A candidate for major office with policies that appeal to the most progressive elements of the political left who is also the safe choice for so-called centrist strategic voters is kind of like a unicorn. It seems like Ontario may have found their unicorn in provincial NDP leader Andrea Horwath.

According to a recent poll by Maclean’s and Pollara, Horwath and her party are in second place with 30% support. They trail frontrunner Doug Ford whose “Progressive” Conservatives are leading with 40% support, but are beating incumbent premier Kathleen Wynn whose Liberals are down to 23% support.

The writing is on the wall, or rather on everyone’s screens. Wynne can’t win. If you want to stop Ford Nation from taking over Queen’s Park, you have to vote NDP. Even right-leaning media are admitting Horwath won the first leaders’ debate.

Strategy Meets Solid Progressive Policy

So Horwath is the practical choice for those who don’t want to deal with a Ford at the provincial level. But what about those who see the Liberals as only a slightly less spiteful and ridiculous option than Doug?

Well, last time around, the NDP, under the same leader, desperately tried to position themselves as a watered-down version of the Liberals, to the chagrin of the party faithful. Now, the official ONDP Twitter account is posting stuff like this:

But they’re backing up the sassy tweets with a truly progressive platform that prioritizes universal dental and pharmacare, re-nationalizing Hydro One, turning student loans into grants, improving care for seniors by ending “hallway medicine” and raising taxes on the wealthiest people and corporations. Solid old-school NDP policies all, but the spin they put on some of them is just brilliant.

Bringing Hydro One “back into public hands” is coupled with an estimated 30% reduction in Hydro bills. Meanwhile, “creating thousands of student jobs” is the addendum to their plan to subsidize tuition.

But the best messaging, hands down, has got to be this:

“Protect middle class families by having the wealthiest people and most profitable corporations pay their fair share.”

They have successfully found a way to pitch a longstanding socialist solution to economic inequality as an appeal to the most coveted demographic for so-called moderates, the middle class.

More Left Through School and Weed

Another poll, this one by Forum Research, predicted a PC majority with the NDP as a “strong” Official Opposition. Since it doesn’t really matter how strong the opposition is in a Majority Government, the ONDP need to find a way to do just a bit better than predicted and overtake Ford or at least hold him to a Minority Government.

The only way for them to do that is to keep doing what they’ve been doing, just push a bit further. This is not the time to retreat back into old ways. Playing it safe, this time, means pushing the envelope more.

Horwath has her party’s traditional base back. Now she needs to mobilize new voters and get them excited enough not just to cast their ballot but to volunteer as well.

Proposing free tuition would be one way to do it. They could even announce how they plan to pay for it: with weed.

Seriously, I’m not kidding. Bear with me for a moment.

When cannabis becomes legal in Canada, Wynn plans to tightly control it through the LCBO. Ford, meanwhile, wants a free market, something that has garnered him support on the left.

The ONDP has remained pretty much silent on the subject and I understand why. Wynne’s position is extremely unpopular, especially among NDP supporters, but championing the free market just seems so un-NDP.

But in this case there is a third way. Have the government run medicinal marijuana and cover it as part of pharmacare but open up recreational pot sales to any business that successfully applies for a permit.

The government can regulate the product for quality and ensure proper labour standards and at the same time get a chunk of sales tax from all the places selling it, way more than they would from the mere handful of stores Wynn wants. Then they use the new revenues to pay for post-secondary education.

The spin is simple:

Wynn wants to privatize essential services like hydro and nationalize recreational products like pot with a plan that will make it unprofitable for Ontarians. Ford wants the Wild West. We see this as an opportunity to improve Ontario’s economy and provide a free education for all Ontarians.

It’s just one idea, but I’d hate to see the most left-leaning party that has a chance blow it and lose to Doug Ford over weed. The ONDP should really have a position on this issue which is currently wooing potential future hardcore supporters far to the right.

No matter what they decide to do on this front, though, Ontario New Democrats need to remember that their path to victory is keeping their traditional base and inspiring a new base with bold progressive and unabashedly socialist policy, pitching it in a way that doesn’t terrify suburbia, and driving the point home that Wynne can’t win and the only way to keep Ford Nation and all of their regressive social policies out of Queen’s Park is to vote NDP.

A unicorn is special because it’s a unicorn. If it tries to pretend it’s just a horse, then it loses any advantage it had.

* Featured image by E.K. Park via WikiMedia Commons

The Nishnawbe Aski Police Service (NAPS) took a startling position during the inquest into the suicide of Lena Anderson in the back of one of its police cars. On Wednesday, they asked the five members of the jury to recommend that their service either be brought under the Police Services Act before April 2017, or disbanded.

The inquest shone a grim light on the deficient resources of the largest First Nations-administered police service in the country and the role it played in Anderson’s death. NAPS board chair Mike Metatawabin told the inquest that there was no point in keeping the service when it didn’t have the resources to fulfill its duties.

“Enough is enough. We can’t do this all the time where you promise something and then turn around and say you can’t do it,” he said, as quoted by CBC.

No Cells, No Radio and No Help

Lena Anderson, a 23 year old native woman, died in the back of a police car on February 1st 2013 in the remote aboriginal community of Kasabonika Lake in Northern Ontario.

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Earlier that night, Anderson’s daughter had been apprehended by a child welfare worker after being found drinking at a party in Kasabonika Lake First Nation, where alcohol is prohibited. Anderson became frantic when she learned the news, to the point where Cst. Jeremy Swanson took her into custody for her own safety.

