Open Letter to Parliament: Amend C-51 or Kill It

An open letter addressed to all members of Parliament and signed by more than 100 Canadian professors of law and related disciplines

Published on February 27, 2015

Dear Members of Parliament,

Please accept this collective open letter as an expression of the signatories’ deep concern that Bill C-51 (which the government is calling the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015) is a dangerous piece of legislation in terms of its potential impacts on the rule of law, on constitutionally and internationally protected rights, and on the health of Canada’s democracy.

Beyond that, we note with concern that knowledgeable analysts have made cogent arguments not only that Bill C-51 may turn out to be ineffective in countering terrorism by virtue of what is omitted from the bill, but also that Bill C-51 could actually be counter-productive in that it could easily get in the way of effective policing, intelligence-gathering and prosecutorial activity. In this respect, we wish it to be clear that we are neither “extremists” (as the Prime Minister has recently labelled the Official Opposition for its resistance to Bill C-51) nor dismissive of the real threats to Canadians’ security that government and Parliament have a duty to protect. Rather, we believe that terrorism must be countered in ways that are fully consistent with core values (that include liberty, non-discrimination, and the rule of law), that are evidence-based, and that are likely to be effective.

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Cuba’s Tipping Point

The US embargo has not yet fallen, but the island is already changing

Published on February 25, 2015
Photograph of Cuba by Harley RustadPhotography by Harley RustadAn estimated 60,000 pre-embargo cars ply Cuba’s roads.

The taxi twists and turns through the cobblestone lanes of Havana’s old town. I can barely see the road out in front as I sink deeper into the black leather seat, soft and worn from decades of passengers.

Año? ” I ask, tapping the dash.

Cincuenta y siete,” the driver says. He rubs the spot on the dash where I just touched as if he’s wiping away a greasy fingerprint. With a few more turns of his maroon beast—a ’57 Chevy coupe—we’re out onto the Malecon, the eight-kilometre causeway that separates city from sea. The air is warm, salty. The car shudders as we gain speed. He presses a button on the radio: definitely not the Buena Vista Social Club. We pass an immaculate pink-and-white Ford, a blue Studebaker, then a red Buick convertible—all from the ’50s. The cars are as iconic to Cuba as a portrait of Che Guevara or a bust of José Martí. They are the country’s past, relics of its pre-revolution, pre-economic embargo history, maintained and restored out of necessity rather than desire. But these cars also represent Cuba’s future, and the change that those off the island have been expecting for decades.

The widely held presumption is that the Cuba we have known for a half-century will vanish once the US economic embargo falls. That feels finally on the horizon, with Barack Obama calling for “serious debate about lifting the embargo” late last year. Cuba could be opened for the first time since 1960. The classic cars will be bought off and replaced with modern ones. The colonial buildings will be torn down to make way for new development and hotels. The charm that has been preserved—whether intentionally or circumstantially—will fade.

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Starry Night

The Canadian Screen Awards prompt the question: how should a homegrown awards show be?

Published on February 25, 2015
Video still from the 2014 Canadian Screen Awards
CBC Television Gabrielle Marion-Rivard accepts her trophy for performance by a film actress in a leading role at the 2014 Canadian Screen Awards.

In David Cronenberg’s 2014 film, Maps to the Stars, a major character is bludgeoned to death with a bulbous statuette. It’s a handy metaphor for the sensory overload of awards season—the multimedia blitz that unofficially commences in September with the Toronto International Film Festival and concludes six months later with the Academy Awards. Maps to the Stars neatly excoriates Hollywood mores while keeping one jaundiced eye on its creator’s home base. The trophy wielded as a murder weapon is a Genie—possibly one of the eight that Cronenberg has won.

It’s appropriate that the Genie figures into a movie as funereal as Maps to the Stars, as it is a posthumous appearance—a sort of “In Memoriam” tribute to an inanimate object. In 2012, the Genies (Canada’s former equivalent to the Oscars) were discontinued and merged with the Geminis (our equivalent to the Emmys) to form the Canadian Screen Awards, a production of the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television. At a moment when critics are calling television the “new cinema” and broadcasters battle against digital-streaming platforms for living room supremacy, the hybridization of these two awards shows could be seen as some sort of Cronenbergian mutation—long live the new digital flesh! By putting all of Canada’s finest in one place at one time, the CSAs (a two-hour gala of film and television prizes airs this Sunday, March 1) hope to capture the attention of a country besotted by US cultural product; to hand the domestic audience a map to its own stars.

