Comedian and writer Jenny Hagel has good advice for aspiring writers: just write….but also…fake it ‘til you make it. I chatted with Jenny Hagel recently about the writing process, as well as her upcoming appearance at this year’s Just for Laughs comedy festival, which, like most live entertainment events in 2020, will be held online.

Jenny Hagel has a graduate degree in Writing for the Screen and Stage, and cut her comedy teeth while performing for five years with Chicago’s legendary improv troupe, The Second City. Hagel has written for many comedy TV shows over the years, and currently performs and writes for Late Night with Seth Meyers.

While she won’t get the chance to perform in Montreal for this year’s (online) Just for Laughs Festival, she has visited before, and the town left her feeling all warm and fuzzy. Tired of people kissing Montreal’s ‘Charming European’ ass, I worried that Montreal was getting smug, and asked Hagel if there was anything that miffed her about Montreal.

“My brother lived there for a little while, I used to visit him and man, what a beautiful, beautiful place. No, I probably have a different baseline for miffed, because I’ve lived in New York, so when I go to any other city, I go ‘These people’s manners are amazing!’”

My French is terrible though…I speak Spanish, I don’t speak any French. The one time I drove to Montreal, I listened to a French CD in the car the whole way up there, trying to learn phrases, to be a polite traveller, to be able to have some phrases when I got there. I’ll be honest, it was years ago, so those phrases have all left my mind. I tried at least, although I’m sure people in Montreal, when they heard my French accent for one second were like ‘No no, this does not help.’

But when I travel, I always feel the weight of the stereotype of the terrible American tourist, so I try very hard to be a one-person goodwill ambassador. I’ve tried really hard to reset that balance.”

Jenny Hagel’s upcoming Just for Laughs show with Amber Ruffin (Drunk History, The Second City, Late Night with Seth Meyers, The Amber Ruffin Show), Conversations with funny people featuring Amber Ruffin and Jenny Hagel will be live and unscripted. I asked Hagel if she had any memorable improv calamities she wanted to share.

“Oh absolutely. One time when I was touring with The Second City we were doing a show, and the whole audience was a convention of economists, and I’m sure are very interested in economics, but they were not interested in laughing. At least they were not interested in the jokes we were providing, and it was truly, truly, a gruelling and silent 90 minutes, I’ll never forget it.

I think about 45 minutes in, I thought ‘Well I took two semesters of economics in college, I’m sure I can pull out some fun economic references,’ and I really tried, and they were also not interested in those. I think I tried to pull out something about a PPF curve or something, I really was digging deep. Nothing worked. It was really a rough hour and a half of my life.”

Hagel went on to describe the format of this weekend’s Just for Laughs show, where she and Amber Ruffin ‘will be asking each other questions that they have not seen before.’

Basically we’re going to be interviewing each other. We’ve done a lot of panels in our lives where the moderators ask the two of us questions, but this one, we don’t have a moderator, so I’m going to interview Amber, she’s going to interview me, we’re going to go back and forth, so we each have a list of questions the other hasn’t seen.

We each dug up a clip of the other one performing — I don’t know if it will be embarrassing, but it will be something that the other person doesn’t know is going to be shown, so it’ll be fun. When you do a certain number of panels, over time you start to get the same questions over and over, so I think it will be fun to answer questions that we weren’t expecting.

Oh, and I’d love for people to check out The Amber Ruffin Show on Peacock if they’re able to.”

Jenny Hagel and Amber Ruffin also plan on discussing their approach to writing, and will be giving advice for aspiring writers. I asked Hagel if she could give us an overview of her advice for writers.

“I think I would just say write. I mean nobody wants to hear that, it’s not sexy advice, but it is the most real advice. The best thing you can do if you want to write is just write.

The best thing you can do when an opportunity comes along is to be prepared and have a bunch of writing to show someone. Like (if they say) ‘Hey, I saw you before, you’re great, do have any writing samples?’ If you haven’t written them it is too late, because they want them then.

Or they’ll be like ‘Hey can I see them tomorrow?’ You can’t go home and stay up all night and write a body of work, so the best thing you can do is be writing all the time.

“If you have one particular writing form you are trying to succeed in, write that as much as you can. If you are interested in a bunch of different writing forms, try them all out, and do them over and over again.

“At Late Night with Seth Meyers, I write monologue jokes, and I did not know how to do that originally. I learned how to do it by applying to late night jobs.

One time I had to do an application, I watched several monologues by the host of the show I was applying to and I transcribed them. Then I looked at them on paper and said ‘OK how do these feel?’ and then I wrote a bunch of stuff. I’m sure they were very terrible at the beginning, and a little bit less terrible later on, and slightly less terrible after that.

And over time, it’s just truly like going to the gym and doing reps. I think the best thing you can do as a writer is just keep writing, and it may not feel like it’s getting better, but it is.”

I expressed my admiration for Hagel’s old school ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ attitude, and meekly mentioned the growing pile of Idiot’s Guides I have piled on my coffee table.

“But that’s OK, as long as you’re doing it. It sounds silly, but I like to run, and I am not a world-class athlete at all, but I know that every time I run, I go a little bit farther, and my legs are a little bit stronger. You don’t want to strive to wake up one morning and be a genius, you want to be just a little bit better each time.

You also want to know that every once in a while, no matter how good you get, you’re going to write something that stinks. That happens to me every week — I turn in so many things each week that inevitably, many of them, I would say most of them, are rejected.

And your job is just to keep coming up with new things, and it’s OK — some will be great, some will stink, a lot will be somewhere in the middle, and all of that is OK.”

Hagel and I discussed how writers have to learn how to be prepared to deal with endless rejection…

“But I don’t even think of it as rejection, I think of it like…if you watch someone play baseball, you watch somebody take a bunch of swings, right? Every time a batter misses a ball, it’s not rejection, it’s just ‘OK, well that one didn’t connect. So let’s hope the next one connects.’”

On comedians/late night comedy in the COVID-19 era:

“You know that’s a great question. I think ‘comedians’ is such a big category, and there are so many different forms comedy can take, that I don’t think that there can be one answer to that.

I know for television, during the spring and summer, a lot of late night shows found ways to tape from home — do safe, remote work, and I think that’s what helped late night shows survive. Now some of those shows are starting to bring it back — like the host is in the studio, and SNL had a small audience last week.

So I think that the way comedy is surviving is the way that we are all surviving, in general in the world, which is to continue to adapt to each new phase of the pandemic, to each new challenge that the pandemic brings.”

On the challenges of doing comedy without a live audience:

“I think you just have to go more on gut, like when you’re writing a late night show that has an audience, then the audience tells you what works and what doesn’t, right? And I think without the audience, you have to go with your gut.

One thing I have really liked about that, and not to say that the pandemic is good, but I feel that an interesting outcome of it, is that I think that shows have started to gravitate a little more to their own weird, quirky personalities, because then it becomes less about writing and choosing jokes by committee.

Then it becomes more like, ‘OK, what is the culture, what is the belief set, the comedic taste of this show?’ It emerges a little bit more specifically, which is interesting to see. But I certainly wouldn’t take this over a normal world, where we all get to be together.”

I asked Hagel if she ever wrote jokes that were so outrageous or ridiculous that she never expected them to get on the air at Late Night with Seth Meyers.

“I think that happens all the time, like if you write enough jokes in a row, you stop being able to tell what’s funny to other people. It probably happens at least once a week where I’m like ‘Oh really? OK!’ and then meanwhile, there are other jokes that I think are a complete slam-dunk and my boss will be like ‘Pass,’ and I’m like ‘Really…OK.’”

“That’s absolutely one (Hagel’s ‘How to Properly Wash your hands’ skit) where I pitched it and was like ‘Well obviously this is not gonna get approved,’ and boy, to my surprise, the next thing I knew, the props department was building a bunch of different skeleton hands for me.”

On the 2020 COVID-19 “everything on Zoom” reality:

“I don’t know, I think it’s a mixed bag, I think everybody thinks it’s a mixed bag. There are some days when I think it really helps, like one day recently where I had a crummy day, and it just happened that a group of women that I’m friends with, one of them texted ‘Hey should we all Zoom tonight?’ Fifteen minutes later we were all on Zoom with a glass of wine, and it really helped.