Since Kasabonika doesn’t have proper holding cells, the standard practice is to hold detainees in the passenger compartment of the police cruiser until they are let go or transported out of town.  Swanson said that he intended to release Anderson once she had “sobered up”.

During his testimony, he recounted how he tried to contact the other officer over the radio but couldn’t get through. Since NAPS uses an old radio system instead of the modern ones that would have allowed him to leave a message to a dispatcher, he had no way of getting assistance without leaving the car.

According to Swanson’s notes, he left Anderson in the car for 16 minutes while he stopped at the door of a local social worker to get her to try to contact an off-duty officer. When he came back, the young woman had hung herself with a drawstring from her pants.

“I checked for a pulse. There was nothing…I tried to yell as loud as I could. No one was coming to help me.”

Swanson cut her down but the conditions made it impossible to “perform CPR efficiently.”

He got the social worker, Tina Nevins, to alert the nursing station that they were coming. Still, nobody was waiting for them outside when they arrived, so Swanson “carried and dragged Lena to the building, and started yelling for help.” Anderson was pronounced dead 45 minutes later.

When Swanson was asked about alternatives for holding detainees in the absence of cells, he said “there should be cells. Otherwise there shouldn’t be police officers, because they can’t do their jobs.”

History repeats itself

On Thursday, the coroner’s council issued 27 recommendations to avoid future incidents. The coroner’s office’s recommendations are not binding, contrarily to the jury’s. They stopped short of endorsing the idea of disbanding the NAPS, advising instead the jury to be careful in how far they take their recommendations.

They largely insisted, however, on the importance of ensuring that First Nations communities have access to the same level of policing and services as other communities.

The inquest into the Kashechewan fire deaths of 2009 brought essentially the same recommendations forward, but they still haven’t been followed.

“Lena Anderson would be alive today,” said NAPS legal councillor Julian Falconer in an interview with a local paper. “She died in 2013, because of the very same problems the jury identified in 2009.”

The NAPS board chair also referred to the failure to follow up on the 2009 recommendations in his emotional testimony: “For me it’s heartbreaking, heartbreaking that we’re still here, we’re still waiting, we’re still trying to make it better.”

First Nations Policing Program Called into Question

As per the First Nations Policing Program (FNPP), aboriginal communities in Canada are either policed by the RCMP or by a self-administered police service.

The Nishnawbe Aski police service is the largest First Nations police force in the country, with over 134 uniformed officers. Those 134 officers are in charge of 35 communities, spreading from Thunder Bay to James Bay.

First Nations administered police forces like NAPS were first instated when the FNPP was created in 1992 and their legal framework has not been updated since then.

They are mostly constituted of micro-sized services mandated to serve remote communities under provincial police regulations. In 24 years, 58 such services were created. Twenty of them were disbanded due to various crisis and failures.  Recent government research found that the diminutive size of these services was a primary cause of their failures.

Metatawabin and Falconer, with Swanson’s lawyer, Mike Maher and the lawyer representing the Anderson family, Christa Big Canoe, all called the entire First Nations policing program into question:

“From the perspective of my client, if they’re not willing to put their money where their mouths are, we just need to fold the whole program.”

* Featured image via netnewsledger.com

While Syrian refugees have been greeted with widely applauded warmth by the Canadian government, other immigrants, jailed without trial, are resorting to a hunger strike to get themselves heard.

Fifty immigration detainees have started a hunger strike in Ontario to protest the conditions and the too-often undetermined length of their detention. Like thousands of others across Canada, the fifty men have been placed in custody without charges or trial, because their situation does not conform to the country’s immigration laws.

They have been refusing food since Monday and intend to keep doing so until they get a meeting with the Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. Immigration detainees had originally gone on a hunger strike April 21st and stopped after representatives from the Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) met with them to discuss their concerns. But the group End Immigration Detention (EID) says that the Agency has not followed through with their promises and now the detainees want to speak with elected officials.

“We would like immigration detention to end and something more fair or realistic be worked out,” said Toby Clark, detained since 2014 in an EID press release.

Migrants are the only category of persons that can be held in custody indefinitely and without charges in Canada. Every year, the CBSA issues between 4000 and 7000 arrest warrants against immigrant men, women and children who haven’t been able to prove their identity or haven’t been granted asylum.

The lucky ones are sent to one of the three overflowing CBSA immigration detention centres in Vancouver, Toronto and Laval. The others are held in provincial prisons, among criminal offenders. This is the case of the fifty protesters detained in Central East Correctional Centre and Toronto East Detention Centre, where they are often subjected to lockdowns and solitary confinement.

Immigrant detention lasts 23 days on average, but some people wait for years to either be granted asylum or deported. “If your country refuses to issue travel documents, some people are held months, some people are held years and there is nothing that they can do about their country not issuing travel documents,” explained Clark.

Despite the fact that immigration detention is supposedly an administrative procedure with no intent of punishment, the detainees are effectively treated like criminals in jails and CBSA centres alike.

One woman recounted her ordeal in the Laval facility to Radio-Canada last February: “when they escort you to court or to the hospital, they always cuff you, as if we were murderers.” She recalled the shame she felt, after waiting for hours in an emergency room, cuffed like a prisoner. “I asked God to take me, so I could just stop living. What use could all of this be? It was too humiliating,” she confided. She was released after one and a half months.

Immigrant detainees are released if they can provide the proper documents, but it is very hard to do so while in custody. Jenny Jeanes from Action Réfugiés Montréal visits detainees in Laval twice a week. According to her, they don’t have access to internet and are only permitted local phone calls at certain times.

