Missing York student’s body found

A three-week search for 19-year-old York University student Shane Fair ended when his body was recovered in Lake Ontario last weekend.

Fair’s body was identified off of Ontario Place on Saturday, not far from where he was last seen on May 16. He had disappeared following a formal year-end dinner and dance at the Atlantis Pavilion, organized by his York residence Calumet.

Only weeks away from graduation, Mr. Fair was anticipating a career with the Canadian military.

Fair was the second university student to drown in Lake Ontario this month, after missing teen Mason MacPhail was discovered near the Docks nightclub.

Ezra Nawi’s trial in error

Buried deep beneath the melancholic headlines of the Israel/Palestine conflict, far beyond the fog of the Gaza war, lies a story of love and activism in a region inhospitable to either. It’s a story which offers us insight into a very different world, and compels us to challenge our biases and prejudices. This is the story of Ezra Nawi, a gay Israeli plumber turned human rights activist, whose kind heart and generous spirit have made him an important fixture of the Israeli anti-occupation movement.

Like any symbol of resistance, Nawi has been a thorn in his government’s side, so they moved to take him out of commission.

Today, Nawi is awaiting trial for attempting to disrupt the demolition of a Palestinian family’s home in Hebron. But he was luckier than Rachel Corrie, an American peace activist who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer trying to do the same thing.

Nawi was born in 1952 to parents who moved to Israel from Iraq. As a gay “Arab sympathizer,” he grew up on the fringes of Israeli society. His story is documented in the biopic Citizen Nawi, which I recently saw at the Inside Out Film Festival. The documentary follows him as he fights for acceptance in his own community, and for Palestinian rights in the occupied territories.

Much of his activism took place in Tuwane, a small Palestinian village of stone caves and dilapidated homes situated on the hills overlooking Southern Hebron. For many years, Nawi devoted much of his time and efforts to serving its inhabitants, helping them build a school and a small clinic. In the process, he landed himself in a mountain of debt, and yet it never bothered him.

What do bother him are Israeli injustices. In the documentary, Nawi recalls one incident in which a Palestinian herder was ambushed by a group of Israeli settlers wearing masks, killing his father and stealing his two donkeys. With little regard for his own safety (or that of his cameraman), Nawi decides to venture into one of the settlements to investigate further. There, we see the settlers haranguing him with juvenile insults and homophobic slurs. But Nawi unflinchingly takes the barrage of insults in stride, and confronts the settlers on behalf of the Palestinians whose cattle were stolen and olive trees burnt down.

As professor Neve Gordon of Ben Gurion University in Beersheba, Israel noted in The Guardian, Nawi’s case casts serious doubts as to Israel’s status as a democratic country. In the wake of Israel’s recent elections—which brought to power a right-wing extremist as well as its recent crackdown on Jewish activists and contentious objectors, one starts to wonder how much more Israel can get away with while still being called a democracy.

We are frequently reminded of the consequences of dissidence in Israel’s neighbouring countries. In Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and others, activists, journalists, and even bloggers who criticize their government’s policies are usually handed outrageous sentences. On the other hand, Israel as a democracy should be held to a higher standard. But what kind of democracy invests more time into cracking down on unarmed activists than trying to stop homicidal settlers from assaulting their neighbours?

The flipside to this otherwise depressing story is that it gives a faint glimmer of hope. As someone who has grown deeply resentful of Israel after its bloody foray into Gaza, Nawi’s story hit me as a stark example that Israeli society is much more diverse than I originally thought.

The film impelled me to rethink my notions of homosexuality, even though I went into the theatre certain it wouldn’t. Having grown up in a region hostile to gays, I’ve always had difficulty accepting homosexuality as normal, and I try to avoid the subject whenever it comes up. Yet somehow, while watching Citizen Nawi I couldn’t ignore the empathy I felt for Nawi’s plight. Here’s a gay man who dedicated his life to helping a desperate population–how can you not admire that?

His story also begs the question: how often do we hear about people like Nawi in today’s media? For god’s sake, the man should be a hero. And yet, sadly, he is marginalized at the expense of slanderous campaigns which vilify homosexuals as social deviants. Even worse is the fact that some religious figures spend their lives berating homosexuality, thereby offering nothing to their community in the way of humanitarianism. Instead, they merely give them ignorance and intolerance.

