of a Shakespearian comedy in the following days, with Trudeau issuing apology after apology and the opposition throwing words like “molested” around.
Inopportune elbows aside, the Liberals took quite a few steps during the year that caused the public to question how different they really are from their predecessors. Not only did they go through with the $15 million arms sale to Saudi Arabia, but they also quietly changed the country’s policies about export controls to ensure that they could continue to trade arms with shady regimes with a lot less obstacles.
As for the Greens, they started the year as the underdogs who were doing unexpectedly well. The increased attention, though, revealed a world of messy internal struggles. These started when the party voted in favour of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Leader Elizabeth May disliked this so much that she considered resigning. (MD)
Indeed, discrepancies between the government’s discourse and their actions accumulated throughout the year. None was more flagrant than their attitude toward pipelines.
The Liberals campaigned on promises to restore the trust of Canadians in the Environmental Assessment Process, “modernize” the National Energy Board and make Canada a leader in the worldwide climate change fight. Trudeau was the first to admit that the current environmental assessment protocols were immensely flawed and he mandated a committee to review them.
While still waiting for their conclusions, though, he had no problem with major projects still being approved by that flawed process. He had no comments when it was revealed that the NEB board members in charge of reviewing Energy East had secretly met with TransCanada lobbyists nor when indigenous resistance against various projects started rising.
If he thought that the population was on his side, or that they would remain passive about it, he was sorely mistaken. In August, the NEB consultations about Energy East were shut down by protesters. Anger and mistrust towards the NEB only grew after that, with environmental groups calling for a complete overhaul.
None of this stopped the government from approving two contentious pipelines in late November. Both Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain project and Enbridge’s Line 3 were officially accepted. Fortunately, they did reject Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, which was set to go through the Great Bear Rain Forest. (MD)
2016 was the year that saw the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe emerge victorious (for the moment) over big energy and the North Dakota Government.
In July, Energy Transfer Partners got approval for the $3.78 Billion Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, the tribe’s only source of drinking water. The plan also saw DAPL cut across sacred burial grounds.
The Standing Rock Sioux challenged this both in court and with water protectors on the front lines. They invited others to stand in solidarity with them and assembled the largest gathering of Native American tribes in decades.
Things came to a head on Labour Day Weekend early September when DAPL sent private corporate security to attack the water protectors with pepper spray and dogs. Democracy Now’s shocking footage of the incident got picked up by major networks and there finally was major media attention, for a while.
As more people joined the camp and solidarity actions, including Facebook Check-Ins from around the world, increased, corporate media interest waned. Meanwhile the Governor of North Dakota Jack Dalrymple activated the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which brought law enforcement from ten different states to Standing Rock.
With most media focused on the elections, police used tear gas and water cannons on water protectors in freezing temperatures. The US Army Corps of Engineers sent an eviction notice demanding the camp be cleared by December 5th and roadblocks went up.
The Sioux Tribe’s infrastructure survived, however, and once 4000 veterans showed up in solidarity, the official stance changed. President Obama’s administration got the Army Corps to change its tune and deny the easement over Lake Oahe, meaning the DAPL will not go through Standing Rock, at least not until the Trump Administration takes office.
While their fight may not be over, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe did flip the script in 2016 and was even named FTB’s Person of the Year. (JCM)
Indigenous Issues in Canada
Meanwhile in Canada, indigenous issues did make their way a bit more to the forefront in 2016. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women finally got underway September 1st.
While long overdue, the Inquiry will be independent of the Federal Government and has a budget of $53.86 million to be spent over two years. While overall optimistic, some in Canada’s First Nations communities are concerned that the scope of the inquiry is too broad, making it easy to not investigate police forces and specific cases.
Quebec is considering its own inquiry. It’s needed, especially when you consider that the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) treated accusations that its officers were assaulting native women in Val d’Or by going after Radio-Canada and its journalists for reporting on the story and no one else.
Meanwhile, conditions in many First Nations communities continued to deteriorate. An indigenous police force in Ontario even recommended its own disbanding for lack of proper funding. (JCM)
The provincial government keeps slowly but steadily dropping in the polls. According to a Léger-Le Devoir poll conducted in November, the Liberals hit their lowest approval rating since the 2012 crisis. With only 31% of the intended vote, they are now barely 1% ahead of the PQ.
The fact that they did reach a budgetary surplus as a result doesn’t seem to have calmed the popular discontent. The shadow of past corruption scandals also remains.
Couillard assured the public that none of the scandals happened under his watch and that his administration is fully committed to fighting corruption. This commitment was, however, brought into question by a recent report which accuses the government of lagging behind on the Charbonneau recommendations.
In any case, the party was left in turmoil. It wasn’t long before another of its prominent figures left. Bernard Drainville, champion of the infamous Charte des valeurs, but also a major architect of the party’s policies and democratic reforms, decided it was time to call it quits. In a slightly surreal move, he announced that he was retiring from politics to co-animate Éric Duhaime’s notoriously salacious radio show.
Those who had hoped that his departure would help the PQ move toward a better relationship with minorities and immigrants were disillusioned by the conclusion of the leadership race. Veteran Jean-François Lisée and his divisive views on immigration won by a landslide, while the favorite, Alexandre Cloutier was left in the dust with Martine Ouellet and Paul Saint-Pierre Plamondon.
However, let’s not forget that Quebec’s political scene is not limited to the two major parties. In fact, a new player is preparing to enter it before the next election. FTB learned that a provincial NDP is in the works, hoping to provide the voters with a progressive option that doesn’t aim for Quebec’s independence. (MD)
Rape culture neither started nor ended in 2016, but it did seem to find its way to our newsfeed frighteningly often.
First came the disappointing conclusion of the Gomeshi trial in May. The fact that a celebrity with so much airtime on the CBC and elsewhere had been sexually harassing his colleague for years and committing multiple sexual assaults while his entourage and superiors turned a blind eye was outraging enough on its own. The fact that four counts of sexual assault and one of overcoming resistance by choking pretty much ended with a slap on the wrist from the court was worse. It made it very hard to keep pretending that our institutions and our society were not rigged to protect aggressors and silence victims.
Barely a month later, as if to demonstrate the scale of the problem, there was the Brock Turner case. Turner, a 20 year old student athlete at Stanford and a perfect mix of white, male and class privilege, was standing trial for raping a young woman on campus. Caught in the act by other students, he was found guilty. This could have landed him in prison for more than a decade, but he got six months in a county jail (he only served three).
A horrible event brought the discussion about rape culture a lot closer to home for many Quebecers in the fall. Multiple attackers entered the dorms of Université Laval and assaulted several students during one night in October. This sparked a wave of compassion and awareness with province-wide protests.
During a solidarity vigil in Quebec city, a young student named Alice Paquet revealed that she was raped by Liberal MNA Gerry Sklavounos back in 2012. Despite an onslaught of victim blaming and skepticism, Paquet decided to finally press charges, and her lawsuit is now in front of the Directeur des Poursuites Criminelles et Pénales. The latter will decide if the case goes to court. (MD)
US Presidential Election
For most of the year, politicos everywhere, including here in Canada, were glued to what was transpiring in the US Presidential Election. And for good reason, it was an interesting one, to say the least.
First there was the hope of some real and unexpected change in the form of the political revolution Bernie Sanders was promising. The upstart Vermont senator managed to go from basically nothing to winning 23 states in the Primaries and even got to meet with the Pope, but that wasn’t enough to beat the largest political machine out there and the Democratic Party establishment’s chosen candidate Hillary Clinton.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump, another upstart candidate, though one of the secretly pro-corporate and openly far-right variety, easily clinched the Republican nomination. With the exception of a bit of plagiarism on opening night and the whole Ted Cruz non-endorsement incident, the GOP Convention was quite unified behind Trump.