The Larger Problem

Over 80 000 immigrants were arrested by the CBSA between 2006 and 2014, according to End Immigration Detention. Many of them were children, often unaccompanied. The UN has chastised Canada for making detention a systematic response, when it should be an exceptional one. The Red Cross, the High Commissioner for Refugees and multiple groups of legal experts, social workers and doctors have called on Canada to change its ways.

One would think that the election of PM Justin Trudeau, praised around the world for his compassion and acceptance of refugees, would have put an end to this practice, but they would be disappointed. The number of immigrants detained yearly is still above 4000 according to more conservative guesses.

And people are indeed guessing, since the CBSA has not known exactly how many people are in its custody since 2013. Apparently, it’s the fault of an outdated computer system.

90% of immigrants are detained for reasons unrelated to security. Half of the immigrants detained are asylum-seekers.

Who is Overseeing the CBSA?

Two years ago, Lucia Vega Jimenez died while in CBSA’s custody. The 42-year old Mexican was risking deportation when she hung herself in a cell in Vancouver’s airport. When the affair was finally made public one month later, it raised some serious questions about the federal agency.

Who is overseeing this process? What resources are available to detainees? Why didn’t Jiminez get medical assistance when she needed it? And how come Canada routinely infringes on the basic human rights of non-citizens?

These questions, just like the chorus of calls for a public inquiry, remain unanswered. Since 2000, 13 people have died in CBSA custody.

A Burundian refugee hung himself in Toronto East Detention Centre just last March, while he was awaiting deportation for killing his wife. Last year, a diabetic Somali refugee died in Central East Correctional Facility. Both those cases, like many others, are shrouded in suspicious secrecy.

Federal bodies with coercive powers usually have an independent commission overseeing them. The RCMP, the Canadian Intelligence Service and the Centre of Telecommunication Security all do.

There is no independent entity overseeing the CBSA, or receiving complaints about them.

Last February, a senator with liberal allegiance introduced a bill to change this. Senator Wilfred Moore wants an independent inspector to be appointed as watchdog of the CBSA. “I don’t want Mrs Jimenez’s death to be in vain, he told Radio-Canada while explaining his motives.

The government refused to acknowledge that the CBSA’s methods were in any way problematic but claimed that they were open to consider ways to ensure some accountability mechanisms.

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Fifty men are currently resorting to a hunger strike, facing indefinite detention in maximum security prison, despite having committed no crime. Canada would never treat its citizen that way; it should not treat anyone that way.

End Immigration detention has launched a campaign to reach out to Minister Ralph Goodale and ask him to meet the detainees.

You can participate by calling him at 613-947-1153, or tweeting at him using the hashtag #migrantstrike.

Just like Justin Trudeau told us, when greeting Syrian refugees in December: “show the world how to open our hearts and welcome in people who are fleeing extraordinarily difficult situations.”

Fort MacMurray and large swaths of Northern Alberta have been burning for a few days. Homes and communities have been destroyed and people have died, too.

This is a time for everyone in Canada and beyond to come together and try to stop the fires and assist those who have been forced to evacuate as much as they can. That has been happening. There have been stories circulating of everyone from the people of Lac Megantic, Quebec to recent Syrian refugees pitching in.

Politically, though, there has been a fire of a different sort. At first, there were those online suggesting that the fires were directly caused by the oil being pulled out of the ground, but when it was clear that the fires did not start at the extraction site and had no specific correlation to the most prominent industry in the region, those rumblings gave way to a political argument about whether or not the wildfires were the result of climate change.

Ottawa Weighs In

Green Party leader Elizabeth May fired the first shot, so to speak, when asked if the fires were linked to climate change:

“Of course. It’s due to global emissions. Scientists will say we know with a destabilized climate, with a higher average global temperature, we will see more frequent, more extreme weather events … due to an erratic climate, due to our addiction to fossil fuels.”

Later in the same day, she walked that statement back a bit, saying there was no specific correlation and that “no credible climate scientist would make this claim, and neither do I make this claim.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau got the question next and responded like this:

“It’s well-known that one of the consequences of climate change will be a greater prevalence of extreme weather events around the planet, however any time we try to make a political argument out of one particular disaster I think there is a bit of a shortcut that can sometimes not have the desired outcome.

Pointing at any one incident and saying, ‘Well this is because of that,’ is neither helpful nor entirely accurate. What we are focussed on right now on is giving the people of Fort McMurray, and across Alberta, the kind of support that they need.”

Now, I, for one, am loathe to agree with Trudeau anything, let alone on environmental issues. He is, after all, the one who seems to think pipelines will lead to our green future. I also believe that most of Alberta’s oil should stay in the ground. In fact, I experienced quite the dilemma a few paragraphs back in this article. I absolutely refuse to use the term “oil sands” but thought that “tar sands” was a little too hardcore a term to use for the “coming together” point I was trying to make.

That dilemma is nothing compared to the one faced by people whose homes have recently burned to the ground. In fact, not all of those fleeing the wildfires are oil company executives, very few are. These are workers, their families, activists opposed to pipelines, First Nations communities and others who, a week ago, were fighting against the destruction the oil industry would bring to their home, and now are fleeing from their home.

With that in mind, I have to agree with Justin Trudeau. This is not the right time to be talking climate change.

Put the Fires Out First

Are these fires the result of climate change? Maybe. Could they also have been caused by inconsiderate campers? Maybe. Are wildfires a natural occurrence in the area? Yes. Do these fires have no other explanation? Maybe. These are all good questions that can be answered later.

Right now shit is burning and stopping that and helping those affected has to be our first and only concern. There will be time to talk cause and assign blame later.