And then there are some days where I feel like if I have to look at one more human face on a screen I’ll die. So I think it’s probably like a weird blessing and a curse to me, and to everybody — I think we’re getting both a little bit of solace and a little bit of loneliness from it at the same time.”

Conversations with funny people featuring Amber Ruffin and Jenny Hagel will be online on October 9-10, and like all of the Just For Laughs 2020 shows, it will be streamed for free.

Stand-up comic Andy Kindler loves Montreal. He loves it so much that he’s even (half?) joking about moving here one day. He loves the rest of Canada too, for that matter. Well, most of the rest of Canada.

During my recent chat with him, I got the impression that he was a low-key Canada-phile — he knew quite a bit about our geography, culture, politics, hockey, official languages, and he even had a shocking position on The Great Bagel Debate.

Andy Kindler is a stalwart comedy veteran from Queens, New York, known not just for his well-honed stand-up routine (with appearances at the Just For Laughs Nasty Show), but also for his recurring role on Everybody Loves Raymond, and his many appearances on Late Show with David Letterman. He is also a contributor to the Daily Show, and is the voice of Mort on Bob’s Burgers.

Local comedy fans may know Kindler from his legendary State of the Industry Addresses at Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival. Andy Kindler has given the speech, which has become a cult institution among comedy fans and industry insiders alike, every year since 1996.

Of course, this year’s address, his 25th, will be a little different, given 2020’s quote-unquote “uncertain times.” To be read in that gravelly voice that radiates grim empathy…you know, the voice that now narrates every commercial…

I asked Kindler how stand-up comedians were faring during 2020’s COVID-19 lockdown, especially when a live audience is the lifeblood of the industry.

“I mean everyone is scrambling. I started doing Cameo…do you have Cameo up there? Like if you want a comedian or celebrity to wish you happy birthday or give you a pep talk, you go on Cameo. So what I’ve learned from that is that people will not pay $45 to hear me say happy birthday…but they will pay $35! So if I needed the cold slap of reality in my face, I know what I’m worth now.

The other thing is that I’m doing this speech for the first time virtually from home, and I actually think I’m the only person who looks forward to not having an audience. I mean I know it’s gonna be weird, but so many times I spent in the past castigating the people who aren’t laughing.

And I won’t be sitting down for the speech, I’m gonna put a little effort into it, I’ll be standing. And I’ll be dressed nicely from the waist up. I always dress nice, my mother used to say ‘You mean you wouldn’t wanna wear a dress shirt, open-necked?’ You always gotta have a nice shirt.”

While on the topic of virtual comedy, I asked Kindler about how he has taken to the whole ‘everything online’ zeitgeist of 2020.

“Well in some ways I feel like there’s a green, eco-friendly side to this, and a lazy side to it where I would love to, in the future, not go back to going in for every interview. I actually like going in the studio, but I do think that in some ways, that having Zoom, you can do a lot of things that you had to be in person for, but you can do them remotely now, so I think we’ve learned things that way. It also makes you really focus on what you’re doing because you have so much time on your hands. But obviously I think we’re all hoping it (COVID-19) lifts.”

This being Andy Kindler’s 25th State of the Industry Address, I asked him to comment on the most notable changes in the industry since he gave his first address.

“Yeah, it’s an unbelievable anniversary, unbelievable that I keep the streak going. I think in 1996 it started. So what happened is the first time I came to the festival (Just For Laughs) was ’93, and I had written an article for National Lampoon called The Hack Comic’s Handbook, you can find it on my website.

Then I did a live demonstration of hack comedy in 1995, and Bruce Hills (President, Just For Laughs) said ‘Why don’t you do another speech?’ and then my manager came up with the idea to roast the industry, and it just became a thing, like a summer camp kind of tradition where I would just give the speech.

I think that what’s changed for sure, is that when I first started coming to the festival in ‘93, it was right when a lot of comics were getting sitcom deals from comedy festivals — you had Raymond (Romano), Tim Allen — all these people got deals from the festival, so you had a lot of presidents of the networks there, so there was more of a charged atmosphere. Everybody knew what sitcoms were coming out and all that kind of thing, so it was…not easier, but I knew how to focus it better.

Now, it’s to the point where there’s no fall TV season. I mean yeah, there are fall TV shows, but it’s all changed. But I kind of like it now, because I like the festival now, not the virtual version, but I’ve liked the festivals in the past few years because it feels like people were up there to have fun. And there are actually really great fans in Montreal.”

The most pressing issue Kindler addressed was whether he would bring up Louis C.K.’s penis, which he has discussed at his previous two addresses. We also discussed who else in the industry deserves to be blasted in this year’s address.

“Nah…you know, I think at this point I will get off of his penis (chuckles), but I probably will bring him in at some point. But you know what, there are so many other people to talk about. Like Joe Rogan. And it used to be I would make fun of Jay Leno, but I kind of want to apologize to him because I used to make fun of him just for having bad comedy…but now, with Adam Corolla, he’s not just a horrible comedian, he’s also saying that COVID-19 is fake.

And everybody is going after Chris D’Elia as a person, but let’s not forget that he was also a horrible comedian. What he was doing on stage, it was also a crime.

So I don’t know exactly how I’m going to tackle this thing, but I am totally going to tackle this idea of these people who weren’t very good at stand-up comedy who have gone into things like…Adam Corolla does shows with Dennis Prager and all this right-wing media about how there are no safe spaces on campus, it is a very odd and disturbing trend, so I’m gonna analyse that a little bit.”

No interview with a New Yorker is complete without getting their take on the great Montreal vs. New York Bagel Debate, and Andy Kindler’s response genuinely surprised me. Poutine, and other Montreal and Canada-related topics were touched upon in this exchange, and his proficiency in French also came up.

“Well certain things about Montreal are always going to be great. The bagels will always be the greatest in the world. I decided to try Montreal bagels one year, and they’re lighter and they’re sweeter (than New York bagels). I took a bunch of them to my family in Long Island, and they didn’t travel well, and they made fun of me for years. But overall I much prefer, right out of the oven, a Montreal bagel.

I don’t know what it’s called…oh yeah, the smoked meat. When I first tried it, it was ‘Oh my God it’s the greatest thing in the world,’ but that did wear off. And let me say something…not that anyone cares about poutine, but there’s nothing charming about it. It’s a national joke, right?

But what am I complaining about? It’s really hard, coming from LA or New York to complain about Montreal, I mean when I first went there in the 1990s, I was single at the time, women’s legs were taller than me, I couldn’t even believe it. And the French, everything French, I just love it. And the food, the French food…it’s really hard to get tired of it. But I will say this — Montreal is very touristy.”

When the topic of politics was sideswiped, Kindler brought up a Canadian political figure I was not expecting.

“You know what, I like that Chrystia Freeland. I don’t like Bill Maher, I can’t watch him anymore, but I used to like her when she’d go on Bill Maher. You know, Canadians are better people than Americans. I know you have prejudice up there, and I know you have First Nations issues, but anything bad you’ve got, down here, it’s dwarfed — we’ve done it worse and with less taste.”

On performing in Canada’s Western provinces:

“I remember going out west, it was the late ‘80s early ‘90s, that’s how old I am, I used to play the Western part, and I remember I used to bomb a lot. I was bombing in Edmonton…these crowds were not for me, and the bartender was like ‘Yeah it’s hard to impress us because we have everything here.’ Y’know, they’d just won all those Stanley Cups, so they were very smug in Edmonton. But it’s pretty amazing how diverse the crowds in Canada are, from Halifax and Vancouver, to Montreal.”

On speaking French:

“I speak French very poorly. I took French in grade school, it was terrible, it was in New York and Queens: ‘Bone-jouar class…ou est le porte, ou est le fenêtre?’…so when I go into a room (in Montreal) now, it’s ‘Where is the window, where is the door?’”

On Donald Trump:

“At least you have a regular government there. I’m gonna get in trouble, but (Trudeau isn’t bad) compared to a fascistic madman running around. Well you know the thing is, there’s a Comedy Central clip…there used to be a show on Comedy Central called The Root of all Evil, Louis Black hosted it, and I actually argued that Donald Trump was the root of all evil, and I was making fun of Trump University. So I don’t want to say I’m a seer, but I pride myself on being the first person to compare Trump to Hitler. At least Hitler was a veteran. So that’s basically my take on it.