The Democratic National Convention was a completely different story. Sanders delegates booed speakers endorsing Clinton and connected to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and even left the room in protest when Clinton officially won the nomination.
The ensuing General Election campaign went back and forth for a few months with each candidate having their ups and downs. Clinton’s health rumours and Wikileaks revelations and Trump’s…well, his being Donald Trump.
Well, on Election Day, the unthinkable happened. The ideal “pied piper candidate” the Democrats had sought to elevate, because he would be so easy to beat, ended up beating their “inevitable” future President.
The bogeyman came out from under the bed and was elected to office. The joke went from funny to scary. Failed casino owner and third-rate reality star Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote and became President Elect of the United States.
As Trump started building his brand new bubble filled with climate change deniers, corporate execs and white supremacists, the fight against him in the streets started and shows no signs of stopping in 2017. The real question is now: will the Democrats change gear and become a progressive alternative or stay the establishment course that led them to defeat at the hands of an orange carnival barker? (JCM)
At least Montreal didn’t spend 2016 electing a frequently cartoonish populist who doesn’t listen to experts. We had already done that back in 2013.
This was the year, though, that our Mayor, Denis Coderre, really started to shine. And by shine I mean make Montreal nationally and even globally famous for some really bad decisions and ideas.
2015 ended with the Mayor dumping untreated sewage right into the river. With that out of the way, 2016 was going to be the year where we planned for our big 375th Anniversary in 2017.
Coderre’s focus was squarely somewhere else in the last half of the year, though. After a 55-year-old woman was killed by a dog in June, Coderre tabled rather extreme Breed-Specific Legislation aimed at pit bulls, despite no initial proof that a pit bull was the culprit (and the later revelation that it absolutely wasn’t).
There were protests and even international condemnation, including that of celebrities like Cyndi Lauper. Coderre would hear none of it, though, even ordering the mic cut on an citizen during a City Council meeting.
When the so-called Pit Bull Ban, officially the Montreal Animal Control Bylaw, became law in September, the proverbial other shoe dropped. People started picking up on some of the other aspects of it, in particular the fines and fees and the fact that it covered other breeds of dog and cats, too.
The SPCA got a temporary injunction on the “dangerous breeds” aspects of the law in early October which was overturned on appeal in December. The bylaw comes into full effect March 31, 2017, at which point the SPCA will no longer deal with stray dogs or accept owner surrenders.
In September, another project met with a legal obstacle. Turns out fines Société de transport de Montréal (STM) security officers were handing out constituted a human rights violation.
While the STM will be appealing the Montreal Municipal Court decision, for now at least, they’re not supposed to be sending out squads of transit cops acting as glorified revenue generators. In practice, though, we’ve heard reports they’re still doing it.
What was really surprising was that the SPVM got warrants for this surveillance. What was not surprising at all is how high this probably went. Police Chief Philippe Pichet must have known, and he was handpicked by Mayor Coderre a few years prior.
2016 continued the sad tradition of police murdering innocent people of colour for no good reason and getting away with it (for the most part). The Black Lives Matter movement also continued to speak out against these killings.
There were two such murders in early July very close together, to the point where it was possible to confuse notification of one with the other. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile died at the hands of police in different cities in different states within 24 hours of each other.
In Dallas, Texas, a lone sniper, not part of the peaceful protest, decided to murder nine police officers, which, of course, became a national tragedy and an excuse for the right wing to incorrectly attack BLM.
In September, following the police murder of Keith Lamont Scott, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina erupted. There were days of protest and the governor declared a state of emergency on the second night.
There is sadly no sign that any of this will change in 2017, especially given the positions of the incoming administration on race and police. (JCM)
Sadly, this year was marked by the continuing conflict in Syria. Dictator Bashar al-Assad has again been accused of deliberately targeting civilians. The carnage in Aleppo reached new heights as the regime’s forces renewed their assault, driving residents to send their goodbyes over social media.
Local groups have been fighting the rising terrorist factions in Syria, namely the now famous Kurd “women’s protection unit”, also known as YPJ. However, despite their important role, their status with the international community is on shaky ground. One YPJ fighter is currently detained in Denmark under terrorism charges. (MD)
So that’s our look back at 2016 in the news. Here’s hoping for overall more uplifting stories in 2017!
So this is it. Call it the series finale for American Democracy. Call it The Thrilla with Far Too Much Vanilla. It’s the 2016 US Presidential Election and it will be resolved tonight (in theory).
I’ll never complain about the length of a Canadian campaign again. This site alone has published 21 posts on the subject and spoke about it numerous times on our podcast and most of our readership can’t even vote in US elections.
From the spark of revolutionary Bern in the primaries to the threat of a smug orange mushroom cloud in the general, we have been paying attention. Canadians like me, people around the world, Americans living abroad, some right here in Montreal and of course those living in the 50 states have been closely watching, reading and posting about the developments.
Tonight will be no different. The question becomes, will you be taking in the results alone or with others. In both cases, there are plenty of options:
2016 US Election Results Watch Parties in Montreal
If you want to watch the election results pour in and either celebrate or commiserate with a room full of people, there are a bunch of places in Montreal where you can do just that.
Here are a few:
US Election Results Viewing Party @ Chez Boris: Usually, this Parc Avenue breakfast and lunch place isn’t open much past 7pm. They made an exception during the recent Presidential Debates and it was a success, so they’re doing the same thing for election night.
I like that the place is open specifically for this event, which means those in the room are also only there to watch the election results. They’re promising deep fried oreos, Icelandic-style veggie dogs and hot dogs and an election-themed costume contest and bingo. Details and a rather funny description are available on their event page, and also this, one of my favourite event images so far:
Chez Boris, 5151 Ave du Parc, 7pm – 12:30am
Democrats Abroad Montreal Election Night Party @ Sir Winston Churchill Pub: This is probably not the best place to ironically wear your Make America Great Again hat. Also, probably not the most pro-Jill Stein crowd in town. If, however, you’re waiting with anticipation for Hillary to smash that glass ceiling, this group of people watching the results at Sir Winston’s are very much “with her” as well.
Democrats Abroad Montreal and Democrats Abroad McGill are hosting an election night party, as they did for the debates. If you happen to be looking away from the screen or even outside having a smoke when a state turns blue, don’t worry, the cheers of the crowd will let you know what happened.
Sir Winston Churchill Pub, 1459 Crescent, 6:30pm – midnight
OCSM US Election Pub Night @ Burgundy Lion: The Oxford & Cambridge Society of Montreal has a section of tables reserved at the Burgundy Lion Pub. This is a group that hosts events for Oxford and Cambridge alumni living in Montreal, so it’s sure to offer a much more academic perspective on the vote south of the border
Burgundy Lion, 2496 Notre Dame Ouest, 6:30pm – 3am, Ask for the O&C tables or Martine Verdy. Please RSVP with Professor Gerald Ratzer at firstname.lastname@example.org
US Election Night Party @ Groove Nation: If groove is in the heart and politics is in the head, then Groove Nation is putting together a package deal for election night. The venue most known for live shows and dancing will be showing live election results on a giant screen.
According to the event page: “Whether you are for, against, or abstaining, you are welcome to join us for drinks and debates. Whatever happens at the end, at least it will finally be over! We think.” They’ve also got a good image:
Groove Nation, 410 Rachel Est, 6:30pm – 3am
Election Night at Casa : America’s Final Rose Ceremony 2016: Casa del Popolo has probably one of the best names for an election results watching event I’ve seen. It’s also the event which takes into account the psychological effect this election has had on people. They’re offering free community support along with $4.50 pints and $3.50 shots.
