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January 2006 - Posts

January 31, 2006 3:15 PM

NPR: Canada's new national broadcaster

I've finished listening to another week's worth of fascinating history, pop culture and book news. All of it American. This because the homegrown CBC just cannot cope with emerging technology. I now listen to podcasts on my schedule, not that of the broadcasters. And it's the Americans who are providing the brain food.

The MotherCorpse provides three possibilties -- a music show, a science show and the Toronto morning radio program. Like a Montrealer would care. National Public Radio, down south, gives me dozens of specialized half-hours or more on media, health, environment, politics, technology. More than 200 podcast possibilities in all.

The CBC has forced me to seek elsewhere. Through its, what, laziness? stupidity? willful naivete? -- it's pushing us rights into the arms of the Americans.

ADDENDUM Feb. 5: I never did get a response from the CBC on my podcast query. Sad.

January 31, 2006 11:57 AM

My winter vacation

With winter gone AWOL, a trip designed to rediscover the joys of snow and frost was in order. Spent a night at the Quebec Ice Hotel, where wind chill contributed to a still-toasty minus 17 Celsius outside temperature come morning.

Staff people were not at their best. Guests were ordered to wear special badges which, the woman at the check-in counter said, would ensure better service. Mere visitors, paying $14 for a quick tour, shouldn't expect pleasant hellos from employees, apparently.

The better service had limits, however. One travelling companion, who brought along her one-year-old, generated you-must-be-a-bad-mother shock (what? you have a baby?). And even if our stay had been previously paid for, a credit card was again needed -- in case we stole the bathrobes and towels.

Most of your time is spent in heated, mortar and brick restaurants and lobbies. There, my forays into same-sex public displays of affection were received by most, by the by, with occasional surprise but no snark or upfront gratuitous upset. Extra marks to the American woman who paused, counted to five, then kept chatting. She did, however, have concerns about getting out of her wet bathing suit in the common changing room area; I gave her a big smile and wandered out to the spa. I can be a magnanimous lesbian!

Note: good luck trying to have sex in a frigid room -- and bed -- made of packed snow and ice. Do tell if you manage without tacking on hypothermia or a related ailment.

You sleep bundled up in a mummifying (good to minus 40) sleeping bag, like a caterpillar entering a deep and transforming sleep who'll spread new wings come morning. Only your nose and mouth peek out from the refuge, spraying humidity. When I got up, the sleeping bag was covered in an almost slushy film.

It promised to be an exciting adventure. Your own body heat, trapped within the bag, keeps the spark plugs flickering. And men, explained the sporty chickie giving us the last of our survivalist instructions, are warmer than women. Ha! thought the butch chickie: Macha heat. I am always more than happy to believe such generic statements. And so I doffed my PJs and hunkered into neutral.

Two hours later, I thought I was going to freeze to death. By morning, I had curled up into a tight little ball, desperate to save my feet from amputation. It turns out female physiology rules over big toughie identity. I'm filing a human rights complaint with God.

January 30, 2006 11:03 AM

On "Looking for Comedy..."

How many dollars and cents separate a snort from an outright guffaw? The new Albert Brooks flick, "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World," gave me one big yuk and three laughelettos, or one giggle per 24.5 minutes. Unweighted, I paid $2 a snicker.

But surely the amused smile and the boffo gargle manifest a different worth. What of a titter? A quarter per moved muscle? Five cents per calorie expended? So many questions. So much time during this movie in which to ponder them.

January 27, 2006 11:15 AM

On Karla

"Karla, the Hollywood movie about killers Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo, earned close to $172,000 on Canadian screens last weekend, with 32 percent coming from Quebec, industry sources say" in this morning's paper. "It placed 12th out of 35 films in release. Karla made nearly $10,000 per screen in Toronto ahead of King Kong and Brokeback Mountain. Starring That '70s Show's Laura Prepon as Homolka, the low budget movie opened to negative reviews."

Memo to self: When every reviewer in the country says a movie's a bomb, it's... a bomb. DO NOT GO TO SEE THESE MOVIES. Like the Quantum Pictures flick on Homolka, which retells the murderous tale in made-for-TV fashion and lots of gross sex scenes (and I mean the ones between Homolka and her ex hubby).

There's nothing new, no insight whatsoever -- just as Homolka has given us no insight. Turns out that life, and death, and art, are sometimes like that. Without depth or perception.

ADDENDUM Jan. 30: A confession. I laughed. Yes, when Paul Bernardo (without a speck of ketchup on him) encased the sawed-off bits of a dead teen girl into cement, I laughed. Bernardo doesn't want anyone to find the chunks, but one of the blocks has a foot poking right out of it.... Final proof that unrelenting horror is too much for the merely human brain: a laugh is essential to sanity. And to the long-suffering movie-goer.

January 27, 2006 10:52 AM

They kill Kennies, don't they?

The closeted-Tom-Cruise-Scientology episode of South Park finally makes it to Canukistan. Stan is believed to be the reincarnation of L. Ron Hubbard. Da Comedy Network, tonight.

January 27, 2006 10:30 AM

Two solitudes

Two completely different news stories on same-sex marriage in my French- and English-language dailies this morning.

In the Montreal Gazette (and also here): "Stephen Harper says he wants to move quickly as leader of a fractious new Parliament to reopen the same-sex marriage debate. The makeup of the new House of Commons suggests the prime minister-designate knows there's a good chance such a motion will be rejected.

"It would not be a total loss, however. In fact, an honourable defeat on equal marriage would satisfy obligations to Harper's most right-wing supporters while defusing a politically explosive issue."

Over in La Presse, la Presse Canadienne has actually counted up the votes for and agin. On first blush, the tally is 151 to 144, in favour of queer nuptials. That leaves 13 unknown votes, belonging to pols who pointedly haven't spoken out publicly on the issue. Seven of those are Tories.