Nawi’s willingness to reach out to the Palestinians can serve as a springboard for intercultural dialogue, which is critical to jump-starting the peace process.

Mahmoud is an editor for Yalla Journal, a collaborative cross-cultural publication which anthologizes the personal narratives of young Arabs and Jews vis-a-vis the Israel/Palestine Conflict. Yalla is currently accepting submission for the next edition.

The times they aren’t a-climate changing

When it comes to climate change, we hear mostly about the bad news. But right now there’s potential for good news on campus. The President’s Climate Initiative is a climate change commitment that has galvanized students across the continent.

The PCI mandates schools to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and develop practical plans to achieve these targets. The end goal of this institutional commitment is not just to lower emissions, but also to accelerate research and educational efforts into re-stabilizing the earth’s climate.

At U of T we already have many great efforts aimed at reducing our GHG emissions. One good example is the Rewire project, through which thousands of students have already taken the initiative to reduce their own carbon footprint. If students are ready to take the lead on climate change, it makes sense for the leaders of our school to do so as well.

All six of British Columbia’s university presidents have signed the PCI, 585 presidents in the United States have signed it, and most recently Trinity College has signed. As it stands right now, U of T’s administration has refused to sign the PCI.

Comparing the PCI with the Kyoto Protocol is instructive of the challenge to institutional collective action. The Canadian government has informed the public as to why the Kyoto Protocol cannot be achieved: the targets are unfeasible, the costs are too great, the economy is too weak—the list goes on. In response to growing public concern for the environment, the government released its own “made in Canada” approach to the Kyoto Protocol. This localized approach removes binding emissions reduction targets from the policy, rendering the climate change effort mere rhetoric.

Here on campus, the situation is not dissimilar. Several representatives from Simcoe Hall have expressed their genuine concern for the environment, but believe the PCI is not the suitable approach for our university. The opposition expressed to the PCI resembles the Canadian government’s opposition to the Kyoto Protocol. In response to the growing environmental interests of students, the University of Toronto has pursued a “made in Ontario” approach to the PCI. Although we have not seen this homegrown version, it is said to remove reference to emission reduction targets—the heart of a meaningful climate change plan.

I’ve tried to make sense of why our university resists this opportunity. Our failure to sign on may well be explained by the misguided mantra of our academy. It takes more than great minds to secure a great future: what we also need, according to Professor Stephen Scharper, are great hearts for a compassionate future. We can problematize the PCI until the cows come home (or, perhaps more appropriately, until the sea ice melts). Alternatively, we can see the PCI for what it truly is: an invitation for institutional leadership. As the cerebral center of Canada, the technical solutions are available on our very own campus; all we need is the vision to lead.

Joanna Dafoe is Sustainabilty Commissioner of UTSU.

When frat house becomes front of house

The room smelled inexplicably like gasoline and sweat socks, and I really had to pee.

These were my distractions while watching the first of three lesser-known Sam Shepard plays shown at the KA Mansion—the Kappa Alpha house at St. George and Bloor, to the uninitiated. As the actors alternated between overacted bursts of unconvincing mania (which included breaking crockery and lots of screaming) and painfully earnest refrains, I scanned the staging room—a makeshift lounge of church pews and vinyl-upholstered furniture—desperate to locate an alternate exit. My desire to evacuate my bladder far surpassed my wish to endure the rest of the one-act.

Fortunately, the play was short and the intermission that followed—not to mention the next two shows—made the evening worth my while.

The Candles are for Burning Co-op is a community theatre troupe without even a website to their name, the sort of grassroots performance collective I’d always just assumed didn’t exist in bustling, high-culture Hogtown. I’m glad to have been proven wrong, even if it had to happen in a smelly, dilapidated frat house.

Community theatre often lacks the polish of mainstream, “real” stage productions—and the budgets, actors with training, adequate promotion, and legitimate venues—but in my experience, it’s usually worth watching. It’s for the same reason that alternative craft shows are worth visiting, why anonymous indie music acts are worth hearing, why ramshackle art shows are worth witnessing – it’s worth it for the heart. It reminds the creatively inclined in us all that, even though we may be choosing alternate paths, the outlets are there if we look for them.

Inspiration aside, some of the performances were actually good. Like, “wow, I can’t believe this guy is performing this in the front room of a frat house” good. The one-man delivery of Killer’s Head, which traces the last mundane thoughts of a man as he awaits his death on the electric chair, was so convincing I nearly forgot that my bare thighs were adhered to a pleather sofa—I was half-expecting to find the plush velvety cush of deluxe playhouse seating beneath me.