DJ Christina Bell will be spinning tunes, the results will be shown on a giant screen and there’s no cover. There are also “no jerks or Trump supporters allowed”.
Casa del Popolo, 4873 Boul St-Laurent, 9pm – 3am
Watch the 2016 US Election Results Online
If you’re not so sure if you can contain your reactions in public or would just prefer take the results in at home alone or with friends, there are options other than mainstream news outlets. Here are a couple:
The Young Turks: I love this team. They’re biased and don’t hold their opinions back. They were pro-Bernie in the primaries, but now their main host and network co-founder Cenk Unger as well as most of the other pundits on the panel plan to vote Hillary, while remaining critical of her. A few are backing Jill Stein. They all hate Trump.
If you’re looking for solid analysis from a progressive perspective, they have it. They also will be reporting the results as soon as they come in. Generally once two of the major outlets predict a winner in a state, they announce it as well.
The Young Turks will be streaming live from 1pm to 1am and possibly longer on YouTube and Facebook.
Democracy Now: Amy Goodman is the paragon of independent journalists. She, along with Juan Gonzalez, will be hosting live election night coverage featuring up-to-the-minute results not only on the race to the White House but also for the US Senate and the US House of Representatives as well as ballot initiatives across the country, including California’s push to legalize recreational weed.
DN is not op-ed, in fact, it’s known for objective journalism. What I love about them, though, is how, through their selection of topics to cover and guests to have on, they present information that rarely gets a hearing outside of progressive circles. I trust them to focus on what’s really important this election as well as the the big stories everyone will be covering.
Last month, Montreal’s international reputation took a hit thanks to Denis Coderre’s pit bull ban. This was amplified by celebrities speaking out against it. Now, we’ve caught the attention of famed whistleblower Edward Snowden, who tweeted this:
Snowden linked to a Montreal Gazette article about the Montreal Police (SPVM) spying on La Presse journalist Patrick Lagacé’s cellphone. Lagacé had been looking into Escouade, the police task force dealing with street gangs and drugs, and the possibility that they were fabricating evidence.
The SPVM wanted to know who the journalist’s sources were. They asked for and received 24 warrants to monitor Lagacé iPhone, record its metadata and track his GPS location between January and July of this year.
For Snowden, this story serves as a warning for journalists everywhere: if you don’t protect your phone data and GPS location, you may be putting your sources at risk. It’s also an indictment of the fundamental disrespect some police forces have for freedom of the press.
For Montreal, though, it means that once again, we are a shining example to the world of the wrong way to do things. And the ultimate culprit may just be the same one as the pit bull ban, or at least quite close.
As Alex Norris, City Councillor with Official Oppositon party Projet Montreal said in the same Gazette article Snowden tweeted: “We believe that it is inconceivable that an operation this sensitive would not have been approved by Philippe Pichet. If he wasn’t advised of this operation then it means he has lost control of his organization.”
If it goes as high as Pichet, then it’s not that far from the office of the man who appointed him: Mayor Denis Coderre. The sad thing is, spying on police is not out of character for Coderre, either.
For the second time in as many months, Montreal is in the international spotlight. And we don’t look good.
* Featured image of an SPVM officer going through a protester’s bag in July 2015 by Cem Ertekin
The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has been in the news lately over its announcement to loosen the rules requiring Canadian television productions to have pre-dominantly Canadian talent. Despite the CRTC’s claim that allowing productions to have more foreign artists will open the door to new talent and have more International and Canadian co-productions, Canadian artists like the members of the Canadian Guild of Professional Screenwriters are criticizing the move as having long term negative financial and cultural repercussions for Canada and its artists.
To most of us, the CRTC is that annoying organization that issues fines and cuts Canadians off of those great Superbowl Ads. It’s the government body that keeps Canadians stuck with sometimes inferior quality TV shows due to Canadian Content requirements established by law that force networks to reserve a certain amount of airtime to Canadian productions, be they ads or shows.
But the CRTC is also the body that helped keep great shows like Royal Canadian Air Farce, Kids in the Hall, DaVinci’s Inquest, and Nikita on the air for as long as they were.
Why does the CRTC do this?
They are required by law.
The CRTC is the government body responsible for enforcing, among other things, the federal Broadcasting Act and Canada’s anti-spam laws.
The Broadcasting Act sets out the broadcasting rules and policy for all of Canada, specifically with regards to television, radio, and any other means of broadcasting programs and ads. According to the Act, Canada’s broadcasting policy includes that the Canadian broadcasting system be effectively owned by Canadians, that said system operate primarily in English and French, and defining the system as a public service for the purpose of maintaining and enhancing Canada’s national identity and cultural sovereignty.
The Broadcasting Act also says that the Canadian broadcasting system should “serve to safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of Canada” by providing programming that reflects Canadian opinions, attitudes, ideas, and values.
According to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission Act, The CRTC consists of a maximum of thirteen members named by the government for a term of five years with a possibility of re-appointment. Members have to work on the committee full time and cannot become a member of the CRTC if they are not Canadian citizens or ordinary residents of Canada.
They also cannot be named to the CRTC if they have a conflict of interest because they are involved in a telecommunications firm directly or indirectly as an owner, shareholder, director, officer, or partner OR if they have any financial interest in a telecommunications company or are involved in the sale or manufacture of telecommunications apparatus. The law does provide for an exception to the latter rule if the telecommunications stuff being sold is an incidental aspect of a retail or wholesale business which a potential member is involved in. Where a potential Commission member has a forbidden financial stake they can still be named to the CRTC provided they get rid of said stake within three months.
The current chairman of the CRTC is former Montreal lawyer Jean-Pierre Blais whose term ends in 2017.
In order for the CRTC to enforce Canada’s broadcasting policy, it has been granted various powers by the Broadcasting Act.
The main powers are control over who gets a broadcasting license and the ability to make regulations regarding everything from ensuring that Canadian programs and ads get a certain amount of airtime to setting what constitutes a Canadian program.
It’s their discretion over what constitutes a Canadian program that is now coming under fire. Canadian programs and co-productions are eligible for federal government money which by extension comes from Canadian taxpayers.
A production that does not qualify as Canadian as per the definition set out by the CRTC is not eligible for federal funds.
The current eligibility requirements for a production to count as Canadian are high, resulting in more Canadian screenwriters, actors, and directors hired for Canadian television shows. The CRTC’s proposal is to lower those requirements, opening the door to more non-Canadian talent at the expense of Canadian artists.
The obvious counter argument is that it should be the best person for the job, but if the law says that the goal of the Canadian broadcasting system is to work for the benefit of the Canadian people and present their point of view, government funds should go to productions that employ a lot of Canadians.
To do otherwise would result in the CRTC violating the very law that empowers it.
From French commentators calling Japanese gymnasts “little pikachus” to media systematically crediting male coaches for female athletes’ achievements, the coverage of the 2016 Olympics is accumulating mishaps. Not that it’s anything new.
Once every two years, sport journalists are thrust in a spotlight of epic proportions. Every media tries to make the most of it, scrambling to find a commentator who has the faintest idea about the rules of slalom canoeing. Not only are mistakes bound to happen, but they are bound to be heard by a greater audience than ever.