So you know I’m holding on by my elbows, or whatever you hold onto when you’re trying to keep yourself suspended over a vat of hot oil. I just can’t think past November, I think America is going to be sunk as a country if Trump gets re-elected. We’re in such a deep hole, because it literally is like Orwellian times a million.

Everybody he puts in every department knows nothing about the department, and just wants to undo that department. There are so many parallels (to Hitler), I mean people in the conservative Weimar government, they thought they could play ball with Hitler, people made fun of him. He obviously was smarter than Trump, there are so many parallels — he looked like a crazy man with the way he talked and everything. Actually Trump looks a lot like Mussolini, you know how he shakes his head up and down, self-satisfied.

I don’t think he’s gonna win. I think he might implode before, he’s going nuts I think now, it’s really crazy. That Mary Trump book, I got it and I love it. You really see how he is a sociopath. That will never change (Trump’s support from his base), it will always be about that 40%, but I don’t think he’s gonna get people coming onto him like he did four years ago, I think people are scared of him.”

(Ed’s Note: This interview was conducted prior to the news that Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19)

What else Andy Kindler is working on:

“I do a podcast called Thought Spiral, and my co-host is Josh Elvis Weinstein, he used to be on Mystery Science Theater 3000. We advertise it as ‘Two jews, two microphones, two hours,’ so it’s basically us just bantering, I really love it. It took me a long time to love it, because it’s a different kind of skill, but we’ve been doing it for three years, so if you need more of me, that’s where I would go to. And I do have an album that’s still available in digital download anytime you want, it couldn’t be any less COVID dangerous.

You know what? You want an answering machine message? I’ll do it for you for $25.”

Andy Kindler’s 25th State of the Industry Address will be online on October 9-10, and like all of the Just For Laughs 2020 shows, it will be streamed for free.

Quebec Premier François Legault announced today “with a heavy heart” (as he put it), that the provincial government is placing the Greater Montreal Region (including Laval and the South Shore), the Quebec City region and the Chaudière-Appalaches region on Code Red due to the increase in COVID-19 cases. This takes effect midnight on Wednesday (early morning Thursday) and means:

  • A ban on home gatherings (with a few exceptions)
  • Bars and casinos must close
  • Restaurants must be takeout or delivery only
  • Movie theatres, libraries and museums must close
  • Houses of worship and funeral homes will have a 25 person limit
  • Being less than two meters apart will be prohibited
  • Masks must be worn at demonstrations

It’s interesting to note that schools will remain open. According to Legault, this is so parents can still go to work. As such, businesses like hair salons and hotels will remain open.

For the past decade and a half, the Montreal International Black Film Festival (MIBFF) has had a mission to foster diversity by showcasing Black stories from around the world. This year, in spite of everything that’s happening, and also because of it, MIBFF’s mission will continue.

Given the current reality of the Black Lives Matter movement as well as the fact that COVID is still raging around the world and disproportionately impacting communities of colour, a festival that gives a platform to Black artists that would otherwise be invisible more than makes sense — it’s essential.

Understandably, the format will be different this year. MIBFF’s 16th Annual Edition will be almost exclusively online.

Most film festivals operating for the first time without the in-person cinema experience have been forced to geo-block their content to a particular region or country. MBIFF’s lineup, though, will be available to stream all around the world.

Speaking of that lineup, this is Canada’s largest Black film festival and this year features 120 films. An All-Access Pass costs $49 and gives you access to all of them throughout the festival’s run.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • The Cuban: A film by Sergio Navarretta about a young woman who meets and unexpectedly becomes friends with an elderly Cuban musician while working her first job at a nursing home.
  • Black Market: This is a series of free panels focused on the industry side of cinema. Topics include: Racebending in Film and Television, Black Stories Matter, and Black Women Behind the Lens.
  • MBIFF in the Neighborhoods: When we said the festival will be almost exclusively online, this is the exception. It will take place at the Maison Culturelle et Communautaire de Montréal-Nord, and feature screenings of Mahalia Melts in the Rain and Briser le Code, followed by discussion.  
  • Black Boys: A documentary from Executive Producer, activist and two-time Super Bowl champion Malcolm Jenkins and writer/director Sonia Lowman celebrating the full humanity of Black men and boys in America and revealing the emotional landscape of racism in order to ask the viewer to re-imagine a different world.
  • Canadian Films: This year MIBFF is putting a spotlight on Canadian filmmakers.

The 16th Annual Montreal International Black Film Festival runs from September 23 to October 4. You can watch all 120 films whenever you want during the run of the festival by purchasing an All-Access Pass for $49 through MontrealBlackFilm.com where you can also see the full lineup.

By CHRIS DODD

A good many years before John A. Macdonald’s statue was pulled down from its perch in Montreal’s Dominion Square, my high school history class had a debate on the case of Louis Riel. In real life, Riel stood accused of high treason by the government of John A. Macdonald for the ‘crime’ of resisting the transfer of a Métis settlement to the Canadian government. Our class assignment was called: Riel. Hero or villain?

Riel, as you might remember, went onto become the villain in the real story. He was ordered executed by Macdonald and hung in effigy by my history class, which is regretful, since it was my part of class project to defend him. But what chance would a 15-year-old student have as the defender of minority rights when the only knowledge on the topic was gained from books written by English setters?

As an adult armed with knowledge obtained outside of the education system, it is now tempting to weigh Riel’s ‘crime’ against that of some of North America’s colonizers, whose actions are rarely put to such ‘hero or villain’ scrutiny. Take Christopher Columbus for example, accused of genocide, slavery and torture of the indigenous people of the Caribbean. He is celebrated as a hero in the United States, whose shores he never reached.

George Washington made it to Mount Rushmore despite owning slaves, who some history books prefer to call ‘domestics.’

Canada’s own John A. stands accused of supporting the starvation of First Nations people, instituting the residential school system, and condemning Riel to his death. Hero or villain? Well, when you see his face on your money, and his name on schools, highways, a mountain, and an airport, you know the verdict has been reached.

But there was no ‘hero or villain’ debate in my high school history class about Macdonald, although our teacher did throw in a few ‘fun facts’ about him just to make sure that Canadian history didn’t seem too boring. “Oh sure Macdonald was a drunk,” the teacher joked, and “Macdonald married his cousin too, but both of those things were fairly common in those days.”

“Even our heroes have warts,” our teacher said, a familiar refrain that is still heard today “but Canada needs heroes, and Macdonald built our nation,” so that was the end of the story. If only I could go back in time to ask some very uncomfortable questions about those ‘warts’ and the nation that Macdonald was trying to build. Somehow it was never mentioned in my class that Macdonald was the architect of policies so disturbing and inescapably racist that greater knowledge of this history would undermine Canada’s reputation as a tolerant society.

Macdonald recently joined a growing list of bronzed ‘national heroes’ felled by protesters around the world, from Confederate American leaders like Robert E. Lee to the British slave trade profiteer Edward Coulson.

British PM Boris Johnson accused demonstrators in his country of trying to “…censor our past,” and “impoverish the education of generations to come.” Donald Trump, being the American President who, when asked during a TV interview, was unable to recall the name of a single book he had read, somehow felt privileged to provide lectures on history, saying “We should learn from the history,’ to his partisans on Fox News, “and if you don’t understand your history, you will go back to it again.”

Reaching for the low bar with a more conciliatory tone than Trump, Quebec Premier Francois Legault called the Macdonald toppling unacceptable, but added “Of course we need to fight against racism, but that is not the way to do it…we have to respect the history.”

But this is the same Legault who insisted that systemic racism does not exist in Quebec, although it’s difficult to tell, since one sure symptom of systemic racism is the steadfast refusal to acknowledge it. But the ability to express such surefooted opinions on racism from those unlikely to experience it is a Canada-wide phenomenon, starting with education systems that entrench ideas about the British and French ‘founding’ of Canada at the expense of other perspectives. That is what makes Macdonald a hero and Riel the villain. It is also what makes these men lecturing about the need to respect history absurdly hypercritical.