January 27, 2006 9:51 AM

Roadsworth, abs, green rooftops...

And Brokeback Mountain: Straight girl seeks hot and graphic guy-on-guy sex on screen. Kissing and romantic storyline also required. Check out When Harry met Larry (thanks for the link, Samantha!).

Lots of catching up to do today. Roadsworth, the Montreal spray painter, was facing some 50 charges because of his penchant for decorating street intersections and other assorted asphalt. No, he doesn't deface buildings, just prettifies the streets. A.k.a. Peter Gibson received an absolute discharge earlier this week, because public outrage forced a plea bargain with the City of Montreal. The sentence was 40 hours of community work, and Gibson's got to ask for permission before he spray paints flowers on the road. Plateau Mont Royal borough mayor Helen Fotopulos took part in this travesty: remember this politician's need to control artwork in the streets during the next municipal election.

Montreal's Urban Ecology Centre has released its Green Roof Guide. Seems to be in French only, but there's an English section on the site.

Unrealistic abs? Nah. Canadian Magazines reports: "An editor of Men's Health in Britain struck a blow against hypocrisy by undergoing a six-week transformation based on the kind of advice such magazines routinely give to readers. He came out the other end with a sculpted body and a cover story for which he was the subject." The story's here.

Three Squirrels in a Pressure Cooker is on a roll this week.

That is all.

January 26, 2006 5:02 PM

Oples, where you get tomorrow's news today!

Happy birthday, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a teensy bit early. Buddy was not gay, but classical music had and has a collection of queers within (and there's a good primer here, at the GLBT Encyclopedia, that also includes a handful of women composers -- beyond the chants of Hildegard von Bingen, already).

The 250th anniversary of the Moz's birth brings me to Toronto filmmaker John Greyson, whose installation piece "Fig Trees" is a modernist opera of note. Greyson, creator of the AIDS musical "Zero Patience ," was in Montreal last week, a guest of the Concordia University HIV/AIDS Lecture Series, and discussed the mix of pop and classical music that has inspired much of his work. There's a write-up here (and here's my conflict of interest note: nice story, sweetie!). "Fig Trees" is inspired by Gertrude Stein's surrealist libretto (!) for the opera, "Four Saints in Three Acts." It has four acts. Ho ho!

Noted Stein: "A saint a real saint never does anything, a martyr does something but a really good saint does nothing and so I wanted to have Four Saints that did nothing and I wrote Four Saints in Three Acts and they did nothing and that was everything. Generally speaking anybody is more interesting doing nothing than doing anything."

Did everybody get get get get that I hope everybody I hope because now so I've got to go get get that I hope so now get

January 25, 2006 2:57 PM

Living in a gated community

TORONTO, Jan. 25 /CNW/ - "The Vivat Group, a member organization that builds communities for gays and lesbians, announced today Canada's first condominium development specifically conceived and built for gays, lesbians and their friends. The building, to be called The Bohemian, will be built at 288 King Street East, in the heart of Toronto's antique and furniture district.

"The announcement was made at Vivat's first sales meeting, where many of its members heard the details of the proposed development. Today's meeting was the first of many to take place over the next few weeks.

"'What makes the Bohemian unique will be the residents that live there. It will be a place that reflects our members' interests and lifestyles, without compromise,' said Gordon Davies, President, The Vivat Group. 'Each resident will know they are a part of a community that cares about them and supports them.'" (snip)

(Thanks to Neil for forwarding this.)

ADDENDUM Feedback: "I like how the release fails to specify how a G & L condo would be different than an ordinary one. What do they plan? Built-in glory holes in the bathrooms? Custom slings in the bedroom? An exercise room with no equipment but enhanced sauna?"

Yer Oples scribe thinks that, with our new Tory government (and a number of bigots elected), the last thing homos should be doing is offering to hide ourselves away from the mainstream.

January 25, 2006 12:23 PM

Diamonds are forever

These ain't conflict diamonds, is they Jacob? don't lie to me mayne
See, a part of me sayin' keep shinin',
How? when I know of the blood diamonds
Though it's thousands of miles away
Sierra Leone connect to what we go through today
Over here, it's a drug trade, we die from drugs
Over there, they die from what we buy from drugs
The diamonds, the chains, the bracelets, the charmses
I thought my Jesus Piece was so harmless
'til I seen a picture of a shorty armless
- Kanye West, "Diamonds from Sierra Leone (Remix)"

Conflict diamonds "are a crucial factor in prolonging brutal wars in parts of Africa.... In Angola and Sierra Leone, conflict diamonds continue to fund the rebel groups, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), both of which are acting in contravention of the international community's objectives of restoring peace in the two countries." That's polite, United Nations talk about maiming and murder by rebels.

Not that the state's government is, or was, any great shakes. As noted by the BBC (via Bill Doskoch), "Diamonds have always been at the heart of Sierra Leone's problems. Ever since the first commercial mines were opened by the British colonial authorities in 1931, they have been both the prize and the fuel in conflicts. Sierra Leonean researcher and journalist Lansana Gberie... [looks at] the criminalisation of the state, funded largely by diamonds." Corruption destroyed the government, allowing (encouraging?) a civil war to easily break out: "The insurgency was characterised by terror attacks on civilians, including the widespread hacking off of people's limbs."

Canada has a humiliating historical connection to Sierra Leone: racism led blacks to leave Nova Scotia by the hundreds to settle in Sierra Leone, where they sought some measure of happiness. "Slavery was never instituted by statute in Nova Scotia, yet slavery was practiced in Halifax a year after the city was founded and, over the next five decades, it was not uncommon in other parts of the province," note Donald Clairmont and Dennis Magill in their book, "Africville: The Life and Death of a Canadian Black Community." There were about 500 slaves in Nova Scotia at the beginning of the American Revolution; Loyalists brought another 1,000 or so. "The groundwork for the subordination of the blacks as a people in Nova Scotia was laid by the early existence of a slave society," say the researchers.

