I just spent twenty-four hours in Fort Albany, Ontario. Where? Get a map of Canada and go about halfway up the west side of James Bay. And there’s Fort Albany, a First Nations community of about 500 people.
The idea of my going there began with an email from the writer Joseph Boyden: could I come to the community’s Great Moon Gathering? It’s a conference of educators, featuring workshops on the Cree language, restorative justice, food security, and many other subjects related to contemporary aboriginal life. And oh, there’d be a concert with local musicians and the Tragically Hip. Could I cover the Gathering? Could I do a documentary about it for the CBC? (No, the national broadcaster would sit this one out. But Joseph Boyden asking me to do anything is hard to resist. I still wanted to go.) “We want to show this community some guerrilla love,” he wrote.
Three days later, having travelled from the Gulf Island where I live in BC, I found myself in the Thunder Air lounge in Timmins, Ontario. A young Cree man with the build of Ichabod Crane and I sat alone, the only passengers waiting for a Caribou cargo plane to carry us on. We introduced ourselves over coffee. His last name is my mother’s maiden name; we joked that we may be related. He told me he was on his way to Moosonee to try for a job with De Beers at the diamond mine.
We were up and away in no time. The trees below us shrank the higher and farther we flew. Thunder Air Flight 500 is a frozen milk run: first Moosonee, then Fort Albany, Kashechewan, and finally Attawapiskat, where a housing crisis made national news last fall. The first leg was a quiet, uneventful hour, with little conversation over the drumming of the engine. I talked to the pilot, Dave, for a moment after we landed. When I turned to my fellow traveller, I saw that he was being handcuffed by the RCMP. It happens, Dave said. Welcome to the north. (more…)
Last week, many Canadians ended their Valentine’s Day startled by the news that Vic Toews had a long-term affair with his children’s babysitter, and spent $500 at Winnipeg’s Original Pancake House. These private revelations about the Minister of Public Safety came via the anonymous Twitter feed @vikileaks30. The account has since been shut down, but not before fulfilling its purpose: focusing attention on a Conservative push for the enactment of Bill C-30, which will ease restrictions on internet surveillance. The Vikileaks incident tailgated Toews’ remarks — directed toward the Liberal MP who’d invoked 1984 in his challenge to the bill — that “he can either stand with us or with the child pornographers.”
Bravo to us for finally listening to what’s happening around our telecommunications usage and rights. Bill C-30’s most disquieting element is that it would force internet service providers like Rogers and Bell to hand over subscriber information to authorities whenever requested, without a warrant. Such forfeitures would include IP addresses, which can be used to trace many online activities. But wait: of the tens of thousands of information requests that the RCMP sent to telecom service providers throughout 2010, the TSPs complied with 94 percent of them. Bill C-30, despite the size and thickness of its blanket, would be required for only the remaining 6 percent of cases in which authorities need a warrant to compel disclosure. It’s unclear why the Conservative Party insists on chasing this bill. Worrying is the wide range of implications that a fully warrant-less surveillance system would allow, from the fact that it would become easy (and, many of us fear, customary) for law enforcement agents to do extensive internet usage background checks on anyone, at anytime, to the fact that people under surveillance may never know and their ISPs may be forbidden to tell them. (more…)
Stephen Leacock, Canada’s preeminent literary humourist, was merciless in his quest for mirth. While not a misanthrope, he associated humans with foibles and folly — objects of relentless criticism. In Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, his 1912 collection of short stories, he at once adores and skewers the residents of Mariposa (a thinly fictionalized Orillia, Ontario). Mariposa has no genuine heroes: Mr. Smith, the hotelier, is a shrewd buffoon with an essential generosity; the Reverend Dean Drone is a well-meaning but bumbling bore, lost in his own scholarly world; Young Peter Pupkin is a pup of a man. Though based on his Orillia neighbours, Leacock saw something universal in the roles such characters played in small-town life. Now, sixty years after its first adaptation, CBC has attempted to bring these stories back to life, in a made-for-television movie that premiered last night.
Executive producer Malcolm MacRury’s screenplay adapts and conflates tales from Leacock’s bestselling collection, and intermingles stories from the author’s own childhood. Drawn mostly from “The Marine Excursion of the Knights of Pythias” and “The Hostelry of Mr. Smith,” Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, the movie, injects the sad story of Leacock’s alcoholic father and the family’s financial failures. If a student wanted to avoid a few hours of CanLit homework by streaming the movie online, she’d certainly confuse some key plot points on the dreaded pop quiz (the hypocrisy of Judge Pepperleigh, for instance, is transferred onto the Reverend Drone), but she would have a reasonable understanding of Leacock’s sensibilities. The sharper sarcastic edges of his writing have been dulled, but the spirit of Leacock’s prose is still there. (more…)