Behind much of the ‘history’ of Canada is the uncomfortable truth that the original plan for Canada was as the North American version of 19th century Britain, designated one of the ‘White Dominions,’ a not so subtle way to distinguish Canadians from others in their global Empire that needed to be ‘colonised’ and ‘civilized.’ Canada’s First Nations stood in the way of that vision, especially since they held valuable land and incompatible cultural values.

The problem with not learning much of this in school and having to find it out for yourself (along with topics such as the existence of slavery in Canada, the wartime internment of Japanese Canadians, the segregation of racial groups on undesirable land such as Halifax’s Africville, the imposition Chinese head tax, and so much more) is that a large part of the population will never know much about them. The sad part about erasing parts of the past that don’t suit the dominant narrative is that it contributes to the ongoing marginalisation of non-White people in the country — in the present.

Still, it is an open question whether dismantling statues is the best way to reclaim history by those left out of it, or as an effective way to protest against racial inequality. Well, actually no, that question is already settled. Macdonald’s downfall has been universally denounced by the press and has provided red meat for the culture war. Such acts are referred to as ‘thuggery’ by some right-wing commentators. The latest example of ‘cancel culture,’ others cry. “An angry mob out to steal ‘your’ history and culture to impose their own,” shout many social media posts.

But how is it not also considered ‘cancel culture’ when the lack of diverse voices in Canada’s mainstream media means that popular opinion is often reflective of that same narrow range of views? Meanwhile, the history, struggles and accomplishments of minorities are minimalised, or even ignored.

These commentators should consider it a privilege not to have been subjected to the ‘cultural genocide’ of the residential schools system. The victims of that system might walk past a statue that reminds them that the country that ignores their history also honours a man who called their people ‘savages’ who ‘must be removed from their parental influence to acquire the habits and modes of White men.’ Is that not also part of the history we have to respect, M. Legault?

We can also question Prime Minister Trudeau’s reaction, saying that such acts of ‘vandalism’ are “…not advancing the path towards greater justice and equality in this country.” But how many concrete achievements toward these goals have been ticked off by the Trudeau government in its five years in office, to match all the talk about the strength of Canada’s diversity and reconciliation with its First Nations?

Action is what happens when people get tired of such talk. Marginalised groups turn to desperation only after they talk about their experiences and notice few people listening.

History has not been changed by pulling down statues of racists. But doing so opens a window for dialogue about history that would otherwise not take place. Such drastic action is often ‘plan B,’ as it is often said. Many other ways of raising awareness about issues of social injustice have been tried. But how has that been working out?

Featured Image: Still from CBC News Video

(Still from CBC News video)

Last Saturday, Defund the Police protesters, in solidarity with Black Lives Matter marched through the rainy streets of Downtown Montreal. When they arrived in Dominion Square, a group unrelated to the demonstration organization (no one knows who) pulled off something some have tried to do before: they took down the statue of Sir John A. MacDonald:

It was really beautiful how it played out. While it was the activists that pulled Sir John from his pedestal (not an easy feat), the statue was decapitated by the laws of physics themselves.

This statue needed to come down. MacDonald may have been Canada’s first Prime Minister, but he also laid the groundwork, both rhetorically and practically, for the institutionalized subjugation of the original inhabitants of this land and the cultural (and also very real) genocide that made it possible.

I could spend the rest of this piece talking about the details, but I won’t. We’re publishing an article about just that this weekend, and there are plenty of sources already available online with that info.

Also, no one will forget John A. MacDonald without the statue, we just won’t be celebrating him in Downtown Montreal — he is on our money after all!

Instead of the moral reasons for why the statue needed to come down, I’m going to put on my political hat, my very cynical political hat, and offer some free advice to our current politicians in power. I’m being practical here.

My real hope is that the statue doesn’t go back up. Ideally, something celebrating either our diversity or (even better) the First Nations replaces it and that there are no negative repercussions for the people who pulled it down (if they are ever identified). If I have to appeal to baser political instincts to make that happen, so be it.

So Far, Not So Good

For her part, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante responded the same day of the incident with a strong condemnation of “acts of vandalism,” followed by saying that she understands and shares “the motivation of citizens who want to live in a more just and inclusive society” but that this is not the way, followed by a statement that the SPVM (Montreal Police) are gonna do what they gonna do:

Je déplore fermement les actes de vandalisme qui ont eu lieu cet après-midi dans le centre-ville de Montréal, qui ont…

Posted by Valérie Plante on Saturday, August 29, 2020

Now I am, for the most part, a Plante supporter, but this was the wrong way, politically, to respond. Of course she can’t be in favour of vandalism, but she could have said just that without the strong condemnation, and not even mentioned the SPVM (and behind the scenes told them to not bother investigating).

Instead she irritated her own base. The people who love Sir John and care about this above all else aren’t generally those who support Projet Montréal.

Meanwhile, Quebec Premier François Legault said that the statue will be “dusted off, restored and put back” where it was, presumably with the head re-attached. While I get that Legault’s base is right-leaning, last time I checked, Sir John A. MacDonald wasn’t one of their heroes.

While I believe Quebec Nationalism is just as colonial as the Canadian variety, this is one case where I kinda wished Legault’s latent sovereignist aspirations had reared their ugly head. Instead we found out that the CAQ is more interested in right-wing values of “law and order” than in Quebec values.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on the other hand, sounded just like you would expect him to. He kept things in the conceptual: vandalism is not the way (appeal to the right), we need to examine the legacy of former Prime Ministers (appeal to the left) including his own father’s (make it personal). End scene!

Of course Trudeau won’t decide if the statue goes back up or not. And neither will Legault. It’s a municipal decision.

So the ball’s in Plante’s corner, and I strongly encourage her to drop it and then kick it back to the wall. She should only pick this particular ball back up when we are ready to move on to a different statue.

That is unless she wants to truly own the moment and either look for or propose other people to honour. But if she doesn’t, then inaction for the moment, in this case, is fine.

(Still from CBC News video)

The Statue Will Go

Getting rid of paint is one thing. Fixing then replacing a statue that has already been toppled and decapitated is a whole other ballgame.

It would be akin to being the administration that decided to spend money on commemorating Sir John A. MacDonald in the first place. In 2020.

This statue will be down for good eventually. If it gets replaced and the official process to remove it doesn’t work, you’d better believe protesters will take it down again…they clearly know how to do it.

Don’t let the unsanctioned way the statue came down justify putting it back up. The protestors did you a favour by accomplishing what the bureaucracy could not.

Sure, don’t support what they did officially, but don’t go after them either. Be a politician.

Recognize that your base wants the statue down, those who want it back up probably won’t vote for you anyways, and most people just don’t care enough for it to matter.

Do the smart political thing. It just so happens that it’s also the right thing to do.

Featured Image: Still from CBC News Video

In spite of indoor public gatherings of up to 250 people being allowed, Montreal’s annual Fantasia Film Festival has opted to go online this year due to COVID-19. The event is described as a “cutting-edge virtual festival, taking place August 20 to September 2, 2020.” Among the festival’s offerings this year is the film Anything for Jackson, a horror film whose subject matter is reminiscent of the 1970s films of the same genre. I had the privilege of speaking with star Konstantina Mantelos about her role, and the effect the pandemic has had on the film industry.

Anything for Jackson is about Mantelos’ character, Shannon Becker, who at eight months pregnant is kidnapped by a pair of elderly Satanists, played by Canadian actors Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings. The two Satanists are hoping to bring back their dead grandson via a Satanic ritual involving Becker’s unborn child. When I pointed out the similarities of the plot to 1970s horror films, Mantelos enthusiastically agreed.

“When the director and writer first met with me they referenced Rosemary’s Baby meets Hereditary. They really pulled on a lot of older, classic horror film ideas and they modernized it. They’ve taken a new twist on horror films that are happening right now and used these themes as metaphors for real life things that we face. It sounds like a zany concept, but there’s a lot of love in the story, there’s a lot of themes of motherhood and caring for those you love, and that’s really what’s at the centre of the story.”

Konstantina Mantelos

I wondered if given this ongoing trend in horror, Mantelos felt the film’s subject matter was especially relevant given the current apocalyptic times, or whether Anything for Jackson was just a bit of fun. Mantelos laughed and said it was a bit of both.