The closing act was Cowboys #2, a somber game of cowboys and Indians that featured two solid performances and a stolen “Road Closed” sign, all of which made for an endearing finale.

The three plays were written between 1965 and 1975, and it shows. Artistically lingering in the aftermath of modern drama movements while simultaneously echoing the generational angst of Vietnam-era America, existential futility is a central theme of each of the pieces. In 4-H Club, the first play shown, the central character talks yearningly about “going away,” as though abandoning the squalor of his present surroundings won’t lead him, transplanted, to repeat his fate somewhere else. Cowboys #2 shows a pair of buddies unwilling—or unable—to occupy a realm of reality, living a make-believe Western scenario until one of them dies.

Killer’s Head is chronologically the latest of the pieces, which might explain why it is the most nuanced and subtle of the three. Shepard was a young playwright in his early twenties when he wrote the other two pieces. With Killer’s Head, composed a full decade later, the interim development of his style comes through quite clearly. 4-H Club and Cowboys #2 are over-the-top critiques of commodification, capitalism, and the unbearable folly of youth that sometimes fail to ground themselves in relevant terms; Killer’s Head is stark and brooding, but it packs an enduring punch.

Overall, for a low-budget community theatre production, the staging and performance were commendable: as in the best grassroots theatre, ingenuity and passion took centre stage.

Cowboys #2 (not pictured) RATING: VVVVV

After the war, an uphill battle

As 300,000 Sri Lankan Tamils are herded into internment camps, the reported sites of physical and sexual violence that remain hidden from international scrutiny, Tamil-Canadian students in Toronto are considering how best to engage with a conflict on the other side of the world.

Some students fear for family back in Sri Lanka, as stories of grave human rights abuses come to light. Even for those whose direct relations are all in Canada, it’s hard to turn away from the lurid reports emerging from a place their families once called home.

Shoban Jaya is a grade 11 student at Albert Campbell Collegiate Institute who has been protesting almost daily for months. The 16-year-old became active after seeing a video in which a Tamil girl is taken away from her mother by Sri Lankan military officers and raped off-camera. Though his grades have plummeted from the time he spends protesting, Jaya continues to participate, saying he fears an immense death toll if the international community does not act soon.

“I can carry [my education] on tomorrow,” he says, “but I can’t look at the struggle right now the same way. Because if [we do not act] today, there will be no tomorrow,” he said.

Ramesh, a 24-year-old student protestor from McMaster University, agrees. “You can’t ignore it, you can’t stay home and be silent. We’ve been silent for too long.” He compared the Sri Lankan situation to cases of genocide where many believe the international community acted too late, such as the Holocaust and the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. “We don’t want the world to act too late; we know the world always acts too late,” he said.

Both activists were in attendance at the May 10 Gardiner Expressway protest where UTSU executive director Angela Regnier was arrested. The act was criticized by the Toronto police as being “unsafe” and “unlawful,” but Jaya and Ramesh contend that the risk was justified to bring attention to human rights violations that the media had largely ignored until then. “After blocking the Gardiner, a lot of my colleagues [at work who had] never talked about these issues before […] said ‘tell me what’s going on back home.’ Same with the media,” said Ramesh.

The Tamil Students Association at U of T has taken a decidedly apolitical stance, focusing instead on educating the university community about human rights in Sri Lanka. “We didn’t want to make a political statement, so we’re just about solving the humanitarian crisis, getting NGOs into the country, [and] getting the media back into the country so we can know the truth,” explained TSA vice-president Ramya Janandharan.

Janandharan is critical of the media representations that she says frame the conflict as resolved, saying that the ethnic prejudice and humanitarian issues that caused the conflict are still present. “[The Tigers are] that catch that makes it interesting news, but they fail to realize that it’s a long-term issue… the Tigers are just a symptom of the conflict and not the cause of it,” she said.

Aranie Rasalingam, the TSA’s awareness coordinator, recalled her parents’ experience in the 1983 series of riots in Sri Lanka known as “Black July.” Approximately 3,000 Tamils were killed, including Rasalingam’s uncle. Her parents’ home was set aflame as they slept, and though they escaped and immigrated to Canada in 1987, Rasalingam fears similar atrocities.