When a spree killer is chasing you down the hall, you don’t stop running, turn around and pontificate on the lack of gun control or our failing mental health system, you get the hell out of there and hope the killer is stopped before he gets to you. If you survive, there will be plenty of time to talk about and hopefully stop the root causes of what happened.

Right now, metaphorically, we’re still running down the hall. The fires are still raging and we need to stop them and find a way out.

It’s fine to criticize the government at a time like this, but only on things they aren’t doing or could be doing better to deal with and hopefully end the situation (like not letting the Russians help). Linking the disaster to climate change at this point isn’t one of them.

I know that I may be annoying some people whom I otherwise agree with and may agree with on this issue, except that I don’t think this is the right time to be on a soapbox about it. I don’t really care, because, here in Montreal, I still have a roof over my head, which is more than some in Alberta, Manitoba and now Ontario can say.

When your soapbox is burning, run away.

Born Ruffians kicked off POP Montreal this past Wednesday with an energetic, intimate show at La Sala Rosa. The show was the first of many for this Canadian indie band’s RUFF tour, during which they plan to play across Canada, in the US, the UK, and Europe.

The tour celebrates the release of their new album, RUFF, which will hit stand on October 2nd. RUFF is the band’s fifth studio album, and the first one they will be releasing since their last album, Birthmarks, in 2013.

I was lucky enough to have a chance to chat with Luke Lalonde (vocals and guitar) and Mitch Derosier (bass) about their experiences since becoming an internationally recognized band in the indie rock world.

Sisi: You guys are from Midland, Ontario, but now live in Toronto. How was the transition of being from a smaller town to playing in larger, more metropolitan cities?

Luke: It all happened when we were 18 or 19, and time just moves differently at that point. We went through many changes in life, like moving out of our parents’ house, going to school for a year, and then dropping out to do music full time, and eventually going on tour. Life felt so momentous.

For me, there was definitely an adjustment period that I didn’t realize I was going through until I started looking back now, ten years later. I was having a lot of personal issues that were hard to deal with, and I was very hard to be around. I just kept my head down and kept going, and it wasn’t until about five years later when I popped my head back up and realized, ‘woah, that was kinda rough.’

Mitch: It didn’t feel like there was much of a transition, because everything happened too fast. But in reality, there really was. You just don’t really have a choice in the transition, because everything we were doing as a band was things we had to do. We didn’t really have a choice but to deal with the craziness of it all.

Sisi: When was the moment you guys realized you finally made it as a well-known band? How did it feel?

Luke: To me, it feels like that’s always happening, and we continue to grow and strive for more and more. For a band like us, we never hit that level of Arcade Fire success, where it’s just guaranteed sold out shows everywhere you go. But we’re also not toiling away in obscurity. We do enough to make a living and tour comfortably, so that always leaves us really appreciating everything we have.

I think it’s a good thing, because sometimes you see people get fame, and they get really fucked up once it goes away. We don’t have fame, we have this thing that you just appreciate but not come to expect.

Mitch: Other bands may think the same way we do, but I feel like we’re such a self-conscious band. We reflect a lot on what we do, and we’re learning from our experiences.

Sisi: You guys have a new album coming out on October 2nd, called Ruff. I went on the website watchruff.com and stumbled upon a very special countdown, where 1.3 million photo frames are played over the course of a month until the date of the record release. I thought it was a super creative idea. What inspired you guys to have this?

Luke: John Smith, the guy who helped us put the video together and directed it; it was his idea, really. We wanted someone to help us pull a bunch of creative ideas together and to be the creative director for this album, so we sat down with him and brainstormed.

We have full control over the sound and lyrics of the album, but we wanted something visual that could tie it all together. We wanted something really hypnotic and dreamy, but we also wanted to creep people out and make them laugh simultaneously. It was kind of David Lynch inspired, but with a bit more humour.

All the vignettes are different scenes, and they all kind of escalate and get crazier as the month goes on. It’s essentially 12 hours of footage, slowed down to a month.

Sisi: Does the theme of the countdown reflect on the theme of the RUFF?

Luke: Well, not really. This album is a lot more personal in a lot of ways, so maybe if being too personal is creepy, then maybe.

Mitch: Maybe not creepy, but its darker. I feel like [Luke] was being very straight up and was coming from an honest place when working on this album. As he said, it’s a lot more personal. We were looking for something that made our audiences feel the record in a different way, it wasn’t just going to be another pop rock record, you know what I mean? There’s something else to it compared to what we’ve released before.

Sisi: What was your favourite public event you attended as a band, aside from live shows?

Luke: We did this series of videos with Matt Johnson, a Toronto based director/writer/actor. He did this web series a while back called “Nirvana the band the show.” For before Birthmarks came out, we did these in the studio videos, where Matt acted as the producer. He basically just improved for a few hours and pieced it together. It turned out really funny and it was a good time.

Mitch: Another funny thing we did together was attend the Junos. It was such a weird experience, because we never expected to be there. It never felt like that kind of thing we thought we would be recognized for. We always felt like we were catching up to other Canadian bands, so it felt like we didn’t totally belong there.

We didn’t expect to win, which we didn’t. It was a fun thing to experience as a band because we’re not a band that goes to award shows, like ever. It felt like a funny accidental thing.

Luke: It felt surreal to be walking around people like Jim Cuddy and Fred Penner. It was a crazy experience. It was weird and it was an anomaly, but it was fun. You don’t think they’re paying attention to you, so it was like “oh, you noticed us?”

Sisi: After a long, stressful day, what kind of food would you crave for if you could have anything in the world?

Luke: Mine is really lame… A salami sandwich. It’s not like I want to indulge, it’s just what I want. With some crackers, hummus, and some cheddar cheese. And maybe also some pea soup.