But eventually free blacks began to arrive from the United States, "for the most part having been freed by the British as an inducement to encourage them to leave their revolutionary masters. Free blacks were promised equal treatment with their white peers, but promises were not fulfilled." Few were actually given land; the "lucky" ones found that their lots were small, often barren, and located away from settled areas. "In order to survive, a number of blacks were forced to sell themselves or their children into slavery or long-term indenture."

When the Sierra Leone Company came by, there was practically a stampede. As Daniel G. Hill notes in his book, "The Freedom Seekers: Blacks in Early Canada": "The difficulty of supporting themselves in the face of discrimination and of adverse conditions of climate and the economy convinced many of Nova Scotia's Blacks that they would be better off to leave the province. Some went to New Brunswick, some to 'the Canadas', but most took advantage of the British government's offer of transport to Sierra Leone, where a settlement for Free Blacks was to be established. Thomas Peters, a former sergeant in the Black Pioneers, encouraged his people to accept the British offer. In 1791 almost 1,000 of Nova Scotia's Blacks took ship from Halifax for Africa."

Five years later, another group of 600 blacks arrived in Nova Scotia. "They were the Maroons, immigrants from Jamaica who were part of the community of escaped slaves who, from 1655, had guarded their freedom in the mountains of that island and for over a century had fought off all attempts to re-enslave them. Some of them, finally overcome by the superior resources and false assurances of British and Jamaican forces, surrendered in 1796 and were exiled to Nova Scotia about three small transport ships, the Dover, the Mary and the Ann. To help them settle in their new home, the Jamaican government supplied a fund of 25,000 pounds.

"Sir John Wentworth, Governor of Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, Commander-in-Chief of the province's forces, gave a hearty welcome to the Maroons. They were impressed by their record of brave resistance and by their impressive physical appearance. When the Duke of Kent offered them work building new fortifications on Halifax's Citadel Hill, the Maroons accepted his offer and volunteered to work without pay. The Duke, however, ordered that they should be paid at the regular rate of nine pence a day '...besides provisions, lodging and clothing.'

"The Maroons quickly finished their assignment of building the 'Maroon Bastion' to reinforce the new province's defences. They also formed a militia unit in which two of their leaders, Montagne and John, were made colonels, and two others, Bailey and Jarret, were made majors. At first the people of Halifax were delighted with the added protection and prosperity which the Maroons provided, with their combat experience and their soldiers' pay to spend in the community; but before long there was trouble.

"The independent spirit and the determination to keep to their own ways that had been the life of the Maroons through a century and a half of guerrilla warfare seemed [like] arrogance to the Nova Scotians, and there were several attempts to have the newcomers expelled. The Maroons found the climate of their new land harsh, the food unpalatable, and the dislike of their neighbours difficult to bear. In 1797 they asked to be sent to a warmer climate, but it was not until January, 1800 that the government decided to send them to Sierra Leone. In August of that year 550 Maroons boarded the ship Asia for their new homeland, which they finally reached in October."

January 25, 2006 10:56 AM

Free yourself from your neurons

Perhaps the majority of humanity's members are hotwired to be followers, rather than leaders. "Back in 1996, some Italian scientists wanted to study how the neurons in monkey brains planned and carried out movements," notes Collision Detection blogger Clive Thompson.

"So they put probes into the monkeys and began monitoring their cerebral activity. Then something weird happened: A student came into the lab with an ice cream cone, and, while the monkeys watched, lifted it to his mouth. Simultaneously, the monkeys' movement neurons all began firing. It was as if the monkeys themselves were lifting the cone to their own mouths.

"The scientists had discovered "mirror neurons" -- specialized brain cells that fire mimetically whenever an animal or human witnesses a movement.... As Giacomo Rizzolatti, one of the Italian neuroscientists who made the discovery, puts it: 'Mirror neurons allow us to grasp the minds of others not through conceptual reasoning but through direct simulation. By feeling, not by thinking.' People who rank high on empathy scales tend to have particularly active mirror-neuron clusters in their brains.

"But here's where things get interesting. If our mirror neurons 'learn' behavior by watching it, what happens when we view violent or pornographic media? ... 'a study in the January 2006 issue of Media Psychology found that when children watched violent television programs, mirror neurons, as well as several brain regions involved in aggression were activated, increasing the probability that the children would behave violently.'" And if you're watching porn, more mirror neurons.

Yet again, the anti-porn crowd is going to demand that we ban everything but the kitchen sink, instead of teaching us to take charge of our brains and think through emotional responses. Dooming us all to be followers forever.

January 25, 2006 10:43 AM

The end of free Bibles in hotel rooms?

"This is not a joke," reports Three Squirrels in a Pressure Cooker: "Pope sues to prevent spreading the Good Word."

A Milanese publishing house printed 30 lines from a recent Pope Benedict speech in one of its books -- and was billed some £10,000. "For the first time all papal documents, including encyclicals, will be governed by copyright invested in the official Vatican publishing house, the Libreria Editrice Vaticana.... The edict is retroactive, covering not only the writings of the present pontiff -- as pope and as cardinal -- but also those of his predecessors over the past 50 years." There a concern over "pirated editions" and "premature publication."

January 25, 2006 10:32 AM

The end of satire

The new satire "American Dreamz" places a (wacky) U.S. president on a (tacky) TV game show. But it hasn't even been released yet, and it's already out of date: "[F]our former prime ministers will gather on-stage in Toronto next week to elect a potential future leader of the country in a landmark CTV special," it sez here in this CTV press release.