“I think there’s an interesting factor in the story, an older couple trying to bring back their grandson with no regard for the fact that they are doing this to a young woman who has her future ahead of her and who has this child that she would love and be her own. There’s a sort of selfishness there, as well-meaning as these two are, as you’ll see in the film that they are quite endearing, at the end of the day there is a sort of slightly larger metaphor of older generation: what’s happened to the planet, what we as a younger generation are facing now. There’s a little bit of that. We discussed it when we were working on the film that we think is not a prominent theme in the film, but what I think can be gleaned from it.”

When I asked which of the countless horror sub-genres Anything for Jackson fell into, Mantelos said that despite the subject matter seeming quite campy, the movie sits more within the realm of reality.

“The stuff that we’re facing is quite out of this world, but the way it’s dealt with is in a quite down to earth, dark manner.”

Given the intensity of the part she plays in the movie, I was curious as to the challenges she faced working on the film. Mantelos laughed at this question, discussing the challenge of playing someone who is eight months pregnant when she herself has never been pregnant.

She did some research and reached out to friends who have been pregnant. Mantelos speaks affectionately about how helpful her co-star Sheila McCarthy was when speaking about her own pregnancy experience, and about the extreme emotional and physical changes involved. She described the heavy jelly-filled pregnancy vest she had to wear throughout most of the filming day, and the challenge of being chained to a bed for much of the film.

Given all the talk in the media about the decline in the arts due to the pandemic, I wanted to know how it had affected Mantelos’ work. She pointed out the obvious decline in auditions she was getting, as well as many productions shutting down.

“Funny story, we shot this film — it was a three-week shooting schedule. We literally wrapped on the day that all production got shut down. I essentially went from this very hectic, busy shooting schedule to coming back home to Toronto and essentially being stuck in my house!”

Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings in Anything for Jackson

Though auditions have shut down, Mantelos has found a way to make the best of things. She has used the isolation to be productive on personal projects, including screenwriting and producing, which she’d never had time to sit down and give the attention they needed. She mentions that being stuck at home allowed her to complete the first draft of a script she was working on.

When I asked her what else she was getting up to during the pandemic, Mantelos mentioned doing a movie marathon, where she watched a film every day and posted about it on Instagram. Though she no longer watches one every day, she’s already reached 160 movies, mostly fiction. In addition to the movie marathon, she has also been baking, recently making a strawberry and cream bread from The Hobbit Cookbook.

Given how much adapting the arts have had to do since the pandemic started, I asked Mantelos if she thought the changes would be permanent. In response, she mentioned that Anything for Jackson is set to come out on Super Channel Fuse in October, which was planned in advance.

“They’re doing a really wonderful job, and part of it is nice because things like Fantasia are things I always wanted to participate in or have participated in and attended, but a lot of people don’t know that there are things that the public can buy tickets to and the average Joe can get tickets to a big movie premier, and it’s really amazing that it’s accessible. In that way it’s nice because now people are going to be able to access the premier all across Canada, and that’s something wouldn’t have happened if we were doing a traditional red carpet premier in the theatre.”

Anything for Jackson premieres tomorrow, September 1, 2020, as part of the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival. Info and tickets available through FantasiaFestival.com

Some Montreal transit fares will be going up as of October 1st.

After a few months of record low ridership on the Metro and bus travel in Montreal essentially being free, the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) is now gradually returning to front-end boarding (requiring payment) on all bus routes. Transit users will, in some cases, be paying a bit more to ride on the STM’s network this fall.

The biggest price hike will be the monthly pass, going from $86.50 to $88.50. The ten ticket combo, the three day pass and the weekly pass will each go up by 50 cents, or $29.00 to $29.50, $19.50 to $20.00 and $26.75 to $27.25 respectively.

The Unlimited Evening Pass (6pm to 5am) will remain at $5.50 and the Unlimited Week-End Pass (Friday 4pm to Monday 5am) will go from $14.00 to $14.25. For the first time, though, both will cover not only the Island of Montreal, but the entire Montreal Metropolitan Region (including Laval and the South Shore).

The price of a single ticket ($3.50), two tickets bought together ($6.50) and the Trudeau Airport Shuttle ($10) will remain the same.

It’s been a few months since we’ve been able to have a drink and check out a band with others in public. It’s been considerably longer since we’ve been able to do that at the Jailhouse Rock Café.

The now-legendary Montreal music venues closed its cell door at 30 Mont-Royal Ouest for the last time in 2001, so we’re talking almost two decades. Now, thanks to a new book by Domenic Castelli (if you remember the Jailhouse, you know who he is) you can relive the scene.

The Jailhouse Rock Café – Show Posters 1988-2001 Montreal is exactly what it sounds like and then some. It’s a visual history of the venue from its early days as Bar La Terrasse and then as Jailhouse under original owner Jacques Corbo to when Castelli convinced his brother David to buy the place in 1998 and the Castelli Bros moved everything around, turning it into the venue most of us remember, and right up to when the landlord refused to renew the lease.

Jailhouse was mostly known as a punk venue, and for good reason. Many a local and touring punk band graced their stage (and wrote on the backstage wall).

But the venue also featured rockabilly, ska, rock, you name it, they had it at some point. They even had burlesque, vaudeville and horror theatre all rolled into one.

Full disclosure: I was part of that particular show, Dead Dolls Cabaret, and yes, some of our posters are in the book. I also went to other shows at Jailhouse, some where I had friends in one of the bands and some just because.

While I only really started going to local shows in the later years of Jailhouse, the whole book is full of memories for me. That’s because in those days, you didn’t have to actually go to the show to remember the poster.

Show posters were part of Montreal’s landscape. You couldn’t walk around the Plateau without seeing a bunch of them.

Whether they were made by a professional graphic designer or the bassist who also happened to draw, they were art. A lost art form that comes alive again in this book.

While there are plenty of photos, both on stage and back stage, as well as the odd set list, newspaper listing and bit of text explaining things, the show posters are key. And they look great, even on a computer screen.

Of course this is meant to be a physical coffee table book, the kind you invite a few friends over to look at over drinks while listening to music from the Jailhouse era.

UPDATE: You can now order the physical book or the book with a Jailhouse T-Shirt or Hoodie or the e-book (also available in an Amazon Kindle Edition).

Featured image courtesy of Domenic Castelli

This time of year, the world’s largest comedy festival Just for Laughs is normally in full swing in Montreal (and we’re generally knee-deep in coverage). We knew a few months ago that 2020 would be different, with the festival officially pushed back to the fall.

Today JFL announced that the entire event will take place over two days, October 9th and 10th, and be entirely online. This is due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the surrounding uncertainty over what type of event they would be able to run, given the heavy presence of international talent usually relies on.

“With no precise indication of when borders will reopen, and faced with soaring demand for high-quality digital comedy content, we’ve made the decision to move our festival online,” JFL President Bruce Hills said in a press release, “while always maintaining our focus on the excellence of our offerings – an excellence that is recognized and appreciated throughout the world.”

Just for Laughs is still sorting out the details, but so far we know that this year’s festival will consist of comedy performances, panels, conversations, gatherings and events. They promise to do their best to recapture the feel of the in-person festival as much as possible and that most of the festival will be free to virtually attend.

While the English event will be 100% virtual, its sister festival Juste pour rire will offer a combination of in-person, pre-recorded and virtual performances. According to Charles Décarie, President and CEO of the Just For Laughs Group:

“More than ever, we want to maintain our position as an industry leader by creating innovative comedy events that allow our artists to work and to make the highest-quality comedy available to the public. Despite all the changes our industry has been going through, the most important thing for us is to satisfy our festival-goers. We’re sparing no effort to present the best festival possible, while respecting the health measures that are in force.”

For more information: hahaha.com

We are in the midst of a global pandemic. COVID-19 is ravaging the United States and the European Union and other countries are slowly easing their lockdown restrictions as doctors, epidemiologists, paramedics, and other essential workers scramble to get it under control.

As a member of the immune-compromised I have been extremely careful. I haven’t been to a store, restaurant, or bar in months, and I don’t let anyone in my home unless they wash their hands, remove their shoes, and keep two meters apart during their visit. When I go out, it’s always straight to a car and to a private home where I am extra careful to minimize physical contact and wash my hands regularly. When I’m in any public space, however briefly, I always wear a mask.