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The Republic of Inclusion, Explained

A conversation with Jess Thom and Eliza Chandler about accessibility in theatre and the arts

Published on February 24, 2015
Keirloveshimself “Optical Illusion or Fresh Prince? Choose.” Submitted to touretteshero.com in response to a verbal tic that Jess Thom posted on the site.

The Walrus Foundation presents a special audio story produced in partnership with the British Council.

Jess Thom is a UK artist and co-founder of touretteshero.com, a site dedicated to celebrating the humour and creativity of Tourette’s syndrome. Eliza Chandler is a Toronto-based artist and Ryerson University post-doctoral fellow in disability studies and the Artistic Director of the organization Tangled Art + Disability.

Thom recently delivered the keynote address at the Toronto Progress Festival’s Republic of Inclusion event. We wish to thank Alex Bulmer and Sarah Garton Stanley for organizing it.

Thomas Mitchell and Joseph Hyde composed the included soundscape, “The Alchemy of Chaos.”


A Soft Goodbye

How a death midwife helped the author and her family grieve the loss of a cherished relative

Published on February 23, 2015

My uncle Richard died exactly the way he wanted to. He died in the bed he and his wife had shared for thirty-three years, in the house where he grew up, on the homestead his ancestors farmed. He died when the velvet buds were forming on the pussy willows, when the cows were giving birth, when the snow was melting, and when the geese were coming home from a winter in the south. It happened four weeks before he turned sixty-three, at around 9:30 on a Friday evening. The sun was down, and the coyotes were howling.

Richard’s wife, two daughters, newborn granddaughter, two sons, daughter-in-law, and brother sat beside him. They held his hand and touched his face and stayed at his side for long after he drew his last, rattling breath. They cried, they talked about what to do next.

No one called 911 or a funeral home. Instead, Richard’s family rang their death midwife.

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Thank You, Alison Gordon

In memory of a trail-blazing sportswriter

Published on February 17, 2015
Archival photograph courtesy of Shelley Ambrose
Alison Gordon and former Blue Jay Dave McKay. This photograph and note tumbled out of Walrus publisher Shelley Ambrose’s copy of Foul Balls.

Perhaps naively, I jumped at the chance without really thinking about the consequences. Had I known then what I now know about the nature of the sport and about the men who play it, manage it, and report on it, I might not have been so quick to sign on, so I thank my ignorance. Had timidity won out, or good sense prevailed, I would have missed meeting a raft of fascinating people.

—Alison Gordon, Foul Balls: Five Years in the American League, 1984

I never had a chance to meet Alison Gordon, but I’ve been thinking a lot about her over the last few years.

I thought about her when I started writing about baseball, consumed by the nagging false doubt that I had “no right” to do so. I thought about her during my first baseball scrum, as I nervously thrusted my tape recorder toward Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista while being bounced around by a throng of male reporters. I thought about her when I received a defensive, expletive-filled email (nine f-words, and one s-word) from a sports-event organizer after I publicly suggested he consider more diversity on his all-white, all-male panel.

I think about Gordon whenever I look at the home page lineup of Sportsnet’s “Insiders,” mostly white male faces reporting on subject matter that has a significant female audience. I think about her when I’m patronizingly marketed Hello Kitty and Victoria’s Secret baseball merchandise, baseball-themed nail polish, or forced to watch an all-female dance troupe perform in short skirts for the crowd at Toronto’s Rogers Centre. I think about her whenever it feels too hard, too tiring, or too hopeless to be a part of the sports conversation—to endure the sexism it breeds. I then remind myself that Gordon weathered so much more, so much worse, and by all reports, with a smile on her face.

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My Life at Sun News

Ezra Levant’s original television producer regrets nothing

Published on February 13, 2015

“We don’t have a reporter position available, but we do need a senior producer for Ezra Levant,” Sun News Network management told me during my 2011 interview.

“Who’s Ezra Levant? ” I wondered. But I was too hungry to waffle, so I gobbled up the offer. It’s a rare thing for a journalist to get in on the ground floor of a new media venture, especially one so audacious and plucky.