"In 'The Next Great Prime Minister,' The Right Honourable Kim Campbell, The Right Honourable Joe Clark, The Right Honourable Brian Mulroney and The Right Honourable John Turner will judge five young visionaries -- representing the next generation of Canada's leaders -- competing in a head-to-head political showdown. In addition to a $50,000 prize and internship, the winner walks away with the endorsement of four former prime ministers as the young Canadian best suited to become The Next Great Prime Minister."

January 24, 2006 11:14 AM

The return of Ferron -- bwaaaa haaaa haaa haaa

Check out this delightful archive: "Queer Music Heritage is both a radio show and a website, and the goal of both is to preserve and share the music of our culture, because I just don't think gay & lesbian music of the past should be forgotten. I also believe our music culture is a visual as well as an audial experience, so I try to share the images of this music... photos of the artists and recordings, and to pack in as much information as possible, while still trying to entertain."

The Houston-based show runs the fourth Monday of every month, and is available online. Categories on the site include "Songs about AIDS," "Gay Musicals," "Gay Marriage Songs," and my fave, "Naked Musicians" -- though they're all male, I'm afraid. We have some work to do, girls!

(Thanks to Mary for this link. And for the young whippersnappers, Ferron.)

January 24, 2006 10:57 AM

T'other guys

More Canadian election results: As for the Liberal opposition, the straight turncoat Belinda Stronach was generously and unexpectedly re-elected by Newmarket-Aurora (Ontari-ari-o) constituents. Other Grits of import to the gay community (more winking! more nudging!) who still have jobs: Toronto's Bill Graham, soon to be former minister of defence; and British Columbia ex-Tory Keith Martin. But Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew was beaten by his Bloquiste oppponent in Montreal.

Out re-elected Liberals include ex-Tory Scott Brison, voted back in in Nova Scotia, and the vewy, vewy quietly out Toronto Grit Mario Silva. The out (and out of touch) Réal Ménard retained his seat for the Bloc Quebecois (I once asked about raids on gay bathhouses following a series of police busts in Alberta and Ontario, and Ménard told me no one was arrested for that sort of thing anymore -- he truly seems to pay zero attention to anything outside Quebec....)

For the New Democrats, prodigal gay Parliamentary pioneer Svend Robinson went down in flames in British Columbia, losing to Liberal Hedy Fry (a queer supporter, if straight and a lunatic). The out West Coasters Libby Davies and Bill Siksay are both back in. And of course, married-to-each-other queer rights folk, party leader Jack Layton and just-squeaked-in spouse Olivia Chow, will get to see a bit more of each other now that they're both in the House of Commons.

Got more? E-mail!

ADDENDUM Jan. 25: Out Liberal Milton Chan's site has been mentioned positively here at Oples before, and Tory blogger Andrew Coyne chimes in: "Before we go any further, due acknowledgment should be paid to the big winners in this election: The Election Prediction Project, overseen by Milton Chan, which once again came closer than any other forecaster to nailing the result... I'm guessing the sneers about Chan's Liberal ties may now subside."

ALSO: Alberta losing Liberal Anne McLellan announces the next Grit leader should be a woman.

January 24, 2006 9:10 AM

The sun'll come up, tomorrow

Yep, there it is.

So, a minority Conservative government in leftie Canukistan. You'll recall that all the suspected homos, both out and closeted, fled the federal Tories a while back. And straight supporter Belinda Stronach followed a bit later by also defecting to the Liberals. Pray (as it were) for former provincial politician John Baird to make it into the new Tory cabinet.

Baird was elected last night in an Ottawa riding, and in fact hand-picked by the party as a candidate over a loony far-right challenger. Baird officially supports same-sex marriage and his website doesn't mention anything about his private life (I feel like a four-year-old: nudge, wink). We're gonna need Baird to be loud and have a big honkin' portfolio in order to provide some small balance to the nutbars in caucus.

More in a few minutes....

ADDENDUM: All three pro-same-sex marriage-bill-voting Tories were re-elected last night: Jim Prentice (Calgary Centre North); B.C.'s James Moore (Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam); and Nova Scotia's Gerald Keddy (South Shore-St. Margaret's).

That's out of 124 seats for the Conservatives. With the Bloc Quebecois and NDP numbers (51 and 29 seats, respectively, with only a couple of all those against queer nuptials), same-sex marriage seems safe, even if socially conservative Liberals were elected all over the place. I expect there'll still be enough Grits to vote in favour....

January 23, 2006 12:45 PM

One, two, four, eleventeen, sixty-three....

I look forward to a real horse race tonight with the polling results, and also hoping for a bit of entertaining media madness. Here's one last excerpt from Knowlton Nash's 1996 "Cue the Elephant" tome, aboot a CBC moment at the end of World War II: "[R]eacting to a mistaken news agency report, the CBC announced the end of the war with Japan two days early and, to Prime Minister Mackenzie King's eternal embarrassment, put on a victory speech he had previously recorded."

January 23, 2006 12:22 PM

File under: lying can be fun

Here's what we really need today, election day -- something totally different: the tale of Mr. Kosmos Kagool. Kozie exists because of journalist Clyde Gilmour (of the MotherCorp's "Gilmour's Albums" fame).

"In the 1930s [Gilmour] saw a movie in which a hideous witch by the name of Kagool was burned to death in an African volcano," notes Knowlton Nash in his book of recollections and recent history, "Cue the Elephant: Backstage Tales at the CBC."

"Gilmour thought it would be amusing if the witch had a son named Kosmos Kagool who lived in Chilliwack, British Columbia, was a member of the junior board of the Board of Chilliwack, and was engaged to a nice, dull girl. Gilmour brought Kosmos Kagool to life by slipping his name into the papers as having attended social functions and meetings. He signed Kagool's name to petitions from time to time and put it in the telephone book. By listing Kagool's name at his own address, 'I would get through the mail,' Gilmour says, 'two free razor blades, two bars of soap instead of one. This adds up in a year.'