That said, while it is highly unlikely that I have COVID-19, it’s not impossible. I am having flu-like symptoms that started with a mild sore throat and a little chest congestion.

After mulling it over, I decided to bite the bullet and get myself tested yesterday. If you’re having any cold or flu-like symptoms, have been to a bar recently, or come in contact with anyone who tested positive for COVID-19, you should get tested too.

Not sure how? I’m here to help.

This article is about how to get tested for COVID-19 in Quebec and what to expect. I hope you’ll be encouraged to at the very least get assessed to see if being tested is necessary. We’re all in this together, so let’s keep each other safe and informed.

First step is to call one of the Quebec government’s COVID-19 information lines, depending on your region. Not sure if you should get tested? Tell the phone operator and they will transfer you to a nurse who will assess you.

If she thinks you need to get tested for COVID-19, she will ask you for your postal code, find the nearest test center, and book you an appointment that best fits your schedule. You will also need to provide your phone number, Medicare number, and email address.

You should get an appointment confirmation by email almost immediately. You can also expect to get multiple reminders by text message in the day or two before the appointment. They will give you the option of cancelling your appointment online.

While it’s not my place to tell anyone what to do, I will say that it is better to know one way or the other than to not know if you have COVID-19, so keep that appointment.

Bring a mask with you and be prepared to wait in line outside the test centre. The one closest to me was at 5800 Cote des Neiges in Montreal, in a sort of construction trailer in the parking lot of the Jewish General Hospital. Every once in a while someone in full mask and protection gear will come out and ask if anyone has an appointment. If you do, they will call you in.

Once inside, you are immediately required to put on a fresh mask and sanitize your hands. Then you are sent to a waiting area with chairs divided by walls to ensure social distancing.

You’ll feel a bit like a sideshow display, but it’s comfortable. The ambiance of the test centre feels like the pop up lab the government set up in the movie ET and you will be required to sanitize your hands nearly every step of the way.

After a few minutes, the worker who called you in will sanitize the phone allowing you to speak to the administrator who is protected by a wall with a window, not unlike the setup in some prisons. You are required to press your Medicare card to the window for the admin worker who will register you, which includes confirming your email address and emergency contacts. They will ask if you’re ok getting a negative result by email as well.

You are then sent back to the waiting area. I cannot vouch for wait times, as I know they vary, but I was called in less than thirty minutes.

A nurse in full protective gear will then bring you to a room near the exit. Another nurse similarly dressed will be seated at a computer and will ask you questions about travel, who you have been in contact with, and what your symptoms are. They will then give you a sheet with a number you can call if you don’t get your results in two to five days and your file number.

If the results are negative you will get an email. If they’re positive, expect a phone call.

Then the dreaded moment comes: the nurse asks you to lower your mask below your nose, holds out a giant flexible swab, and tells you to tilt your head back.

You know that expression “Mind if I pick your brain”? That’s exactly what the test itself feels like. You think that swab can’t possibly go further up your nose, that there simply isn’t room, and yet it does.

However, the test is quick, and the nurses are as gentle with administering such an uncomfortable test as can be. Just when you think you can’t take it anymore, the swab is out and you’re free to go with your information sheet and instructions to self-isolate for five days.

You are warned that the phone call when and if it comes will say “Private Number” in your caller ID and won’t leave a message. A healthcare worker will then instruct you to sanitize your hands immediately before you go out the exit. You are then free to go home to self-isolation.

That said, if you are having any symptoms resembling a cold, flu, or sinus infection and/or have been anywhere or in contact with anyone that puts you at risk of catching COVID-19, get yourself tested. The comfort of knowing one way or the other far outweighs the speedy discomfort of the test itself.

We’re all in this together. Stay safe, stay sane, wear a mask, and wash your hands.

Featured image by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante announced on social media today that the city is working on a bylaw that will require everyone to wear a mask when in enclosed indoor public spaces as of July 27th. There will be fines for businesses and individuals caught breaking the bylaw after that date.

The Quebec Government made mask wearing mandatory on public transit last week. This latest move by Montreal builds on that and was spurred, according to Plante, by outbreaks of COVID-19 off-island and the current situation in the US.

Plante explained to Le Téléjournal that while the bylaw will apply to bars and restaurants, people will, of course, be able to remove their masks when eating and drinking. The mayor said the city consulted with bar and restaurant owners as well as other merchants before making the announcement.

The bylaw will not apply to private shared spaces like the common areas of apartment buildings or office towers. The Quebec Government is working on regulations or recommendations for those spaces.

While it will take three weeks to work out all the specifics and make sure people are properly notified before the bylaw goes into effect, Plante hopes Montrealers will start acting like it’s already a reality and wear masks when indoors in public. As the mayor told CBC, the bylaw will be re-evaluated on a monthly basis.

A few years ago, there was a push to rename Lionel-Groulx Metro after late Montreal jazz legend Oscar Peterson. Now that movement is back, currently in the form of a petition.

Of course it has returned now. With statues to racists and colonialists toppling all around the world, and in particular in the US, people are re-evaluating not only who needs to go, but who needs to be honoured instead.

Oscar Peterson was an eight-time Grammy winner praised by Duke Ellington as the “Maharaja of the keyboard” despite the keys only being his second instrument with a career that lasted over 60 years. He also grew up and honed his talents in Little Burgundy, one of the two communities directly served by the metro station.

As for the current namesake, Lionel Groulx, he was a vocal member of a far-right Quebec nationalist group from 1929-1939. Some, most notably Esther Deslile and Mordecai Richler, argue that the group, Groulx included, were borderline fascist and quite anti-Semetic.

Groulx also opposed Jewish immigration to Quebec in the time leading up to World War II and wanted people to boycott Jewish-owned Montreal businesses.

Was Groulx a slave-owner, murderous colonialist like Amherst, or avowed Nazi? No. Was he a virulent anti-Semite? Sure seems like it. Is he, at best, a problematic figure? Yes. Does he have anything to do with Little Burgundy or Montreal’s Sud-Ouest? Absolutely not.

So why name one of the most used metro stops in the city after him? There’s a small avenue bearing his name that intersects with Atwater Avenue right in front of the metro and the STM likes to name their stations after streets or places.

So, a quick fix would be for the city to rename Avenue Lionel Groulx in Little Burgundy Avenue Oscar Peterson and then the STM would have no excuse not to follow. Or, they could simply name the green area surrounding the metro Place Oscar Peterson, as with the area surrounding Place-St-Henri Metro.

Renaming a metro station won’t be erasing Lionel Groulx. There’s also a CEGEP named after him and a street in Saint-Leonard.

But isn’t Oscar Peterson already honoured? Yes, Concordia’s concert hall on the Loyola Campus bears his name, as it should, but that’s at the western end of NDG, two metro stops and a bus ride from the community he grew up in.

Shouldn’t our metro stations and other landmarks honour our local communities and, in particular, our racialzied communities? Why does some white Quebec nationalist theorist with problematic views get a Montreal Metro station in between Little Burgundy and St-Henri named after him when there is clearly a better, more locally representative and internationally renown option?

It’s not just about removing, it’s about respecting and reflecting our communities. We need Metro Oscar-Peterson. If you agree, sign the petition.

Featured image of Peterson in 1977 by Tom Marcello via WikiMedia Commons

The history of colonization is dark. Indigenous peoples of Canada have been facing discrimination and racism since European setters began to occupy their land in the 1400s. Stolen land, the death of language, residential schools and centuries of abuse are still present in the Canadian justice system and in many Indigenous communities today.

Effforts to unveil the truths of systemic racism that run rampant in our society are a step in the right direction, but the media often misses the most obvious truths, the ones that lie right in front of our noses.

The death of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter movement took over the news last week, shining the light on systemic racism within the judicial system in the United States. Thousands have been taking to the streets, protesting against racism and for police reform. We must, however, remember not to shine the light too far away from our own.

Colonization is ongoing. Though the Wet’suwet’en Nation in British Columbia has never signed over their land to European settlers, their 22 000 km of land has never officially been recognized as their own, and protected under Canadian law.