Mitch: I was raised eating potatoes, so I love roasted potatoes. Sometimes I crave Kraft Dinner as well.

Luke: Yeah, usually at 3 in the morning. Aside from that, I guess I would want something really expensive, like a really nice cut of Kobe beef.

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Make sure to check out RUFF on October 2nd!

Moist

Canal Days Marine Heritage Festival is an annual weekend of festivities that takes place on the Welland Canal in Port Colborne, Ontario, close to Niagara. The festival hosts over 300,000 visitors each year and includes music on a few stages including a main stage that is set up in a big parking lot near the river. I made my way to this festival to check out the bands playing Saturday evening, and despite rainy weather, had such an amazing time watching The Johnstones, illScarlett and Moist.

The Johnstones, tagged as “Canada’s party band,” opened for illScarlet and Moist on Saturday night in Port Colborne. It’s certainly not the only high profile gig the ska/punk band has had since their 2002 inception. They’ve also toured the world with bands including Hedley, Gob, Reel Big Fish, Less then Jake and The Mad Caddies. Formed in Ajax, Ontario, the band became notorious in the punk scene not only for their lively and comedic live show but for their offstage antics, such as being banned for life from Disneyland and starting a Justin Bieber riot at the Toronto G20 conference. Their shows and videos led to a management deal with Canadian Idol judge Zack Werner, after which they signed on with STOMP Records (Warner) to release their debut album, Word is Bond, in 2007. That album has been followed with two others; Can’t Be Trusted and Suck.

After a brief hiatus, the band returned to making music together earlier this year and have been playing shows around Southern Ontario like their Canal Days show on Saturday. The band never fails to amuse or get their audiences moving. They clearly draw influence from bands like the Beastie Boys and they include rap segments in many of their songs that are much in the vein of something Ad-Rock would do. Their music is both really good and really fun, and they’re super entertaining to watch. They always incorporate some comical dance segments and often improvise new moves and sequences as they go along. They’re having just as much fun as their audiences are.

The Johnstones have their own half-hour TV show, Crown the Town, that features their music, their wild antics as well as sketch comedy featuring special guests. Do yourself a favour and check them out.

illScarlett followed The Johnstones with an energetic set of their own and were an appropriate bridge between the ska/punk sound of The Johnstones and the alternative rock that Moist play. illScarlett’s most prominent influence would be bands like Sublime and their sound could be classified as a fusion of ska punk and reggae rock. This long-running and successful band has been active since 2001 and will be releasing their sixth studio album (not including two EPs) this September.

They played a tight set that combined many of their own popular tunes with a few covers and kept the stage nice and warm for headliners Moist. Never having seem them perform live before, I was pleasantly surprised by the strong vocals of Alex Norman, who belted out tune after tune and kept the crowd engaged despite the rain that was coming down on us.

Moist certainly doesn’t need an introduction. They were one of my favourite bands of the 90s and I remember being devastated when they split in 2001. So it was almost too good to be true when rumours about them re-banding started last year. After a thirteen year hiatus, Moist is back in the game with new music! Not only that, but they are on top of their game and sounding as good as ever. Sometimes when bands split up and then later try to make a comeback with new material, the new music sometimes seems a bit lacklustre compared to the old and fans are disappointed. Not with these guys, not in my opinion. The new songs rock just as much as their older stuff.

Their set was comprised of all the hit songs from their first three studio albums, Silver, Creature and Mercedes 5 and Dime plus some new tunes that will be included on their upcoming release in October. Classics like “Push,” “Silver,” “Machine Punch Through,” “Leave it Alone,” and one of their encore songs, “Resurrection.” Revisiting all their most successful numbers after such a long break seems a really clever way of getting fans to re-engage and remember just how great their original repertoire is. It actually surprises me to realize just how many hit songs Moist has had since releasing Silver in 1994.

Some of the band members have changed with their resurrection, but the new formation sounds so tight and David Usher’s vocals are as strong as ever. It was honestly one of the best shows I’ve been to in ages. The band seemed genuinely thrilled with their reception as well, and despite their great skill as performers and songwriters, they remain humble and truly excited to be back on the scene. And dare I say, they all look fantastic. Age seemingly hasn’t touched these handsome devils.

Here’s the video for “Mechanical,” a single off their upcoming album Glory Under Dangerous Skies.

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Click on the image to activate the slideshow. Photos by Stephanie Beatson.

The Super Friendz, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, made the trip to play Hillside Festival on Saturday afternoon. They were originally active between 1994 and 1997 and reformed in 2003 for a show, after which they continued on to record Love Energy. Their debut LP, however, titled Mock Up, Scale Down (1995) was on Sloan’s murderecords label and got the ball rolling for these guys.

Matt Murphy (guitar and vocals), Drew Yamada (guitar and vocals) and Charles Austin (bass) write the group’s pop-rock tunes democratically and perform them with vigour. I kept thinking during their set how much they remind me of Joel Plaskett Emergency, then I remembered they are contemporaries of Thrush Hermit and Sloan and were paving their way at the same time. The commonality goes beyond that though. The raw rock aesthetic, the live energy… perhaps it’s a Maritimes thing. In any case, it’s something I’ve only heard in 90s bands from the East Coast. And it’s awesome. Not only that, but they share drummer Dave Marsh with Joel Plaskett Emergency (Marsh wasn’t present at this show; instead they borrowed DIANA’s drummer Kieren Adams who did a bang up job filling in).