"He even used Kagool's name once as a byline on a story in the Vancouver Province. The story was one Gilmour had written when he was still in the navy and couldn't use his own name. The managing editor of the rival Vancouver Sun called the Province to ask who the new reporter was. 'He's good, and if he's got guts enough to use his byline, then I've got guts enough to use mine," said Hymie Koshevoy, who later became a columnist. [There's another lovely Hymie K. story here.]

"Kosmos Kagool had a particularly heroic war. 'When hostilities broke out,' says Gilmour, 'Kagool became an object lesson to all young men in Canada by joining all three forces simultaneously. Each enlistment was duly reported in various newspapers, and he made appearances on different occasions, with his rank rising and falling unpredictably.... I once got his name in the Vancouver Province as Admiral of the Fleet... I later learned the top navy brass spent hours trying to track him down so they could honour him in the mess. I managed to get word back to them that he was on a secret mission for Churchill personally and couldn't see anybody.' When a new city hall was opened in Johannesburg, South Africa, newspapers in Vancouver and Chilliwack noted that 'Kosmos Kagool of Chilliwack, B.C., was one of those present.'"

January 23, 2006 11:24 AM

Dissent? Illegal, my dear Watson

"Disaffected and angry voters, take note: spoiling your ballot is a crime. There's no legal way to express disgust for politics via the ballot, whether by scribbling on it, writing obscenities, or drawing pictures." Got that? Every tedious anti-democratic detail can be found here.

January 20, 2006 2:34 PM

My party's running no candidates

"VANCOUVER -- The Sex Party is suing Canada Post for refusing to deliver the party's political leaflets. John Ince, head of the party -- which has no candidates in the Jan. 23 election -- said the Crown corporation won't distribute what he calls tasteful, artistic and informative pamphlets to voters.

"'There's nothing smutty about it,' Ince said. 'It's what you'd see in the newspaper.' He said Canada Post refuses to handle any ad mail with a sexual content.... It is suing Canada Post in federal court, alleging the post office is interfering with political expression and violating the Charter of Rights."

January 20, 2006 2:28 PM

I'll huff and I'll puff...

... and I'll invoke notwithstanding. Here's a quick rundown of how the Constitution's opt-out right (ha ha, there's that word again) has been used in the past, as noted a recent piece by La Presse's Yves Boisvert: The federal government has never had the nerve to invoke the notwithstanding clause. Never.

Saskatchewan used it in 1986 for labour legislation, and Alberta used it (or threatened to use it?) in a same-sex marriage bill that it doesn't have the jurisdiction to pass in the first place, since who gets hitched is Ottawa's call.

Only Quebec has adopted notwithstanding as a regular practice -- or had, for a time. A Parti Quebecois government inserted it into every piece of legislation in 1982 just to symbolically stick it to the feds. The clause has an expiry date, too, of five years. Notwithstanding was NOT renewed in 1987.

It's been invoked by Quebec eight other times, most notably to allow for a French-language-is-the-tops bill. In response, three cabinet ministers resigned, and the United Nations slammed Quebec for ignoring human rights.

January 20, 2006 1:52 PM

Some rights are better than others

Rights do not mystically exist in the ether of the universe. They are not inherent, but rather the creation of human beings. We discuss, debate, and bestow rights upon each other. Some believe in certain rights that others do not believe in. Like gay marriage, eh.

Just so, says the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Canada's untouchable, absolute creations include: Democratic rights (voting and running for office, even if you're a convict, say), mobility (allowing citizens to leave or enter Canada, as well as move to any province), and lots of two-official-language language. In addition, aboriginals and women are guaranteed equal rights. Period.

Other rights are negotiable. That is, the notwithstanding clause can be used to opt out. Like gay marriage, eh.

What can politicians haggle over? Three sections of stuff, and the first is fundamental freedoms. Those are freedom of conscience and religion; thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; freedom of peaceful assembly; and freedom of association.

Next, legal rights -- things like "the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure" and the "right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned."

And, of course, equality rights, which ban discrimination based on disability and nationality and sexual orientation and religion.

So -- the essential versus the non-essential, Canadian style. Like gay marriage, eh.

January 20, 2006 1:17 PM

Ne pressez pas le bouton de panic

Those of you giving yourselves heart palpitations over the Canuckistan election should just take a valium (tm). Yes, prime-minister-in-waiting Stephen Harper is a social conservative and there will be problems if he's elected.

But. Memo to right-wing Christians: the world did not come to an end when gay marriage was legalized. Memo to homosexuals: the world will not come to an end when gay marriage is repealed. Everybody got that?

January 19, 2006 3:36 PM

OUTtv goes bankrupt?

Oh, we were going to take the world by storm, weren't we? We were wealthy, obsessed with ourselves and ready to buy into our own TV station. Ha. Canada's queer television channel has suffered yet another setback. Xtra reports that "Shaw Communications, a western cable and satellite company, had obtained a judgment allowing it to seize OUTtv's cable subscription revenues." Uhm, that would be a sizable chunk of cashflow, since OUTtv doesn't seem to be very advertising-heavy, eh.

"On Jan 12, the gay cable channel submitted a Notice Of Intention (NOI) to file a proposal for restructuring under Canada's Bankruptcy And Insolvency Act. The notice allows OUTtv to protect itself and its subscription revenue.

"Bill Craig, the president of OUTtv, says the channel and its more sex-oriented sibling Hard On Pridevision, are struggling to build their business and Shaw's actions were potentially disastrous.... According to Craig, Shaw is claiming OUTtv owes $25,000 a month for providing a feed to cable stations across Canada from their satellite service StarChoice. Shaw did not respond to Xtra by press time."