Montreal Wet’suwet’en Solidarity Protest June 5, 2020. Photo by Bree Rockbrand

That is why, last Friday, June 5th, On Friday, June 5th, a crowd of around 300 protesters gathered around the George-Etienne Cartier monument at Jean-Mance Park to protest the CGL pipeline in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en nation.

Last January and February, a string of nation-wide protests and VIA rail blockades halted access from Montreal to Toronto. Media presence had waned since the COVID-19 pandemic took over, but the fight is still far from over.

Though a landmark Memorandum of Understanding was signed that recognizes some rights of the Wet’suwet’en people, it does not affect the construction of the CGL pipeline, which is still opposed by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. The protest was organized by student groups that focus on environmental protection.

“Climate justice doesn’t exist without indigenous sovereignty and being in solidarity with the indigenous people especially here in Canada,” said John Nathaniel Gurtler, a Dawson student in environmental studies and an organizer of the event for La CEVES, Student Coalition for Environmental and Social Change in English.

The event was supposed to take place on that Sunday, but changed when the protests against the murder of George Floyd were organized for the same date.

“We see it as all sort of under the same umbrella of justice and fighting for people who have faced systematic racism,” said Gurtler. “The Indigenous people, just like Black people here in Canada, are people who have for hundreds of years faced racism and oppression and have been put aside.”

“What we need here is a real revolution for oppressed people. In Canada, it’s indigenous people, it’s not just black people,” Gurtler continued. “It’s all under the same umbrella of justice and showing up in solidarity.”

The CGL pipeline is set to run through 190 square km of traditional Wet’suwet’en land in Northern British Columbia. Though five out of six Wet’suwet’en elected band council members signed on to the CGL pipeline, the government never asked permission from the hereditary chiefs, who have had custodianship over the 22 000 km of unceded traditional land according to ongoing, pre-colonial tradition.

Last year, the Trudeau government ordered the RCMP to invade the Unist’ten camp – built on the borders of Wet’suwet’en territory during another contested pipeline project in 2010, where many other planned pipelines have been planned to cross over.

Montreal Wet’suwet’en Solidarity Protest June 5, 2020. Photo by Bree Rockbrand

Wet’suwet’en territory is unceded; the Nation have never signed a treaty or agreed to share the 22 000 square km of traditional land they have had since before European settlers began to occupy their territory in the 1800s. In November 2019, the BC provincial government passed legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People’s Act. The declaration includes 46 articles, covering Indigenous culture, community, identity, health, and more.

The provincial government’s decision not to engage in meaningful discussion counteracted their implementation of the UN Declaration. Hereditary chiefs asked for UN intervention after RCMP invaded their camps. In January, a UN committee fighting racism urged RCMP officials to leave the territory.

The situation sparked national and international outrage. Nationwide protests throughout January and February led to the shut down of Canadian VIA rail trains, and international support from Indigenous communities and land defenders worldwide. The Kahnawake community in Montreal stepped forward, as well, with hints of the 1990 Oka crisis thick in the air.

Though the pipeline isn’t yet in the ground, already two oil spills are being investigated by the Office of the Wet’suwet’en. Though the CGP pipeline, widely contested both nationally and internationally, is still in its’ early phases, 500 liters of oil have leaked onto Wet’suwet’en territory.

“They haven’t even started putting the pipeline in and they have a big mess already,” said Marlene Hale, Wet’suwet’en representative at the protest. The spills occurred close to Morice river, where the locals fish, explained Hale.

Montreal Wet’suwet’en Solidarity Protest June 5, 2020. Photo by Bree Rockbrand

Hereditary chiefs, whose traditional job it is to protect the land, and land defenders worry about the negative effects of the pipeline to the environment, and the effects it will have on future generations.

The situation is reminiscent of North Dakota’s Keystone pipeline, contested by Indigenous land defenders worldwide in fear of the repercussions of an oil spill that would affect members of the society, their drinking water and infrastructures. Over 380 000 gallons of oil spilled from the pipeline in November 2019.

Media presence of the anti-pipeline protests was strong in January and February, but quickly fizzled out as the COVID-19 pandemic began. The virus did not stop CGL pipeline workers from continuing construction.

The official website of the pipeline shows how far along each segment of the project is. Currently, 75% of the route has been cleared.

“The idea of the protest started during the pandemic when the federal government announced that they would be funding the pipeline project with up to 500 million dollars,” explained Gertler. “That happened sort of under the radar, and several of us said that this can’t happen. We were fed up with being behind our screens and we wanted to do something more direct.”

The issue is both environmental and social, tying in Indigenous land rights to misuse of the land.

The provincial government’s ability to supersede Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs’ wishes stems from the Indian Act. Though both the provincial and federal government have recognized Wet’suwet’en land as unceded during an MOU signing last month, land rights are still undefined.

“[The MOU] is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t mention the Coastal GasLink at all, which is central to all of this,” said Gertler. “Even during the pandemic it was happening – while we were told to stay inside and limit ourselves to essential things, the pipeline, which is definitely not essential, is being built.”

“[It puts] indigenous communities in danger which are already at a heightened risk – communities that don’t have the systems in place to deal with outbreaks and don’t have running water sometimes to wash their hands,” he continued

“What we need here is a real revolution for oppressed people,” he added.

Protesters began the trek on wheels from the George Etienne Cartier monument at Jean-Mance around 7pm, after Marlene Hale, a chef from Wet’suwet’en nation who lives in Montreal, addressed the crowd.

“The RCMP still taunt us, laugh at us,” she said. “They pretty much just want us to have the COVID and go away and die.”

Though the situation induces anger, Hale maintained that it’s important to stay positive. “Choose your words carefully, what you say to your neighbors,” she said. “Don’t get people angry for any reason. Keep it here [at the protest].”

“When I do meditation, I’ve learned all the time is – there’s a positive time and there’s a negative side. And when it gets negative, just flush it.”

The 300 or so protestors rode down Parc Avenue, all the way across the city to Parc Maisonneuve in the Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie borough, masked up with signs attached to bikes. The 45 minute trek ended as the sun began to set in the park.

The June 5th date held extra importance. It was that day that the BC government held the trial for 22 land defenders who were arrested by the RCMP in February. They were not charged.

On the same day, Bill 61 – a law that criminalizes folk who choose to protest the CGL pipeline with a $25 000 infraction or jail time – was passed in Alberta, where the pipeline starts at Dawson Creek.

“There’s no way that these people who are often disadvantaged are going to be able to pay $25 000. So it’s terrible. It’s a disgrace to democracy and it’s terrible,” said Gertler.

While not everybody has the health to protest, organizer Albert Lalonde, spokesperson from La Ceve, said that folks can show support and solidarity by becoming educated on systemic racism and microaggressions, signing petitions, and donating money to funds.

“I think we see it as a responsibility to just be allies to those who have always been the land and water protectors,” he said. “We’ve stolen their land, and we must hand it back, it’s our responsibility. We have to stop this system of oppression that they have to deal with every day. Not doing so would mean that we are complicit, and this is not a thing we want, it’s not a thing we can accept. They have their right to self-determination, we’re on their land,” he said.

La CEVES plans to continue environmental and solidarity protests throughout the summer.

Photos by Bree Rockbrand

Protests against systemic racism and police brutality continue as thousands gathered at Place Emilie Gamelin last Sunday.

Protestors spent their sunny afternoon marching peacefully in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, reignited by the death of African American man George Floyd, who died in police custody for a harmless infraction on May 25 after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for over eight minutes as he pleaded for his life.

Protest against police brutality in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Montreal June 7, 2020. Photo by Bree Rockbrand

Floyd’s death sparked international outrage, with protests against police brutality and systemic racism uniting folks from across the world to take part in actions towards police reform.

Montreal’s second major Black Lives Matter protest since Floyd’s death, the event initially sparked local backlash after organizers, Nous sommes la ligue des noirs nouvelle génération, invited the Montreal Police (SPVM) Chief to join the protest. The decision was contested by locals, and a day later the invitation was withdrawn. In an open Facebook message, the organization wrote that “citizens are terrified of the idea that [the police chiefs] will be there.”

Still, the invitation did not stop police from teargassing the crowd around 7pm.