One of the most disturbing effect of all this live, unfiltered, commentary are some shockingly racist comments appearing on national television. France Télévisions’ Thomas Bouhail kept comparing Japanese gymnasts to pokemons and mangas. CBC’s Byron MacDonald had to apologize after saying a Chinese swimmer “died like a pig.”
The lack of technical knowledge is forgivable. As a gymnastics fan, hearing nonsense like “piked salto with straddled legs” about a bar release certainly makes me wince, but I have to appreciate the challenge of commenting on sports – especially ones you only have a passable knowledge of – in real time.
What I take offence to is commentators who palliate their lack of knowledge with relentless remarks about every competitor’s age, appearance or nationality that are redundant, irrelevant and bordering on prejudice.
Take young Chinese gymnast Wan Yang. She was wonderfully consistent in Rio, qualified for two of the four event finals and came sixth all-around. Listening to Radio-Canada’s announcers, though, you would think that the most interesting thing about her is that she is 4’6″.
I swear more than half of their commentary about Chinese women’s gymnastics was an extended exercise in variations of the terms small or tiny. The rest of it was mostly preconceived notions about what China was good or bad at with little regard to what was actually happening at the moment.
I particularly resent one commentator discoursing on the lack of artistic delivery, amplitude and good connections in Chinese floor while Yang delivered a brilliant performance that presented none of these problems. The same commentator, in a remarkable impression of a well-meaning but obnoxious uncle, exclaimed that Yang “looks 12 or 13, ahahahah.”
Radio-Canada is not a lone sinner. It’s amazing how much of the coverage of women’s artistic gymnastics is still a long-exhausted running commentary on how young and tiny gymnasts are.
Not only is it annoying and besides the point, it’s deeply rooted in racial and gender bias.
How often have you heard about the height of male gymnasts, this year (yes, male gymnasts too are notably short)? Which brings us to Olympic coverage’s other most enraging aspect:
Well, let’s take a look at a couple of things that actually happened in the last two weeks:
Canadian swimmer Penny Oleksiak breaks an Olympic record and wins four medals: Toronto Sun’s cover gives her the nickname “Pretty Penny.”
American Corey Cogdell wins a bronze medal in trapshooting (her second one in three Olympics): Chicago Tribune refers to her as “wife of a Bears’ lineman” in a tweet, omitting her name.
Majlinda Kelmendi wins the first Olympic medal for Kosovo, in 52Kg Judo: A BBC commentator calls the final a catfight.
Women’s rugby sevens make their debut at the Olympics: France TV’s commentary includes a consultant calling the French players “little darlings” and saying they are cuter and more feminine than the Americans.
I recommend you devote four minutes of your time to have a look at this spot from Vox’s Wide World of Sexism (I promise you it’s worth it).
Why are Olympic commentators so bad at commenting on women’s sports? Probably because they never do it.
A Canadian study published this year highlighted how little attention women’s sports usually get. In 2014, National newspapers only devoted 5,1% of their sports coverage to women’s sports. National sports channels had similar performances.
This is despite the fact that Canadian female athletes have excelled more than ever on the international scene in the past couple of years. As of this morning, women have won 14 of Canada’s 18 medals in Rio. Nonetheless, according to the same study, 99,5% of sponsorship sums are still awarded to male athletes.
Female athletes who actually make it to the news don’t have it that much easier. Another recent study by Cambridge University Press analyzed 20 years and seven billion words of media coverage of male and female athletes. They found striking differences in the vocabulary used to describe them.
Male athletes were found to be often described with words like strong, fastest or great. Words often associated with their female counterparts included married, unmarried and pregnant.
Women in sports were likely to be referred to as ladies or girls, whereas the terms boys and gentlemen were rarely used.
The researchers also observed a particularity in the usage of the word women. We talk about Women’s football, women’s golf, women’s cycling. But we never see men’s football or men’s golf, do we? Usain Bolt won the 100 meter dash. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce won the women’s 100 meter dash.
BBC’s John Inverdale gave a prime example of the mentality this is linked to when he asked Andy Murray how it felt to be the first person ever to win two Olympic golds in tennis. Because Serena and Venus Williams won about four each… in Women’s tennis.
Women are a huge part of sports. They should be a huge part of the coverage of sports too.
*Featured image from the Nirvana News Youtube Channel
Yesterday, the infamous Rob Ford Crack Video hit the web. From the click-baitiest tabloid sites to established media, they all had it.
There he was, the late mayor of Toronto Rob Ford, in all his former glory, drunk and puffing on a crack pipe while wearing a track suit. Or at least that’s what I think the video showed. I don’t know, I didn’t watch it, and I don’t plan to.
It’s not news, or at least it’s not news right now. When Ford was still alive, still Mayor of Toronto and still denying what were then only allegations that he smoked crack while in office, it was in the public interest to publish such a video. Even after he admitted to smoking crack, when he was alive and running for re-election, you could make the argument that it was valid news content.
Now, there is no need to prove something which was already admitted to and the argument of reminding voters what someone who is asking for their votes did the last time he was in office is no longer valid as Rob Ford won’t be running for anything ever again. If you think it’s important to remind people that Ford was a mess as a mayor so they don’t vote for similar politicians, there are plenty of other videos of things he did in public that serve the same purpose.
I can’t really think of why someone would want to watch the video now. Maybe it’s a desire to laugh at the failings and addictions of someone they didn’t like or hated. Why some outlet would want to publish it is a little easier to figure out: clicks, ratings and money. While you can argue that reporting on the video being available is newsworthy, and you’d probably be right, but then just report that, you don’t need to actually host or embed it yourself to do that.
I think media outlets shouldn’t publish the video out of respect. No, not out of respect for Ford, his family, or even the abstract concept of respect for the dead. I’m a firm believer that if someone didn’t earn your respect in life, then they don’t automatically inherit it upon death.
While I did think his ‘never give up’ attitude was commendable, I despised everything Ford stood for politically and truly hope no one as blatantly anti-progress as him ever comes to power again (yeah, I know that’s a pipe dream). I’ve also heard that he was quite abusive to those around him and, in general, wasn’t that great a guy.
That still doesn’t mean people should be promoting a voyeuristic video of a dead man feeding his addiction. It won’t change how anyone views him or his politics at all.
Media outlets shouldn’t publish the video out of respect for themselves and their audience.
Hey, did you hear that Melania Trump plagiarized her RNC speech from Michelle Obama? You’re not the only one.
Actually, whoever wrote her Melania Trump’s speech stole from whoever wrote Michelle Obama’s speech and got caught. The Trump campaign, though, is saying that no one will be fired. Of course they won’t. It was, after all, a job well done.
Even getting caught. Especially getting caught.
Think about it. They didn’t choose a speech from decades ago that most people on the internet today probably never heard, they picked one from 2008. They knew someone would find it and share their findings.
The Trump team wanted to get caught. The question is why. I can think of two reasons:
The Perfect Audition
If you see politics through the lens of showbiz and reality TV as the Trump Campaign clearly does, this speech was Melania’s audition for the role of First Lady. And now, thanks to the plagiarism, everyone gets to see her audition reel juxtaposed with that of the woman who currently has the role.
They’re using the same script, as many performers do in an audition. Only the delivery can be judged. If you think that Donald Trump thinks substance is important, especially when it comes to women, then you really haven’t been paying attention to the Trump Campaign.
Sure, there will be Trump plagiarism jokes, but they will fade. Everyone knows about speechwriters, so there won’t be any lasting repercussions for Melania’s credibility. The result of the media’s inadvertent and subliminal elevation of Melania Trump to Michelle Obama’s level, on the other hand, could be long lasting.