January 19, 2006 1:05 PM

She likes us, she really likes us!

My stars and garters, professional right-winger and queer hate-monger Babs Amiel has come out in favour of gay marriage. The world is just topsy-turvy.

"Sir Elton John married his Canadian sweetheart David Furnish just before Christmas and yes, I wish I had been there. Elton wasn't singing but I'd like to have heard that cocoa baritone voice reciting his vows," writes Her Nibs. The two men were civilly unioned, to be precise, not legally wedded.

Barbara Amiel's argument is a conservative one, of course: monogamous nuptials good. "Canada has gone all the way by making same-sex marriages legal. Good for us. Human beings are a pair-bonding species and I'm at a loss as to why any liberal society would want to deny the expression of pair-bonding instincts in homosexuals. Apart from the old 'Who is the Mrs.?' sort of jibe, there are very few legitimate reasons to oppose same-sex marriage. (And, incidentally, anyone who has ever shaken hands with Elton will know who isn't the Mrs. in his family. The man has the grip of a sumo wrestler.)"

All this blather to reveal, again, a simple earnest truth: coming out does change the people around us. Else goofs like Amiel might never have reconsidered their public dislike of homosexuality.

Amiel's history shows her to be a feminist of long standing, though she'd not call herself that (too much controlling socialist claptrap associated with the label). But in the 1960s, when Amiel came of age, women were secretaries.

Amiel was first cover girl for Toronto Life, "a budding television personality," wrote editor John Macfarlane in the magazine's 30th anniversary ish of November 1996. "Having talked her way into a job as a secretary at the CBC, fresh out of university, she was now the co-host of a supper-hour television show called 'TBA.' But it was in print that she would eventually make her name, becoming a columnist at Maclean's and then editor-in-chief of the Toronto Sun." That was in 1983 (according to Jean Sonmor's book, "The Little Paper That Grew").

I'll let you imagine the sort of garbage that the editorial pages ran about homos back then; the paper is infamous for its queer hate campaigns of old. From "The Little Paper That Grew": As a writer, "the arch tone and the playful self-deprecation were carefully woven into an argument that always made enjoyable reading, even if the idea and the lack of attention to the facts enraged the reader." Amiel was also, noted an editor, "the most loved of all the Sun's columnists," and bold enough to say what people were too afraid to blurt out loud.

I can't find it now, but I recall the Amiel column that was a gay turning point, dating from the late 1990s: a friend of hers, a gay man, it turned out, died of AIDS. Amiel wrote about the loss. (Revision: coming out is good, but dieing tragically is better.)

From Amiel's January Maclean's column: "Some opponents of same-sex unions might revise their views if they could see close-up the degree of care between many homosexual partners. The anatomy may be different but the emotional life and division of roles are pretty much the same. Elton has a way of making everyone around him feel completely safe. David is the first to worry about whether Elton is chilly as night settles over an alfresco supper.

"Most of us know same-sex unions that have weathered thick and thin through decades including the tough sledding of AIDS. What complicates our species is that we are pair-bonding philanderers rather than monogamous storks. The gay community does have the capacity for some pretty heavy philandering before settling down to the level of fidelity necessary to maintain a marriage -- which raises concerns among the more sexually plodding.

"If you want to protect the institution of marriage, denying it to same-sex couples makes precious little sense and with today's assault on the family unit, it may even do some harm. Heterosexuals have done a rotten job of defending the family's autonomy. I wish no cloud on any union, but I can wager one thing: efforts like that of the U.K.'s Tony Blair to force on the family, inter alia, mandatory counselling before marriage, mandatory reconciliation tribunals before divorce and legally binding Home-School Agreements governing behaviour to be signed by parents and children would be as a candle in the wind with the gay community. They've had to organize for their rights and if we're very lucky, now they'll organize for ours."

By the by, I am guilty of not reading the new Maclean's, as remade by editor Ken Whyte, whose National Post was actually quite a fun (and infuriating) read. Whyte's another rightie who yet does employ smarty homosexuals (will ex National Post hire Mitchel Raphael, who just stepped down as Fab Magazine editor, end up at Macleans? Hint, hint, Kenny). Anyway, all this to say that ignoring Canada's national newsmagazine is an admittedly bad habit, and to note that the pointer to the Amiel tidbit comes via a new blog by Ottawa's Ariel Troster, who has charmed her way in here by sending an e-mail saying she reads Oples.

Lordy, but I'm easy. Find Dykes Against Harper here.

January 18, 2006 2:27 PM

Where troubles melt like lemon drops

Somewhere over the rainbow way up high
There's a land that I've heard of once in a lullaby
Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true

Dorothy's was not the only voice to record this queer fave. Houston's OutSmart has published a list of -- wait for it -- more than 50 versions. They range from jazz (Chet Baker and Errol Garner) and country stars (Martina McBride and Willie Nelson), to a rendition by closet case Liberace, natch. And Guns N Roses fuuuuuuck yeeeeeeeeah. Er, sorry, got into it, there.

The round-up honours composer Harold Arlen, born 100 years ago. And selected music lovers pick their faves.

January 17, 2006 2:09 PM

Nothing Compares 2 U

The January Out includes a large apology, on behalf of the entire gay media, to singer Sinéad O'Connor. "Dear Sinéad: Let's get this out of the way right from the start: Occasionally we're wrong. This was one of those times. We freaked out on you, and we apologize.

"In 2000 you proclaimed, 'I love men, but I prefer sex with women.' Wow -- we loved that! A year later ... [when you got married] to journalist Nick Sommerlad, we imagined scores of young dykes instantly regretting having shaved their heads in your honor. We were really bummed out, and we reacted by dumping you on our annual Hall of Shame list in 2001.