At 11am, after a two-hour solidarity event reserved for the Black community, the thousands of protesters, most following organizers’ directions to stay masked, began to move downtown.

Organizers offered free masks and gloves to protestors to maintain safety. For many, it was the first major outing since the COVID-19 pandemic halted large scale collective gathering at the end of March, though with a crowd so large it was difficult to follow the two meter social distance requirements.

Protest against police brutality in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Montreal June 7, 2020. Photo by Bree Rockbrand

Most protests held signs, with different messages; some more humorous, shedding light on the unity and togetherness of the situation while others alluded to the seriousness of the crimes. A simple sign, “8:46”, paid homage to Floyd’s death; it represents the amount of time Floyd suffocated under the officer’s knee.

Most protestors dispersed around 2pm, where the march ended at Dorchester Square, though many continued into the day to march around the downtown area, eventually coming face to face with a wall of police in full riot gear, shields, face masks, and rubber bullet guns.

Stanley Courages, a protestor at the event, said he joined in support of the Black Lives Matter movements. To him, it’s a symbol that things are going bad, “and going bad for a lot of people,” he said.

“The system is sick, but we all know that. Nobody has the nerve to say it out loud,” he continued. “This is nice to see, Black, White, Latin, a little bit of Asian… it’s nice to see all kinds of people. […] Somehow, some way, people can relate to it, the sadness, whatever the problem they have with this kind of system. So I’m here for that symbol.”

The spotlight is on what he calls the Black movement because Black folks have been put at the bottom since colonization, he said. But Black folks aren’t the only ones suffering, he explained.

“The black movement – the same thing as the Black Lives Matter – that’s what I see as a symbol that everyone is not okay with this system,” he said.
Pascale Lavache, another protestor at the event and who is Black, said she is marching for her nine year old son.

“I want him to not have to march when he’s my age, when he’s grown,” she said.

“I’m happy to see there’s lot of the youth is present,” she continued. “it’s not just black people, it’s everybody. Everybody feels the injustice. Everybody feels the injustice, and I feel like this is a great movement and I’m happy to see everybody is standing up for this injustice that touches everybody. So I’m really marching for myself.”

To her, the Black Lives Matter movement is about standing up for what is right, and standing up for equal rights for everybody. “I think people need to understand that this is not just for [Black folks], it’s for everyone. And it needs to stop, this needs to stop. It’s a disservice for everybody when there’s no justice.”

Though most protestors broke up around 2pm, protests continued around the downtown area until around 7pm. It was then that police opened fire on the remaining protectors without warning.

Protest against police brutality in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Montreal June 7, 2020. Photo by Bree Rockbrand

The use of tear gas, a chemical weapon that is banned in war, has been criticized by healthcare experts. It irritates the tear ducts, causing coughing, and potential irritation of the upper respiratory tract; all symptoms that could further spread the COVID-19 virus, experts say.

Already a violent weapon, its use at peaceful protests in the Canadian epicentre of the pandemic is problematic at the very least. Local healthcare professionals have called for police to cease its’ use – to no avail.

Though the protests have shed light on the systemic racism present in the Canadian justice system, Premier Francois Legault said publicly that systemic racism doesn’t exist in Quebec. The thousands of protestors that hit the streets last Sunday would disagree.

From racial profiling, economic insecurity, and a lack of representation in all facets, Quebec’s longstanding whitewashing of its’ history and culture and xenophobia; including the contested Bill 62 which bands all religious symbols in public, prove a different, darker reality.

One way to ease the injustice, Lavache said, is for there to be equal representation at every level – in both media, politics, and police force.

“We need to have equal representation, whether it’s for women, LGBTQ,” she said. “Everyone needs to be represented. The more there’s equal representation, the more there will be justice.”

We are in the midst of a global pandemic. With death rates on the rise and public gatherings of more than ten people banned to prevent the spread of COVID-19, performance artists and festival organizers are trying to make the best of a bad situation despite cancellations of their events.

One of the artists trying to make the best of things is Amy Blackmore, the Executive and Artistic Director of the Festival St-Ambroise FRINGE de Montréal, The MainLine Theatre, and Ceci N’est Pas un Fringe…This Is Not a Fringe Festival, an alternative, socially distanced theatre festival developed when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the postponement of the annual Montreal Fringe Festival.

The Fringe was postponed rather than cancelled because this year would have been the festival’s thirtieth anniversary. Given that participants are chosen by lottery, the artists set to participate in the now-postponed festival were offered the option of formally withdrawing along with a refund of their participation fee or have their participation deferred to next year’s event.

I had the opportunity to speak to Blackmore about This Is Not a Fringe Festival on the phone earlier this week. As I suspected, it was developed as an alternative to the regular Fringe Festival.

“The Fringe just means so much to so many folks and we don’t want to abandon our community,” she said, adding that This Is Not a Fringe Festival is not meant to replace the St-Ambroise Fringe. “We’re not pretending to be the Fringe. You can’t Fringe without all the artists. It just doesn’t work,” she laughed.

In the spirit of Fringe, Blackmore and her team, which includes Kenny Streule, the event’s producer, put together a lineup to satisfy fans of the festival and “fill that Fringe need.” Unlike the regular Fringe, the lineup of This Is Not a Fringe Festival is smaller and a lot more curated, selecting artists based on their experiences running past St-Ambroise Fringe Festivals.

Where the Fringe often has over a five hundred artists participating, This Is Not a Fringe Festival only has about 150 artists involved. The festival was developed and curated paying close attention to what’s been happening online since the theatres have closed due to the pandemic.

The artists for the event were found via a couple of calls for submissions as well as through people Blackmore and other organizers met over the years of running Fringe, mainly festival alumni.

Like Fringe, This Is Not a Fringe Festival has a wide variety of programming. They divided it into a series of strains, with the main one being the Signature Series: a series of events in the evening running from June 11th to the 21st with one or two shows a night.

Performances include an opening concert with Paul Cargnello, Crowd Karaoke and Being Brown is my Superpower in partnership with Fringe Live Stream. Another exciting event is the Fringe fundraiser Lip Sync Bingo in collaboration with House of Laureen. Some of the events are free, others are pay-what-you-can.

“It’s very open this year in terms of money because everyone is in a slightly different situation, we’re finding, so we’re trying to be flexible with that.”

When I asked Blackmore how payments to the pay-what-you-can events would be facilitated. She explained that it would vary from event to event, and that in many cases, just like the now-postponed Fringe Festival, audiences will be able to buy tickets through the MainLine Theatre website.

“Every event has its own needs, so instead of having a blanket approach to everything, we’re trying to really honour that,” Blackmore said, explaining that because This Is Not a Fringe Festival is not as large as the regular Fringe, they are actually able to do that.

In addition to the Signature Series, This Is Not a Fringe Festival also has a strain of events called The Daily Dose in which every day at 11am audiences can get a daily dose of Fringe as the festival release a series of videos. Said videos include a contemporary dance video, a magic act, storytelling videos in collaboration with Confabulation, as well a series of online activities and challenges organized by the Festival Tout Tout Court. Blackmore affectionately refers to this strain as “art in small packages” that people can take in when it’s convenient for them.

As a recent participant in Festival de la Bete Noire’s last Sunday Night Live Scream before the summer, I was curious as to whether the event would be a series of videos submitted by artists or whether it would be live streamed events. Blackmore explained that it would be a combination of both, with, for example, The Daily Dose as a series of videos submitted to them, and some of the events are live streamed. The festival will be a combination of Facebook live streams, YouTube, and Zoom Hangouts depending on what they are.

“I think what people can expect is the spirit of the Fringe, the spirit of our event. I’m expecting folks to participate and have conversations with us,” Blackmore said, mentioning a series at This Is Not a Fringe Festival called The Transformation Series, five talks Blackmore is facilitating on the five current topics including what it’s like to make art during a pandemic, green theatre-making, and work-life balance.

When I asked Blackmore what she felt the overarching theme of the event is, she spoke of resilience and hope.

“It’s an ode to a festival that never was.”

Ceci N’est Pas un Fringe / This Is Not a Fringe Festival is running from June 11 to 2020 in participation with Fringe Live Stream, MainLine Theatre, and Festival St-Ambroise FRINGE. Tickets and info available through montrealfringe.ca