“It’s not something that just happened in ’83, it’s happening again now,” she said. “So it really makes you wonder, what is everyone doing? It’s not like people don’t know.”

Years of his life

With the constant pressure to tour and increasing expectations for a quick turnaround of output by the record industry, it’s rare that a musician gets a chance to revisit their rough drafts, those scraps of melody, orphaned lyrics, and incomplete themes.

According to Ohad Benchetrit, that’s what his new project Years is all about.

Benchetrit, who is also an occasional Broken Social Scenester and one of the founding members of Toronto post-rock outfit Do Make Say Think, admits that the project found its genesis partly in boredom.

“Basically, the record is a result of an excess of time,” says Benchetrit, noting that an extended layoff from other projects led to him revisiting previously discarded bits and pieces. “This is me pushing forward the seeds of my old ideas.”

While many artists loathe the idea of reworking the ghosts of unrealized ambitions, Benchetrit relished the task. “I wouldn’t say it was disconcerting. You could see a chronological history [as an artist]. You don’t change over night, and this record is the process of me slowly changing—it’s not the change in and of itself, but this chronicles the process of making a change from the past to [my] future in terms of the kind of music I would like to make.”

Years is something of a kindred spirit with Do Make Say Think, but does not rigidly adhere to the post-rock conventions that group has become known for. “Are You Unloved?,” with its wheezing horns and slow-building crescendo, certainly bring Do Make and Godspeed You! Black Emperor to mind. Yet on other tracks, like the woozy, ambling “A Thousand Times a Day (Someone is Flying),” and the nimble, rootsy “Assassination of Dow Jones,” Benchetrit shows a previously unheard range and an untapped virtuosity with acoustic guitar. The record is certainly one of the most interesting to emerge from the Broken Social Scene alums this year—an eclectic instrumental collection that moves from intricate to epic to abstract.

But why not bring these new ideas to Do Make or Broken Social Scene? Benchetrit worries that his groups may be too set in their ways.

“The thing about Do Make is that there are five solid minds that need to be satisfied—it’s their child as much as mine. What ends up happening, the more that time passes, you can’t help it, you come up with a style. It becomes an intrinsic part of who you are, as a person or as a band,” Benchetrit says, though this is not necessarily meant as a bad thing.

“It’s like a boulder. The smaller the rock, the easier you can push it around, but you add this history, you add these personalities, the rock gets bigger and bigger. It gets heavier. What you find is that it becomes so big you can’t push it in any direction. I just needed a different vehicle for some ideas. That’s what Years is.”

Like many great instrumental rock records, Benchetrit endows the ambience with a greater sense of meaning with his song titles, which often subvert the otherwise sombre mood of the record. It’s hard not to see the dark humour in track titles like “Hey Cancer, Fuck You!” and “Dow Jones,” even though the music is played straight to the point of gloominess.

“The balancing act is trying to do something serious, but not taking yourself too seriously. It’s a way of alleviating the pressure and not being too heavy-handed—song titles for an instrumental band are a way around that,” Benchetrit notes.

Despite his effort to assuage the darkness of his music—for now anyway—his mind is going to have to return to the macabre. At the time of our interview, Do Make Say Think was just starting work on a score for Tales of the Uncanny—a 1919 German film noted by many historians as being the first proper horror movie—along with Toronto’s Final Fantasy and German artist Robert Lippok. The film is being rescored as part of the Luminato festival, and they will perform the whole thing one time only, for free, in Yonge-Dundas Square.

“It’s almost like a Twilight Zone episode—it’s in five segments, and there are five different stories. Basically, they recreate a novel or short story in each segment. It’s amazing how many places took that. It’s scary [to try scoring a movie], but I’m looking forward to how it turns out.”

Between providing music for a film that many cinema historians consider sacrosanct, to having the audacity to work with his ghosts of projects past and introducing humour to gloomy musical landscapes, Benchetrit seems, to say the least, game for a challenge. It’ssomething that’s sorely missing from music today.

Tales of the Uncanny, as scored by Do Make Say Think, Final Fantasy, and Robert Lippok, screens for free in Yonge-Dundas Square June 11 as part of the Luminato festival. Years appears in the Arts & Crafts Showcase at North by Northeast on June 17 at The Courthouse (57 Adelaide E.).