"You didn't deserve our vindictiveness," notes the mag. "But you, like anyone, should have the right to be with any one you choose. As far back as 2000 you'd clarified your sexuality: 'Of perhaps 30 people I have been with since 11 years of age, two have been women, the rest men. I am rarely attracted to women but loved making love to the women I loved.' That's a generous, revealing statement that got lost in the controversy surrounding you. Had we heeded it, perhaps we wouldn't have felt betrayed and reacted so bitterly.

"And so we apologize. We're glad you stick up for us, and we wish we'd always stuck by you. We mistook your complications for conflictions. We, of all people, should have known better."

As a community, I believe we have another person we need to apologize to: Anne Heche.

ADDENDUM Jan. 18: However, nothing can forgive Anne's fashion choices.

January 17, 2006 9:28 AM

Two canoes, zero votes

A Sunday Montreal Gazette report notes the almost impossible task of getting Mohawks to vote. "The vast majority of Mohawks -- who make up Canada's most populous native bands -- don't vote in Canadian elections, on principle," writes reporter Jeff Heinrich. "Unlike most other Canadian native communities, the 9,300 Mohawks of Kahnawake [just south of Montreal], along with their 10,000 brethren of Akwesasne, which straddles the Canada-U.S. border near Cornwall, Ont., boycott federal and provincial elections. The Mohawks believe in governing themselves first, not helping non-natives govern, whether that means Canada, Quebec or anyplace else.

"Voting in 'alien nation' elections 'places us in submission to foreign governments and as a result alienates us from our own,' according to the lead editorial in The Eastern Door, Kahnawake's community paper. 'You can't stand with one foot in two canoes.'

"It's an old position, dating back at least to 1960, when Ottawa first gave natives the right to vote. But these days, the Mohawk way runs contrary to a trend in Canadian aboriginal politics, whereby Assembly of First Nations and Metis National Council leaders, as well as the Grand Council of the Crees in Quebec, are working with mainstream political parties to push aboriginal issues."

Many natives want the Liberals back in, because of the $5-billion aid deal negotiated in November with the federal and provincial governments. "The Metis believe their ballots could affect as many as 33 close ridings" in the west and north. Some support the New Democrats, too, but no one, apparently, is a Tory fan. In Quebec, the Cree supposedly back the Bloc Quebecois.

Then there's Elections Canada. "Since the early 1990s, the federal agency has aimed campaigns at the country's 735,000 registered natives, trying to convince them -- in publications in English, French and 11 aboriginal languages -- that voting is key to ensuring their self-determination.... But Kahnawake is a tough nut to crack. Turnout there is, simply, nil." About a half a dozen, in total.

January 17, 2006 8:33 AM

Notwithstanding, we're talking POGG

Sorry about the haphazard posting; I'll try to be more rigorous. I'm also going to get a bunch of election stuff out of the way in the next coupla days (but will include your regularly-scheduled-blog bits, so this won't be as boring as it might sound...).

For now, a history lesson: Constitution blah blah. It's a tiny bit turgid, I admit, since it was written for a term paper in 2002....

Power is a tennis ball, and the feds and the provinces keep lobbing it back at each other -- centralization of control, followed by decentralization, followed by centralization. Essentially, federalism is elastic and can adapt.

The British North America Act (our first Constitution, dated 1867, repatriated from the Brits as the Constitution Act in 1982) was intended to give true control -- to give the residual power -- to the federal government. Section 92 listed the provincial jurisdictions, and whatever was left was for the federal government, which was discussed in section 91 (known as the peace, order and good government clause, allowing Ottawa to control whatever was in the interest of POGG.) In addition, a list of 29 examples of federal jurisdiction are included. But the wishes of the founding fathers were undone by the British Parliament (and some lesser Canadian courts -- there's judicial activism for ya).

"Before 1949, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London was Canada's final court of appeal, and its decisions had a major impact in transforming Canadian federalism from a centralized to a decentralized system. The most important JCPC decisions related to the federal peace, order and good government clause as opposed to the provincial power over property and civil rights.... In the course of its judgments, the Judicial Committee drove a wedge between these two parts of section 91 [that is, between the POGG and the list of sample jurisdictions], deciding that the 29 enumerations were the real federal powers rather than just the examples, and ignoring the peace, order and good government clause except in the case of national emergency.... In normal times, on the other hand, the JCPC gave an extremely broad interpretation of section 91-13, property and civil rights in the province, finding that almost any matter that was the subject of federal-provincial constitutional dispute could be incorporated within this provincial power. That is why so little was left over for the federal residual clause." (That's from the 2002 edition of "Canadian Politics," edited by Dyck and Rand.)

Thus early on the courts remade confederation and gave federalism a more decentralized structure.

(This of course made some want desperately to revamp the BNA Act. The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, which later evolved into the New Democratic Party, demanded greater centralism: Its 1933 Regina Manifesto was really a list of amendments that would allow the BNA Act to increase federal control over... well, over just about everything. Those CCF-New Democrats, they want to control it all. "The labour code should be uniform throughout the country... jurisdiction over labour legislation under the BNA Act is mainly in the hands of the provinces. It is urgently necessary, therefore, that the BNA Act be amended to make such a national labour code possible." And all of section 9 of the manifesto is about fiddling with the Constitution. "What is chiefly needed today is the placing in the hands of the national government of more power to control national economic development.... the present division of powers... reflects the conditions of a pioneer, mainly agricultural, community of 1867." This stuff is from Michael Cross's "The Decline and Fall of a Good Idea: CCF-NDP Manifestoes 1932 to 1969.")