Burying the Ugliness of the Night
Until Donald introduced Melania, night one of the Republican National Convention was a prime time play to the extreme right of the GOP base. The speakers hit all the right bigot sweetspots.
There was fear of the Mexican other, fear of the Muslim other and fear that Hillary Clinton somehow colluded with the others in Benghazi. There was praise of the militarized state and, of course, Blue Lives Matter.
It was a display of middle American white pride and fear that was as sure to rally the Republican troops as it was to infuriate the left and alienate more than a handful of centrists. But that’s not what we’re talking about now, is it?
While the far right most likely now feels that Donald Trump’s Republican Party really speaks to them, the rest of us have been focused on video of a would-be first lady played opposite a video of an actual one. Donald didn’t even screw it up by saying something inflammatory himself.
After using We Are the Champions as intro music (something, fortunately, we are calling him out for), Trump said: “Oh, we’re gonna win. We’re gonna win so big!”
He sounded like someone unable to contain the fact that he thought his plan was working. Now, it’s clear what his plan for the night was.
The most frightening takeaway from RNC Night One wasn’t that most of the GOP base are bigots, we already knew that. It’s the horrific realization that Donald Trump may actually be smart enough to pull this off.
“Growing up, people were always telling me that I was the ‘whitest Black kid’ they knew because I loved ‘white rock music’ like Radiohead and Dead Kennedys,” says Fredua of Bad Rabbits. He laughs, and quickly responds to them: “But you can’t ‘act a colour,’ and Rock & Roll culture isn’t reserved for X race. But I will say this until my dying day: Rock & Roll was created by a Black Queer woman named Rosetta Tharpe.”
Fredua is the frontman of Bad Rabbits, and I had the honour to speak with him about race, rock, and his thoughts on being a Black American in 2016.
Fredua tells me that conversations of race and belonging within his scene have always been a part of his consciousness, explaining the common lamentation among young men of colour that he was never “Black enough” for the Black kids, and “too Black” for the white kids.
“I considered myself a hybrid from the jump because nobody on either side liked me… The only kids who accepted me in school were the punk rock kids.” For Fredua, this embrace of the punk scene of the late 80s led to an early and profound appreciation for bands like Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys, and Public Enemy.
The moment of clarity that gave Fredua a real understanding of how he could fit into the Rock scene came when he saw Fishbone and Living Colour music videos, with Black musicians like Kendall Jones and Vernon Reid “not rapping, not singing, just jamming with guitars. When people said I was the ‘whitest Black guy’… There was nothing ‘white’ about what I was doing. Period. I was doing what I saw, and that was a Black person playing this music.”
When I asked Fredua about conversations of race in his current role as the frontman of a multi-ethnic band in a scene dominated by white dudes, he emphatically affirmed that there has never been racial tension at a Bad Rabbits show, as people are too busy having a good time. It’s when he stops making music for people to dance to, and starts talking about things that make him angry and upset – like the ability for police to routinely kill Black people with impunity – that tempers begin to flare.
Fredua explains, “There are probably a bunch of my fans that are inherently racist, and I know this because I’ve argued with them. They’re the types that grew up thinking Black people are supposed to only be entertainers or basketball players. When they see me speaking my mind it’s suddenly ‘Fredua, you’re an entertainer, you shouldn’t be talking like that!’ People are angry at the fact that I have the nerve to talk about things going on instead of making a song for them to dance to.”
In response to the recent spate of highly-publicized killings of Black people by police, Fredua posted a video to his personal Facebook page in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Fredua tells me that the response from most friends and fans was positive, but one fan came out of the woodwork to leave the following comment: “I follow you because I think your old band was awesome, but let’s be honest, this militant black guy thing isn’t working out for anyone.”
Fredua explains it’s no skin off his nose – people who see him not as a Black human being, but strictly an entertainer aren’t real fans anyway. The reluctance of white peers and fans to see him as anything but a stage presence has bothered Fredua since he first started singing: “I look back at school, and I mean, I did chorus for the girls. Don’t get me wrong,” he says with a laugh, “The girls loved my voice. But they didn’t love me. Because I didn’t look like them.”
I asked Fredua if these reactions to his showmanship bother him when he looks back on them, and he is quick to point out that he’s one of the lucky ones. “I lived out my dream. That dream was to make music and act like a damn fool for the rest of my natural life, and I don’t have to worry about aging because I found the fountain of youth through music. I have a beautiful house and a beautiful wife and a beautiful dog and I get to do something I love all the time.”
Fredua mentioned that Bad Rabbits has a new album one year in the making that will have more anger in it than previous records. He describes some of the album’s lyrical content as “two year’s worth of anger,” much of it directed toward the issues that we spoke about.
The new album, American Nightmare, is planned to drop in September, but will likely end up coming sooner. When I naively asked if the early release was due to the urgency of the message, Fredua’s voice dropped to that sacred place where the spirit meets the bone:
“This is the thing that kills me about this issue of police brutality,” Fredua says calmly, but with palpable fury. Cops are always gonna kill people. As long as there’s a justice system that lets these people kill someone and go about their day, there is never gonna be any type of change. This country is hell bent on keeping things the way it is – to keep the haves and the have-nots, the white and the Black, the Us and the Them, separate.”
The footage of the recent shootings and lack of legal action against the officers involved has made it abundantly clear to the public that it is possible to kill a Black person with little to no consequence. Black activists like Fredua, understandably furious that their lives are proven to be worth less than white victims of similar violence, are routinely portrayed by mainstream media as “armed-and-dangerous Black Power rebels,” seconds away from violence.
In an interview with The New Yorker, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza explained that this image is “a battle that we are consistently having to fight. Standing up for the rights of black people as human beings and standing against police violence and police brutality makes you get characterized as being anti-police or it has you being characterized as cop killers, neither of which we are.”
Fredua expressed a similar frustration, explaining that “it’s easier for news channels like CNN, MSNBC, and FOX to show footage of angry Black people on TV than it is for them to show smart Black people with an idea. Nobody is listening to the solutions we’re trying to offer. And the picture they put up of the shooter in Dallas? A pissed-off black man with a dashiki and a fist up? That puts a target on my fucking back!”
Despite all of the difficult topics that came up in our conversation, Fredua’s determination to keep performing and thriving as a Black man in America in 2016 shines through. His concluding statement was one of hope:
“I was raised by two West African immigrants that came to this country on an American dream…I’m gonna make sure that I achieve it through them with my voice. That dream was to have a prosperous, peaceful, God-fearing life. I will die for that. I’m not afraid for a shooter coming to my show, I’ll jump in front of any bullet to protect a fan. I’m gonna do what I do until I die. I will literally die for this.”
Yesterday, Janick Murray-Hall announced that his satirical news site and Journal de Montéal (JdeM) pardoy Le Journal de Mourréal would cease all operations. In a Facebook post, the site’s founder said that he couldn’t afford the legal fees necessary to fight media behemoth and JdeM parent company Quebecor:
Le Journal de Mourréal started publishing fake news stories in 2012 with a style mimicking JdeM’s tabloid approach, complete with a spoof of their logo and category choices on their website. While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery for some, for Quebecor, it was cause to seek an injunction, claiming Journal de Mourréal was financially benefiting off the similarities and readers may confuse the two sites.
Initially, Murray-Hall decided to fight the court challenge by raising funds online and, of course, publishing a satirical article about Quebecor’s over-the-top litigious nature, but then realized the costs would be too much and threw in the towel. As Murray Hall’s colleague Olivier (aka Suzanne Lachance) noted in a different Facebook post today, Quebecor was very likely to lose the case, but the prohibitive costs made it impossible for the pair to continue.