During this, their only scheduled show for 2014, Murphy, Yamada and Austin largely shared the vocal duties and played through a good chunk of Mock Up, Scale Down much to everyone’s delight. Many bands who have been around as long as The Super Friendz have gotten tired and it shows during their live shows. Not these guys. They rock as much as ever. It’s so satisfying to see a group of hardworking musicians, who have all had other projects on the side, stick to their roots in so many ways. They also prove that you don’t need a ton of fancy production to make powerful rock music. They just pick up guitars and play and sing their hearts out. What could be better?

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The band have released many records, mostly in the 90s, but rumour has it they were conceiving a new one following Love Energy, the current status of which is unknown.

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Photos by Stephanie Beatson.
N.B. Hillside Fest was shut down on Sunday evening due to a severe thunderstorm.  No coverage will be provided.

Indie-folk pop band Wild Child came in from Austin, Texas to play at Hillside Festival on Saturday and I don’t think they at all expected the reception they received. Prior to their set, people under the tent at the Island stage were sitting or lying down, chatting and relaxing. As soon as the band struck their first note, everyone, and I mean everyone, jumped up and began dancing, clapping and cheering. The band, obviously taken aback, basked in delight and played an energetic set that concluded with a sing-along tune that had the place in a musical frenzy.

Wild Child (2)

Lead singer Kelsey Wilson has a beautiful, pure tone and sings with strength; a perfect fit to front this group of six. In between vocal phrases and during musical interludes, she plays her fiddle and compliments the lovely cello parts played by Sadie Wolfe. Wilson and the group’s other vocalist, Alexander Beggins (ukulele), take on the bulk of the songwriting, but the band is completed with the other colours that include Evan Magers (keyboards), Drew Brunetti (drums) and Chris D’Annunzio (bass). They’re a little like Hey Rosetta! with their instrumentation, but the vibe of the music is more like the Dinner Belles.

Wild Child began as an acoustic duo with Wilson and Beggins, who met on the road while touring in support of another band and began writing songs together. They brought in other instrumentalists when recording their debut album Pillow Talk (2011), which then naturally evolved into a full band. Since their inception a few years back, Wild Child have been enjoying some nice successes with their recordings and their live shows. Both albums, Pillow Talk and The Runaround (2013), were well received. The band was named by the Austin Chronicle as the Best Indie Band and Best Folk Band in Austin at the 2013 SXSW festival.At this year’s SXSW the band was again named Best Indie Band. This summer they played at Bonnaroo and attracted an unprecedented crowd of over 5,000 to their show.

wild child

Check out their video for “Crazy Bird,” from The Runaround.

Photos by Stephanie Beatson.
N.B. Hillside was shut down Sunday evening due to a severe thunderstorm. No coverage will be provided.

amelia curran

Amelia Curran is without a doubt one of the best lyrical writers in Canada. She consistently floors me with evocative phrases over simple and charming musical accompaniment. Somehow, she manages to rhyme AND use alliteration while singing intricate phrases full of descriptive words, all while telling a story. Yes, she’s a dazzler.

At Hillside Festival last weekend, she played a lovely set of folk tunes with her band, which includes Joel Schwartz on guitar and mandolin, Kurt Nielsen on Bass and Can Giroux on drums and vocals. Another Canadian music icon and wife of Giroux, Oh Susanna, came up to sing harmonies on a few songs too; a wonderful treat for the ears! With the full band, Curran was able to add some of the colour that is present in her latest releases but she still played a couple of solo songs, keeping more in line with the vibe of her earlier music.

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Maybe it’s her unabashed, honest lyrics, or the way she presents herself and her music, but she consistently wows audiences and Hillside was no exception. On a lazy Saturday evening, people were sprawled out on the lawn while they took in her set. The applause grew louder after each song, reaching the pinnacle as she gracefully delivered her final number, expressed her appreciation and left us all wondering how someone can have so much raw talent and still be so humble about it. I know that every time I listen to her music, I feel that if I could write one song that’s even half as good as even her most mediocre tune, I would consider myself a success.

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I’m not alone in thinking that. Curran has won many awards since the release of her debut full length album in 2008, titled War Brides (originally released in 2006, re-released on Six Shooter Records). Born in St. John’s, Newfoundland and currently living in Halifax, she has won East Coast Music Awards. In 2010, she took home a Juno Award in the category of Roots and Traditional Album of the Year: Solo for her album Hunter Hunter. She also won first prize (Folk category) of the prestigious 15th Annual USA Songwriting Competition. Her most recent release, Spectators, was nominated for the 2013 Juno Award for Roots and Traditional Album of the Year: Solo. The album pushed beyond the folk boundaries that defined her previous releases while still focusing on the strength of her lyricism.  “Years” is the first single from Spectators and contemplates whether it’s all worth it at the end of the day.

Amelia Curran (1)

One of my personal favourites of hers that highlights her prolific lyrics is “The Mistress”; here she plays it on “Q” with Jian Ghomeshi.

Here’s a sample of the lyrics. She puts so much meaning into each clever line that it’s hard to process it before she hits you with the next one.

“try and stop me I’m on fire
it doesn’t look that way
you know, I used to be a liar
but living’s set me straight
I don’t come with no disclaimer, I’m like everybody else
we keep our demons on the burner and our morals on the shelf”

Photos by Stephanie Beatson.
N.B. Hillside was shut down Sunday evening due to a severe thunderstorm. No coverage will be posted.

As the results trickled in last Thursday night throughout Ontario one thing was obvious, Kathleen Wynne had succeeded where many had failed before – she rendered a swift and decisive blow to the austerity agenda in Ontario.