Michael Mandel ("The Charter of Rights and the Legalization of Politics in Canada.") suggests that the transformation in federal powers came from a sheer need for and by judges to impose their ideologies onto the political process. "But even where judges were 'applying' the law of Parliament, the power to 'interpret' it left them plenty of room to manoeuvre. In Canada there was the added wrinkle of the judicially supervised division of powers between federal and provincial governments under the BNA Act. Using this jurisdictional device the courts were able when so minded, to defeat legislative initiatives they disagreed with."

Like what, you ask? Judges deregulated the insurance industry in 1916. They were uninterested in any attempts to allow federal government involvement in the economy (and in the beginnings of a Keynesian, welfare-ish state). They nixed laws intended to control profiteering, monopolies and hoarding. Federal farm relief was negated, as was minimum wage legislation. Unemployment insurance was ruled to be a provincial responsibility. It was, said Mandel, "a judicial slaughter."

There was a way for the federal government to involve itself legally in the matters of the provinces -- if it could prove an emergency situation. "But in times of national emergency, as determined by the JCPC, federal powers were almost unlimited. This became known as the emergency doctrine, and how the courts managed to transform the residual clause into an emergency power is very difficult to fathom" (again, from Rand).

Having the possibility was one thing, but actually getting the courts to agree that a situation was a true emergency was another. Again, there was a steep curve in favour of provincial powers. "But despite thousands of western farm families on the verge of starvation, over one and a half million Canadians with no source of earned income and an employment rate of 23 percent of the labour force in 1933 -- compared to 3 percent in 1929 -- the Supreme Court of Canada found 'no evidence of an emergency amounting to a national peril'" (sez Mandel). (This was during the kerfuffle over creating federal unemployment insurance.)

(Four constitutional amendments have since been added to rejig jurisdictions since confederation: unemployment insurance became federal in 1940, old age pensions became a concurrent power in 1951, widow, survivor and disability pensions were added to Ottawa's powers in 1964, and 92A in 1982 increased provincial jurisdiction over natural resources. Only this last helps the provinces in terms of power. The federal government went on to impose itself in provincial matters through various taxation agreements, partial funding and transfer deals and equalization payments.)

Should Canada be further decentralized? Or should federal powers be shored up? The fascinating thing about federalism is that it is so fluid. "Federalism has been described as not so much a steady state, but as a process. The dynamics of federal-provincial relations... vary over time in response to changing citizen attitudes and changing policy agendas" (writes Richard Simeon in "Federalism and Intergovernmental Relations"). Canada began as a centralist state. Then came the Classical Federalism of decentralization of the early 1900s, which gave way to Co-operative Federalism (World War II did eventually qualify as an "emergency"), where central government again held sway and created the basics of the Keynesian state. This lasted until the 1960s.

Simeon goes on to define and discuss Competitive Federalism, Constitutional Federalism and Collaborative Federalism, which is where we are now. "The contemporary reality, of course, is one of considerable de facto concurrency." It is suggested that disentanglement would actually be quite difficult.

So again, should Canada be more decentralized? If the people wish it to be so, then let it be so. The structure of federalism has shown that it can accept either model, and that it can then redress itself and go back in the other direction, which will undoubtedly be demanded again in a few generations' time. Each variant has its problems, and we will always want to try to find the perfect meld with the fewest problems, and again become disenchanted....

January 14, 2006 11:43 AM

Oh. My. Fucking. God.

Ideology always trumps fact. And that's why Maude Barlow and her Council of Canadians leave this leftie nauseous more often than not.

Take yesterday's press release: "Canada is at risk! Don't let your anger with the Liberals result in a Bush-style conservative government in Canada. If Stephen Harper and the Conservatives win the federal election, Canada will move decisively into the U.S. orbit. A Conservative government, supported by the Bloc Quebecois, will dismantle Canadian institutions and programs in favour of provincial rights. Women's and minority rights will be endangered."

What? Centralism is better for minorities? Bullshit. Absolute, complete, utter crap. Let's see, what was the first jurisdiction to entrench sexual orientation in its rights charter? Quebec, in 1977. When did the feds do it? In 1996. Oh yes, very progressive, that centralized federal government.

From Richard Simeon's "Federalism and Intergovernmental Relations": "A further set of argument suggests... that the more decentralized the system, the less likely that 'progressive' interests such as labour will be regarded, or that strongly redistributive tax and social policies will be adopted. This is a view widely held among groups and social movements outside Quebec, which have traditionally looked to a strong federal government as the articulator and defender of strong social policy.

"As Stephen Brooks observes, 'Few claims about federalism have been as widely accepted in recent years as the argument that decentralization is conservative.' Given mobility of capital and the wealthy, it is argued that decentralization entails a 'rush to the bottom' as provinces seek to retain the wealthy and exclude the poor. It is also suggested that provincial governments are more likely to be influenced by conservative elites than is the national government. Moreover, it is argued that the 'complexities' of decision-making when responsibilities are shared among multiple levels of government simply makes it more difficult to initiative new programs.

"'Alain Noel has exhaustively reviewed the relevant literature, both in Canada and comparatively. He concludes that 'there is no political, technical or philosophical impediment to decentralization.... The progressive case against decentralization is much weaker, theoretically and empirically, than usually thought.' He goes on to argue that 'The Canadian welfare state became better anchored than the American one largely because Canada was a more decentralized federation than the United States.... Betting everything on elites and in central intervention is not only poor theory; it is also bad politics for the left.''"

Harper's not a social progressive, but centralism has nuthin' to do with it. It's his politics, eh, not the way we structure the country. And in fact, if Harper does get in, decentralization might well be good for minorities. Harper might devolve everything to the point where we won't have to worry about his federal ilk. And activists will have an easier time with lobbying: provincial government members are closer to home, after all -- they're our neighbours, living just up the street.

I need to wash the spittle off my computer screen now.
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