This sounds like it could be a typical SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) suit designed to frighten potential critics into silence with the looming threat of huge expenses. Such suits are, in fact, illegal in Quebec, but then, of course, getting to the point where the Mourréal team could sue for court costs would probably take a hefty amount of legal fees up front.
The question remains, though: Does Quebecor really have such a low opinion of the typical JdeM reader that they think a clearly satirical site may confuse them? Or, as Olivier put it in his Facebook post:
“Honestly, we never thought that a newspaper which publishes 10 articles per day on Pokémon and the Kardashians could actually consider having, at this point, a brand image to defend!”
* Featured image is the former Journal de Mourréal Facebook page header
Looks like the Sûreté du Québec (SQ)’s union have a new strategy for dealing with the allegations of systemic police abuse against aboriginal women: sue the ones who made them.
Seven months after Radio-Canada (French CBC)’s program Enquête aired shocking testimonies of aboriginal women describing widespread abuse of SQ officers in Val d’Or, charges could finally be filed…against Radio Canada. The Journal de Montréal is reporting that The Association des policiers et policières provinciaux du Québec (APPQ) voted in favour of suing the national broadcaster during a congress held last week.
APPQ Communication officer Laurent Arel denied that the mandate specifically targets Radio Canada. According to him, the members voted “for the association to give itself the means of defending the rights of its members,” but FTB is still awaiting specifications about what those means could entail and what rights did Radio Canada threaten. Arel didn’t confirm nor deny that a lawsuit is on the table.
Growing Evidence and Lack of Police Progress
Politicians and the public called for an inquiry following Enquête’s bombshell report. Eight SQ officers were suspended and Montreal’s police force (SPVM) was chosen as “an independent entity” to investigate the allegations.
Since the original report aired, Enquête received a growing numbers of alarming new testimonies from aboriginal women all across the province, allowing them to do a follow-up report in March. Despite this, the SPVM has yet to pursue any criminal charges.
Some will argue that lack of SPVM action proves how unreliable Enquête’s findings are, which incidentally provides grounds for a defamation lawsuit. But such an argument would have to ignore how often this is the unsurprising outcome of police investigating police actions.
The SQ union initially and fervently opposed the opening of any public inquiry, arguing instead that body cameras and electric Tasers were the only changes they needed to implement to improve their relations with aboriginal communities. Now that they may be suing Radio-Canada, we’re left with a heavy question: are they more interested in preventing these stories from getting out or preventing their officers from abusing native women?
On May 11, 2016 the Jian Ghomeshi scandal was brought to what is for many a disappointing end. On that day it was announced that Ghomeshi agreed to sign a peace bond provided the Crown withdrew any further sexual assault charges. On the surface it looks like Jian Ghomeshi has gotten a free pass for assaulting and harassing so many women, but when you look at peace bonds in greater detail it’s clear the former radio host has hardly gotten a slap on the wrist.
Peace bonds are covered in section 810 of the Canadian Criminal Code. The loose definition of peace bonds is that they’re a formal commitment by a defendant to keep the peace. It’s one of the more common results of plea bargaining between defense attorneys and the prosecution.
In order for a defendant to be made to sign a peace bond, a justice of the peace or court has to be convinced that the victim(s) in a criminal case have reasonable grounds to fear that she, her spouse or common law partner or her children will come to harm without one. The peace bond is also granted if there’s a risk that the defendant could damage victim’s property or if the defendant is at risk of violating Canada’s revenge porn laws.
A peace bond is not a criminal conviction. It does not result in a criminal record or jail time. However, like a prison sentence, peace bonds have a set duration, the maximum being twelve months.
Peace bonds almost always come with conditions decided on by the court and prosecution. These conditions can include making a defendant abstain from drugs and alcohol with the exception of prescriptions. The bond can stipulate that the defendant provide samples of bodily substances for testing like blood or urine either at regular intervals or upon request from a probation officer.
The court can also ban the defendant from possessing any weapons, ammunition or explosives and any licenses or permits to have them. If the court bans the defendant from possessing said weapons, it has to specify in the peace bond the conditions in which they will be surrendered to the authorities and how they’ll be stored or disposed of.
In addition to rules regarding drugs and weapons, peace bonds often include specific conditions made to protect the victim, her spouse or her children. The stipulations are similar to a restraining order and can include forbidding the defendant from directly or indirectly communicating with her or her family and prohibiting him from being at any place where the victim or her family is regularly found.
Since peace bonds generally come with many conditions, the reasons for a peace bond without conditions have to be included in the court’s records.
The duration of Jian Ghomeshi’s peace bond is the maximum twelve months prescribed by law.
Following his signing of the bond, Jian Ghomeshi issued an apology but it was hardly the one Canadian women were looking for. Instead of apologizing to all the women he assaulted and abused, he directed his apology only at Kathryn Borel whom he physically, sexually and verbally abused during the time she worked for him. His apology included one particularly troubling statement in which he said:
“I now recognize that I crossed boundaries inappropriately.”
It’s Ghomeshi’s use of the word “now” that’s problematic. By saying he has only now realized that his behavior was inappropriate he’s implying that he didn’t know at the time that punching, choking, sexually harassing, assaulting, and abusing women was illegal or wrong.
His claim violates one of the most fundamental notions of law: nul n’est censé ignorer la loi aka ignorance is not an excuse. Neither Ghomeshi nor anyone else deserves a free pass for heinous crimes simply because they didn’t know they were crimes. As a media figure Ghomeshi’s claim that he didn’t know his actions were illegal or wrong is particularly doubtful for he would certainly have been apprised of all the news stories of men convicted and jailed for sexual assault and sued for sexual harassment.
It’s more likely that the real reason Ghomeshi is apologizing now is because he got caught.
Though Ghomeshi is currently not going to jail, we can take comfort in the fact that his chances of salvaging his reputation and career are slim to nil and we owe it all to Kathryn Borel. Kathryn Borel worked for Jian Ghomeshi at the CBC and during that time was regularly abused, sexually assaulted and harassed by him. When she went to her employers for help, they sided with Ghomeshi and said it was her job to endure the abuse.
Following the signing of the peace bond Borel turned a public outrage into a glorious vindication. On May 11, 2016 she boldly told the press:
Jian Ghomeshi is guilty of having done the things that I’ve outlined today. So when it was presented to me that the defense would be offering us an apology, I was prepared to forego the trial. It seemed like the clearest path to the truth. A trial would have maintained his lie, the lie that he was not guilty and it would have further subjected me to the very same pattern of abuse that I am currently trying to stop.
Since Ghomeshi’s sexual assaults have come to light, twenty more women have come forward with allegations of his violent, rapey tendencies. Though Ghomeshi has lied, denied guilt, and done a lot of victim blaming it’s clear he’s guilty and a repeat offender.
That means that even though he’s out on the street now, the chance that he’ll be able to obey the terms of his peace bond is pathetic at best, and disobeying the terms of a peace bond can result in jail time. Though most agree that Ghomeshi should be locked up, Canadian women everywhere can take comfort in the fact that though he’s out now, he won’t be for long.
On Friday, January 22nd and Saturday, January 23rd, I attended the Entertainment Management Conference, held at Sid Lee’s in Downtown Montreal. Now in its fourth year, the event was designed to allow emerging young professionals in on some of the trade secrets “behind the business that fuels culture.”
Run by a talented cast of students from McGill’s Desautels Management program, and backed by corporate sponsor Evenko, the event included a series of panels from professionals in Montreal’s music, film, nightlife, gaming, arts and media scenes. On top of that, the two day event included a series of workshops, as well as the opportunity for these young-entrepreneurs to network with professionals. The event provided a unique, immersive experience into the multi-faceted world of the entertainment industry.