But the true question that lingers after this 41st Ontarian electoral cycle is how much of this victory can be attributed to the Liberal campaign and Kathleen Wynne, and how much is due to an impressive anti-Hudak campaign? Thursday’s vote must be seen first and foremost as a refutal of the cuts to social services, to the public service sector, to the continuation of the dismantlement of the Ontario welfare state, and the “tea-partyesque” agenda of Tim Hudak & Co. This is bad news for the Conservative movement on the federal level as well. It seems that there will be no Common Sense Revolution “take two”, and it appears that the Ontario neo-liberal laboratory is vacant. The majority of Ontarians aren’t ready to go down the Harris road anytime soon.

Kathleen Wynne

The Ontario election was insightful, in purely electoral terms for the Canadian left. Kathleen Wynne proved that taking austerity head-on during a campaign, wrestling economic issues away from the right, and redefining these issues in social terms – not purely abstract statistical ones – is a winning equation.  But this doesn’t mean that the spectre of austerity is defeated once and for all, but rather much to the contrary. As we know too well, unfortunately a campaign on the left doesn’t automatically translate into a government on the left.

But one thing that cruelly lacked on the left during this campaign was a strong link with the social movements that have been shaking up Ontario since the onset of the big crunch in 2008. Striking students against outrageous tuition fees, working families fighting for a living wage, public sector employees struggling against cuts across the board, Indigenous communities that spearheaded the idle no more movement, were nowhere to be seen.  The incapacity of the Ontarian left to foster such strong alliances with grassroots campaigns and to build a movement that not only defeats austerity, but creates the place for an alternative agenda to grow, is the main reason why austerity might have been defeated at the ballot box, but it surely hasn’t been defeated in Queen’s Park.

Many have said throughout these past few years which have seen Tim Hudak as leader of the Conservative Party of Ontario that he has “snatched (time after time) defeated from the jaws of victory”. This is certainly true, but if this Ontario election is an indication of anything, its surely that Ontario is in the mind space for a strong progressive government. And yet the Ontario electoral left has missed that rendez-vous… at least for now. The Ontario left might have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, but still be defeated, the Conservative agenda might,within the next four years, prove to be the real victor of this exercise in democracy.

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We must view the Liberal Party of Ontario’s victory Thursday, as a mandate for a progressive government that will finally break with the Harris legacy. The Liberals won because they were successful in convincing the Ontario electorate that they were the only ones that could defeat the Hudak tea-party crusade, but that’s a detail. The Liberals aren’t so much the big victors of Thursday night as much as the Ontario Tea Party is the big loser.

The Reform revolution started circa 1987 in the Canadian west, which for the past 30 odd years has spread like wildfire through all levels of government, is the loser of the electoral night. It has been a movement that has profoundly transformed Canada and dominated the political discourse in this country. That’s the true lesson for the left at the wrap-up of this Ontario election: the space for a strong left-wing movement that builds campaigns such as the 14$ minimum wage in Ontario, the campaign for non-commodified education, the campaign for a Robin Hood tax, for affordable housing for all. These are just to name a few. The political space for a strong left-wing, social-democratic, socialist – call it what you want – revival on the Canadian political stage is within our grasp.

The lesson to take from this election is that we have to have the audacity on the left to fightback. If we define ourselves within the rhetorical space that is given to us by the neo-liberal consensus, without trying to jailbreak and offer an alternative, then we’ve lost before we’ve even gotten started. This will only be achieved if we succeed at unifying social movements on the ground with a political caucus in Queens Park, and only if such a caucus becomes the voice of the aspirations and vision of the various social justice campaigns.  Canadians from all walks of life are asking for an alternative.

It’s about time we have a true left campaign that forms a true left government, that implements true left policies.

A luta continua.

The three women who filed the initial case: Nikki Thomas, Terri-Jean Bedford and Valerie Scott, left to right

It just got a lot better to be a prostitute in Ontario. On Monday, Ontario’s Court of Appeal voted to strike down two out of the three provisions of the Criminal Code that pertain to prostitution, deeming them in violation of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

While prostitution is technically legal in this country, it resides in a grey area of the law, since living on the avails of prostitution is itself a criminal act. Canada’s Criminal Code also prohibits “the keeping or frequenting of a bawdy house”, as well as soliciting for sex in public.

The appeal was filed on behalf of the federal and Ontario governments regarding a landmark ruling by the Ontario Supreme Court Judge Susan G. Himel in September 2010 that sought to strike down all three aspects of the current prostitution laws. While the Court of Appeal agreed that sex trade workers should be legally allowed to live off their trade and practice it indoors, they upheld the ban on street solicitation and public communication for the purposes of prostitution.

“This decision means that sex workers can now pick up the phone, and call the police and report a bad client. This means that we no longer have to be afraid, that we can work with the appropriate authorities,” noted Valerie Scott of Professionals of Canada, one of the original three women to challenge the laws.

While the ruling does mean safer working conditions for certain sex trade workers, like the ones who will now be able to employ staff including drivers and bodyguards, it ignores the safety of the street workers. The ruling did also stipulate that those living off prostitution in circumstances of exploitation would still violate the law.

It will take 30 days for the ruling on living off the avails of prostitution to kick into effect. The Court of Appeal gave Parliament 12 months to amend the law pertaining to the bawdy houses in such a way that it no longer infringes on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Colloquially referred to as the world’s oldest profession, prostitution has occurred in one form or another across different cultures since ancient history. Currently, each country has its own laws governing the legality of sex work. For example, in the United States, street and call services are illegal, as are brothels everywhere except for in about a dozen rural Nevada counties. The state regulates these brothers by requiring condom use and regular STI testing.