Once I’d gone home to Google this “Ezra Levant,” I wondered what the hell I was getting into. He’d had some court tangles and said a lot of highly controversial things. He was almost . . . un-Canadian in his politics. But that just made me like him more. I didn’t choose a career in television news to be an empty-headed prompter reader, but a muckraker. And oh, into the muck did we go at Sun News.

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Bill C-51: the Good, the Bad . . . and the Truly Ugly

Two eminent legal scholars detail exactly what we should welcome—and what should fear—in the government’s new anti-terror legislation

Published on February 13, 2015

Bill C-51, the Harper government’s recently proposed “Anti-terrorism Act,” restructures our national security laws so extensively that it will take years before we understand the law’s full effect. There is good in the act, but there also is bad, and even truly ugly. The details are difficult for non-experts to navigate. That is why we are providing Walrus readers with this summary.

The Good

Let’s start with what’s good in Bill C-51. First, we applaud the overarching fact that security issues in Canada continue to be addressed by law, and not through use of extrajudicial government power. Not so long ago, this would have been a peculiar thing to acknowledge. But in light of developments elsewhere in the world —such as the post-9/11 United States, where many anti-terror measures have not been specifically authorized by democratically enacted legislation—it is an important aspect to note. Whatever else may be said about Bill C-51, its provisions are all laid out in black and white for pundits and opposition politicians to scrutinize.

Second, we should welcome the government’s efforts to put certain important programs—such as Canada’s so-called “no-fly” list—on firmer legal footing. That list has existed for some time, but was cobbled together on the basis of a slender statutory basis with inadequate checks and balances.

Third, we are prepared to be convinced that the country will be well-served by terrorism “peace bonds,” under which police will be allowed to limit the liberty of someone if they have reason to believe he or she might be about to commit a terrorism-related crime.

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Why Sun News Never Had a Fighting Chance

Unlike the US, Canada exhibits no endless outrage over immigration, abortion or gay marriage. We have no Ferguson, no Benghazi. The US has a culture war. Here, we have Question Period

Published on February 13, 2015
Video still from Sun News NetworkSun News Network

One hundred seventy-five people worked at Sun News Network. One hundred seventy-four of those people were not named Ezra Levant. So even Canada’s leftists would do well to keep their schadenfreude in check. The majority of Sun’s staffers were apolitical twenty- or thirty-somethings looking to eke out a career in television. They were not mini-Ezras, and many likely will never find another job in journalism. If you find this to be reason for celebration, you’re a bad person.

The adage that you should never speak ill of the dead applies to people, not television channels. So it’s fine to acknowledge that Sun News always felt like community access produced by college Republicans. At times, it degenerated to the level of a telethon—with Levant asking viewers for money to fund his lawsuits, and other Sun personalities telling viewers to write pro-Sun manifestos to the CRTC. That was weird.

This said, I should mention that I always was treated with great professionalism and courtesy by Sun staffers. I did in-studio interviews at their downtown Toronto offices about half a dozen times, and always got a fair shake from Levant, Michael Coren, and everyone who worked with them. They helped me plug my books, too, which any author appreciates. And they paid decent guest fees. (In the last year or so, my relationship with Levant deteriorated as he felt pressured to take his show in more extreme directions, but more on that below.)

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Taming of the Screw

The underwhelming, non-threatening film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey

Published on February 13, 2015
Film still from Fifty Shades of Grey
fiftyshadesmovie.com Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson).

At the Toronto advance screening of Fifty Shades of Grey, excited moviegoers hoot and holler at the staff’s friendly request to “turn their phones to vibrate.” The theatre is packed: the crowd of 500-plus is about 90 percent female, with a smattering of boyfriends and husbands along for the ride. The woman seated to my right has made the four-hour trek south from Sudbury for the chance to see the adaptation of the bestselling book before anyone else. During the pre-screening trivia portion, one middle-aged woman stands up and proudly yells “Red room of pain!” as the correct answer to a question. This controversial franchise has at best been characterized as terribly written, and at worst the promotion of sexual abuse. Nonetheless, the general tone in the theatre suggests these women care more about seeing lead actor Jamie Dornan with his shirt off than anything else.

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