As a student who is just about to graduate from McGill, I was hoping the event would give me something, anything, to hang onto as I wade into the uncertain world of “finding employment.”
Forget the Box’s Editor-In-Chief Jason McLean was a panelist during the Media portion of the event, and spoke at length about the challenges that online publications face in not only getting their message across, but also, building a brand and an ‘image’ in an online world that is over-saturated with content. In other words, how do we distinguish “good content” from “bad content?”
Jason’s point was a salient one, and resonated with me for much of the day. Now more than ever, the entertainment industry feels overloaded with “noise.” Take, for example, the insane social media buzz over Kanye’s new album– initially titled Swish, then Waves and finally, The Life of Pablo — which had most of the internet in a frenzy.
While people today are debating over whether Kanye actually ‘dissed’ Taylor Swift on his new track Famous, I got to wondering how much of the buzz surrounding the album’s internet campaign actually merited my time, or was worthy of my attention. Can we really classify Kanye’s latest album release as a solely ‘musical’ enterprise, when clearly, there are so many social and artistic dimensions at play? And at the end of the day, how am I to decide if Kanye’s hyping good content or bad content?
Over and over again, panelists from all corners of the entertainment industry– from Arbutus Records’ Sebastian Cowan, to Mad Decent’s DL Jones– stressed the importance of the network, that is, the face-to-face connection when promoting a party, an album, or a film. As the panelists spoke throughout the day, they consistently reminded us that nothing in the entertainment industry happens without a direct connection between the fan and the artist.
The event’s emphasis on forging personal connections was perhaps the greatest piece of advice that I took away from my time at the EMC 2016. In an age filled with more noise than ever, the panelists urging us to focus on the personal when building a career, of meeting directly with professionals and building relationships, is a crucial thing to note. And of course, their in-person presence at the event really drove that point home.
The professionals speaking at this year’s EMC were consistent in their message of how to make sense of a world filled with way-too-much information; of how to distinguish the things we like from the things we don’t, so we can learn to build our own careers. The message was simple, keep it personal. I’d like to thank all of the hard-working students and sponsors who made this year’s event an enriching experience: the Entertainment Management Conference is undoubtedly good content.
* Featured Image: EMC Media Panel (l-r) moderator Sean Finnell, Jason C. McLean, Editor-in-Chief of Forget the Box, JP Desjardins, CEO of Wallrus and Martin Spalding, VP and GM of local radio and TV for Bell Media. Image via EMC on Instagram
There is one reason to be sorry to say farewell to Stephen Harper. That’s because the end of the Harper era might also mean the demise of ShitHarperDid. The social media comedy group that has built a large cult following poking fun at the PM for four years is considering drawing a the curtain its own act, maybe as a victim of its own success.
For the past four years the pesky anti-Conservative government protest, best known for its satirical YouTube videos supported by crowd funding, aimed to connect with an audience of young Canadians who had grown disenchanted with politics and their inability to affect progressive change.
SHD first came to prominence during the 2011 election, with its own campaign to empower young people with information and the motivation to vote. But SHD could have died after that election, especially as its efforts were frustrated by such a disappointing result.
“We thought we’d have to go back to our day jobs,” said SHD’s founder, Vancouver based stand-up comedian Sean Devlin. But instead the movement was sustained by the frustration at the electoral system that gave Canadians a majority government that didn’t reflect the values of many Canadians.
It’s no accident that the group has a comedian at its foundation. Political change may be the group’s ultimate goal, but the message is delivered through the comedy and satire which has made it so popular.
Devlin soon built SHD into a nationwide network of organisers, volunteers and supporters all across Canada, like Montreal’s David Vanderfleet, who was originally attracted to SHD by its biting brand of comedy.
“I think a lot of young people consider politics really dull. But they’ll share funny stuff online even if it’s political,” he says, “like a lot of people, I first got into the group because of the name. It’s like what you’d say to your friends; ‘Hey, have you heard about that shit Harper did?’”
The group’s YouTube gags include the viral video Ryan Gosling Not Endorsing ShitHarperDid.com:
and the purchase of the domain name EcomomicActionPlan.ca to spoof the government’s self promotional ads on the state of the economy. The SHD versions highlighted unemployment, lack of opportunity and discrimination as an alternative view of Harper’s economic record:
Behind the gags was much more serious activism. Devlin teamed up with Brigitte DePape, who is best remembered as the Senate page appearing on the floor of parliament holding a stop sign with Harper’s name on it. The two activists breached the Prime Minister’s protection protocol to crash a 2014 Harper speaking event in Vancouver to protest the PM’s environmental policy. The stunt got Devlin roughed up and arrested but also gathered national media attention for SHD and its message.
As the 2015 election neared, SHD swung back into full campaign mode focusing on getting the anti Harper vote out. The Conservative campaign handed the protesters plenty of ammunition for its particular brand of mocking protest.
With reference to the niqab issue and a woman who was attacked on the streets of Montreal while wearing the veil, SHD’s webpage offered a stinging message to the Harper government: “If you’re going to put Canadians against each other to get ahead in the polls at least offer a hand up after they get knocked down…and wash it off before you offer it, you slimy eel-eyed discriminating weasel.”
A massive mobilization of its supporters on election day may have played a part in ending the Harper era, but the question the membership is now being asked on the SHD web page is whether the group’ efforts should continue and where it could go from here.
Brigitte DePape has suggested that the fight will continue on several other fronts. “We are part of building something special that is capable of taking down not only the Harper government. It’s really great being part of this shift in culture,” she says.
It remains to be seen whether the shift in Canada’s political culture DePape refers to will gather momentum or moss, considering how it has been built on antipathy toward such a polarizing figure as Harper.
One hint at SHD’s new focus can now be seen on its website. A ‘Trudeau meter’ will record the incoming PM’s record of keeping his promises. “We will be prepared to hold that (new) government to account and push for the systemic changes we need to get through,” said a statement by Devlin, “things like the climate crisis, the environmental crisis and the economic crisis.”
David Vanderfleet confirms that he wouldn’t like to see the movement disband, even if it’s in need of a name change. “Shit Trudeau Does? No!” he laughs, as he considers how it might be abbreviated, “I don’t think that could work.”
Wednesday morning, like most mornings, I went on Facebook to see what was going on in my community and the world and to get a good idea of what people would be talking about that day. It’s a useful start of the day ritual for someone in media and something to do while the coffee brews.
The first thing that caught my eye was a story from Global News announcing that two journalists had been murdered live on air. I clicked and was greeted by a video player. In my not-yet-caffinated state, I clicked play.
I don’t know what I was expecting, maybe a news report on the incident. I missed the graphic content warning and saw the raw footage of a murder as it aired live on WDBJ Roanoke, Virginia.
Fortunately I didn’t see the carnage, but still a helluva way to start the day. At least I was only a witness after the fact. The day started off much, much worse for reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Brad Ward.
As the coffee kicked in and my mind shifted to what I actually needed to do, I wondered why it was necessary for me and the thousands of others clicking on that post to see the actual crime. It wasn’t, and I could have done without. Just knowing that it happened would have been enough.
Later in the day, as more details started to emerge, a more graphic video shot by the killer started showing up and even did in my feed. By this point, I was awake enough to know not to watch it, but I seriously wondered why anyone would share it at all.
Sometimes We Need to Watch, But Not This Time
Now I will admit that sometimes it is important to share graphic videos. However unpleasant to watch, videos of police murdering and abusing unarmed citizens need to be shared. Videos and images of wartime atrocities committed by supposedly democratic governments are also important to circulate.