The most well-known example of legal prostitution occurs in Amsterdam’s Rossebuurt, or red light district, where registered prostitutes advertise and sell their services from windows on the street and pay income taxes.

In Thailand, one of the world’s most popular destinations for sex tourism, prostitution is technically illegal but is tolerated in practice, reflecting a trend throughout the continent where sex workers themselves are stigmatized by society while it is considered acceptable for men to use their services. In some countries, certain sexual acts are permitted while others are deemed illegal. Take Japan for example, which passed the Prostitution Prevention Law in 1957, which drew a distinction between peddling vaginal sex as forbidden while other forms of sexual activity were permissible. I wonder if this includes bukkake and tentacle rape?

Photo Credit: Alex Urosevic for National Post

So here we go, I’m packing my bags and getting ready to go to head out to Canadian Music Week in Toronto.

Diary. Check. Pens and crayons. Check. Toothpaste. Black scribe gloves. Check.   Sun glasses (because I wear my sunglasses in the dark). Check.

Okay its 10 o’clock, ready to go. Wait a minute. This is Montreal, a city where it rains and snows simultaneously. So I sit for two hours waiting for the photographer (Chris Zacchia) and our movie reviewer (Stephanie Laughlin).

It   turns out they were stuck in an alleyway covered in three feet of snow,   I tried to help push the car through the alley which was covered with a sheet of ice under the snow. It appeared to be an impossible feat, especially after two hours of pushing only got us a few meters away.

Either Montreal really loves us and refuses to let us leave or winter really hates us. We finally picked up the music columnist (Cassie Doubleday) and left 3 hours late. Oh well, better late than never. On with the show, here are some of the bands I plan on seeing:

Thursday, March 10th

The River Junction
(Cadillac Club)

The River Junction are a pure progressive country rock band, but with an edge of hard rock influence. What you are going to hear are great female/male harmonies between Derek Hardy and Tammy Steeper that bring out the best in country music. After listening to this band one time it’s not hard to see why they are quickly becoming Toronto’s most popular and influential country band. This is a strange pick for me, but the truth is   I’m a secret cowboy at heart.

Endast
(Bovine Sex Club, 11pm)

They are one of the Montreal bands that constantly tour and have been all over Canada several times over. They released The Promise EP in 2005 and the full0-length Odds Against Tomorrow in 2006, playing nearly 1100 shows since their inception. If you like heavy debris-falling metal then Endast is the band of you.

Zeus: conducting the elements (photo courtesy of the band)

Zeus
(Horseshoe Tavern,   12:20 am)

Zeus conduct the elements of rock, country, blues and punk and generally, are very fun to listen to. The founding members Mike O’Brien and Carlin Nicholson met in high school. Since then things have really started to happen for the group, their band has toured across Canada and have become a staple of the rock scene.

Friday March 11

Hooded Fang
(Horse Shoe Tavern 10:20 pm)

Daniel Lee, April Aliermo, Julia Barnes, Nicholas Hune-Brown, Lane Halley, Lorna Wright and D.Alex Meeks are the hooded Fang. They bring out the best in their audience with their crazy and raucous live shows.   Since the release their EP in 2008, the band has gotten some pretty good press and acclaim. Really looking forward to seeing them and you should too.

Cuff The Duke
(Horseshoe Tavern 12:20am)

One of my favorite bands that I’ve been ready to see ever since their debut album Life Stories for Minimum Wage was released. I have been thoroughly impressed with their work. Their new release Way Down Here was co-produced by   Greg Keelor of Blue Rodeo and their last few albums have been impressively emotional.

Saturday, March 12

Oh Tokyo! The Zoobombs (image courtesy of the band)

The Zoobombs
(Bait Shop 3:30 pm)

Oh Japan! Now composed of Don Matsuo (vocals/guitar), Matta (keyboards), and Moostop (bass), The Zoobombs were formed in 1994. The band has has quite a ride around the world, touring pretty much everywhere. I am exceed to see their brand of live punk-rock blues. Many critics have called   The Zoobomb one of the greatest live indie acts in the world. Well,   I for one don’t doubt it! Looking forward to the afternoon.

The Sadies
(The Mod Club, 7:30pm)

The Sadies are already are a well-established band in Canada who had a real break out. Their newest album out Dark Circles might be their best work to date, created with legendary Jayhawk producer Gary Louris. The Sadies reached popularity with their last album Country Club. Acclaimed by critics, The Sadies are known for bleeding psychedelic. Beware, The Sadies might rock you to your core.

Union City
(Comfort Zone   9:00 pm)

Union City have receive a lot of good press from Peterborough, Ontario’s the Wolf, the local radio station. I picked this band out of a hat and listened to   a few songs and they sound like something I might be interested in hearing. Looking forward to seeing them. I’ll tell you what happens.

Les Breastfeeders
El Moncambo 12:20 am

Quebec represent! Montreal bands are making a big splash across Canada in the music scene and Les Breastfeeders‘ Francophone mix of Kinks-style guitar and is getting great recognition, even from the English. Their popularity has risen since their first release Déjeuner sur l’herbe brought them popularity and acclaim in Quebec and their second album,   also released in France during the winter of 2007, brought them acclaim across the ocean.

Wild live show? You bet! Pustki (image courtesy of the band)

Pustki
(Czehoski 2:20 am)

If you ever wanted to know what’s going on in the music scene in Poland these days you can now find out. Their live bands are known for being excessive, lively and sometimes frightening. This band in particular is known for their memorable live performances. They have, I would have to say, a pretty interesting and unique style influenced by synth pop and guitar rock.

To find out how to get to these shows and more, please check out the CMW venue list.