This is because public outcry over abuses of the state is essential for any changes to happen. Otherwise, crimes, even murder, can very easily be swept under the rug.
What happened Wednesday morning in Virginia was not one of those times. The killer freely admitted his crime and posted the proof himself. This is one of those rare cases where we should trust law enforcement to be the only ones to view the evidence and respond accordingly.
Murder For Shares
Whatever the killer’s stated motives were, fame was clearly what he was looking for above all. He made sure he killed live on air to get the story out there and filmed his own version and posted it himself, hoping for an exclusive.
He was denied that pretty quickly. Facebook, where he posted the video and Twitter which he used to link to it deleted his accounts almost immediately. LinkedIn also removed his profile, though that was kind of pointless. Murdering former colleagues effectively makes a business networking page useless.
Unfortunately this didn’t stop other people who had captured the video from sharing it themselves. They can try and justify it all they want, but sharing in this case is helping the killer get what he wants at the expense of the victims and the peace of mind of anyone who had the misfortune of watching (I hear some of these vids were on autoplay).
Basic Decency Isn’t That Hard
While the gun the killer used to commit the murder is something that should be restricted, the tools he used to record and upload it aren’t. Before we start talking about a mandatory waiting period and background check for data roaming plans, we should realize that we can stop killers from posting murder online by denying them an audience for it.
It’s not that hard, really, we just need to apply a bit of basic decency. For example, Vince McMahon isn’t known for being decent, but yet, our modern-day PT Barnum decided against using the death of a wrestler during one of his company’s Pay-Per-View events as a moneymaker. The WWE cut to stock crowd footage right after it happened and destroyed all footage (except those they sent to authorities) and even removed the Pay-Per-View from its history (yes, he didn’t cancel the rest of the event when it was running, that would have cost millions, but he did do the right thing after the fact).
So what does it say when a man who never met something he couldn’t gleefully exploit decided to take the high road when someone actually died, but legit news outlets have no problem sharing the footage of a murder? Also, what about the New York Daily News and a slew of other papers who took a screengrab from the killer’s video of the shot being fired and splashed it across their front page?
Well, they’re just Murdoch tabaloids, I guess. That’s their excuse. But for the people sharing the video, what’s yours? Don’t you realize that by sharing the killer’s angle on the shooting you are helping him get the fame he so craved? Why would you do this?
Slamming mainstream media is easy, but they respond to a perceived demand. If there is no demand, they won’t show it. We’ve got to stop clicking on videos like this. We shouldn’t share videos like this.
This is probably the first time a murder was designed for social media. Together we can make it the last. If we don’t build it, they won’t come.
There was a time when Bell Canada had a monopoly on telecommunications in this country. That may have changed decades ago, but it’s clear they still haven’t gotten over it.
Sometimes this comes out as frustration at no longer being the only game in town. Try ordering internet through a third party ISP that has to use Bell’s lines and technicians. When the Bell rep activates the service and tells you in no uncertain terms that they will only do the one thing they have to, no more, it will become clear that this is a company which still yearns for the good old days.
Sometimes, though, it seems like top executives are in denial about the company losing its former dominance. This “it’s still the 70s” mentality is most apparent when it comes to technology that didn’t even exist 20 years ago.
I wish they were comprehensive how-to guides. Then they would include free options like Hola, which is available as a Chrome extension and takes less than a minute to set up. You simply click it when you’re on Netflix and identify which country you’d like to be virtually visiting from. It also works on other sites which employ geo-blocking just as easily.
These articles also don’t mention Media Hint which turns an entire browser, usually Firefox, into a US-based surfing device. Recently they’ve only made their service free on a trial basis, but supporting them financially isn’t the worst thing you can do.
It’s Not Stealing If You Paid For It
The most galling part of Turcke’s statement is that she equates getting around geo blocks with stealing. Her messaging hearkens back to commercials from a few decades ago that argued illegally accessing cable and satellite signals was basically the same as shoplifting.
Now, if she was talking about illegal downloads or streams from pirate sites, she would have a point. I’m not going to get into a piracy debate now, only to say that her narrative would be consistent if she was talking about Pirate Bay, but she wasn’t, she was talking about Netflix, something people pay for.
Canadian Netflix clients pay the same per month as those in the US, but because of geo blocks, they have access to a fraction of the content. There’s no option to buy the American version.
How can you be stealing something if there’s no option to buy it? But, in this case, you did buy it.
Imagine walking into a store, paying for a case of beer and as you walk out the door, the clerk realizes it’s 11:10 pm and in Quebec, where you are, there are supposed to be no beer sales after 11.
In this scenario the store could be in trouble for selling alcohol after it is legally allowed to, but you did nothing wrong. While that point can be debated (did you know it was after 11?) one thing that is absolutely clear is that you did not steal the beer. You paid for it and were entitled to walk out of the store with it.
If you pay for Netflix and access US content, you are not stealing. Period.
Turcke’s statement is just a desperate attempt to make people who have committed no crime feel guilty. Canadian media conglomerates, with help from the CRTC, already tried to go after Netflix. That didn’t work because Netflix is doing all it can to prevent virtual border jumping.
Geo blocking is unenforceable as those circumventing it are committing no crime. They’re not stealing. They may be breaking paragraph whatever, subsection something of the Netflix user agreement, but the last time I checked, that wasn’t enforceable by federal law.
So Bell has resorted to public shaming. Problem for them is there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of and everyone outside of the Bell bubble knows it.
Old Media Models Need to Go
When you access US content in Canada with a VPN service, you aren’t taking food off the table of content producers, directors, performers or crew. The only thing you’re doing is forcing giant companies like Bell into the 21st century.
When television content needed to be carried across great distances by conventional means, it made sense to have local distributors. Online, though, there is no need. Sending a friend who lives a few blocks away a Facebook message is just as easy as texting, even though your question about where you are meeting that night bounces to and back from a server in California before reaching its destination.
There are no natural geographic barriers on the internet, only those we impose on ourselves. The Canadian old media business model of buying US content and then redistributing it for profit is quickly disappearing. Likewise, the concept of selling content to distributors for specific markets needs to be done away with, too.
No More National Media
A few months ago, I argued that Canadian media companies should focus on producing original programming instead of paying to re-distribute US content. The biggest argument against this idea whose time has come is the fact that they would never be able to compete. The US is too huge a market.
If you see the entire population of media consumers in all 50 states as one block and Canadian media consumers as another, they’re right. However, if the media model no longer called for national distribution by a network that broadcast to an entire country, then the size of a particular national market would no longer matter.
A drama about hockey, for example, produced in Canada, may not get “picked up” by a major American network as a distributor (because people in Nashville and Tampa don’t really care about hockey cc: Gary Bettman), but could build an audience in this country and in major American markets like New York, Boston and Washington, plus in parts of Europe. If the model was one source distributing online to the world, that source would do very well.
Stuck in the Old Ways
Instead of trying to be that source of innovation, Bell would prefer stick to the old ways. Along with their Canadian media conglomerate compatriots, they rolled out sites like Shomi and Crave TV and called them Netflix competitors. Problem is they aren’t competitors at all because you need to first get a cable package before signing up.
Either they just don’t get what people want or they chose to be oblivious to the reality of the current global media landscape. Either through ignorance or arrogance, they are acting like the old Bell who had a monopoly. Now, though, they want to make you feel guilty about not buying into their view.
I could go on and on, but I think I’d rather marathon Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, available on US Netflix.