Groups organize against migrant mistreatment

Organizers from No One is Illegal, Justicia for Migrant Workers, and Migrante Ontario organized a community meeting at the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education at U of T on Saturday, in an attempt to coordinate a response to a series of U.S.-style raids on southern Ontario workplaces and detentions of migrant workers since April.

On April 2, the Canadian Border Service Agency and South Simcoe Police raided Cericola Farms in Bradford, where poultry farm workers were taken to the Heritage Detention Centre in Toronto. About 100 workers were reportedly held in cramped quarters while an immigration official rushed through their rights in English.

According to South Simcoe Police, the raids were carried out on suspicion of Immigration Act violations, abuse of workers without status and human trafficking.

Justicia, who provides legal assistance and support for migrant workers, along with the other groups, was able to assist some of the detained workers following the raids. They claimed the workers were told to sign forms surrendering their rights to counsel. According to Justicia, these alleged forms were not in accordance with the Immigration Act and were “illegally concocted.” Two weeks later, about 40 migrant workers were deported.

On May 27, Immigration Enforcement raided the Lakeside Greenhouse in Leamington.

Flor, who has been employed as a cleaner in the greenhouse for two years, said that nine of her coworkers are currently behind bars.

She said that for the most part a migrant worker would clean greenhouses and washrooms, tend to agricultural tasks, and harvest crops—“the most simple jobs most of us would like not to do.”

“All we want is to be able to work, so that we can survive in our own countries.”

Presently, the detained Leamington workers, all of whom are Mexican citizens, are being held in Windsor County Jail. According to Justicia, some of the arrested have filed refugee claims and fear for their lives back home. One of the detainees is pregnant.

The meeting heard a second testimonial from Panya, who came to Canada from Thailand to make more money for her family back home.

Expecting a friendly workplace environment, Panya’s hopes were thwarted when she found her employer too controlling. When he stopped paying her regularly she quit, soon finding work elsewhere.

The move landed her in trouble with immigration authorities, as it violated the terms of her work permit. After spending three weeks in jail, the threat of deportation looming, Panya sought the help of a union worker who helped her get a lawyer and translator. She’s since won an open work permit.

“Non-permanent—that is, with status that doesn’t allow them to become citizens—and non-status immigrant workers are crucial to the Canadian economy,” said assistant professor of Canadian studies Todd Gordon.

“They’re a cheap and vulnerable source of labour that can be highly exploited by employers, therefore boosting the latter’s profitability. If all non-status or temporary migrant workers were removed from the country, whole industries would shut down, such as [agriculture,] childcare, janitorial services, and construction, among others,said Gordon.

“What this tells us […] is that the raids aren’t likely designed to remove all non-status workers, but to reinforce their vulnerability—don’t organize, don’t vocalize your complaints, stay quiet [and] under the radar, and work hard.”

Freshly Pressed

The Fishwives – No Time for Swordplay (Badd Brothers)

Despite a professed weakness for the uncomplicated riffs of the Shins and the White Stripes, Toronto quarter The Fishwives’ jaunty pop-rock has a sound that’s entirely its own. Combining euphoric melodies and driving rhythms, the band exhibits lyrical and musical maturity that’s surprising given the members’ young age.

Most of the Fishwives are multi-instrumentalists, so the members constantly switch roles and vocals duty from track to track, lending versatility to the band’s sound.

Opening track “Rum and Band-Aids” features a jumpy, organ-inspired keyboard line and frenzied guitar, while top MySpace hit “Before It Spreads” includes a manic drum passage and soaring vocal hooks. The band is also capable of more lilting melodies on tracks such as “Clearly Dear” and “Shrug,” which builds steadily to a distorted climax before sliding into a soft sequence of piano chords.

Even on “Disarmed,” an acknowledged “joke song,” the band manages to be funny without resorting to gimmickry. Plus, the track’s infectious bass lines and guitar-shredding interludes help it to blend in inconspicuously with the rest of the album. It’s an impressive first effort, so this burgeoning band is one to watch.

—Niamh Fitzgerald

Lady Sovereign – Jigsaw (Midget)

The latest salvo shot from the mouth of Lady Sovereign is a boisterous blend of popping attitude and droll British humour. It’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from the diminutive grime diva, though Jigsaw isn’t without its occasional misfires.

Sov’s unapologetic, take-no-prisoners temperament is as evident in the album’s feisty beats as it is in her savvy, self-aware lyrics. As she admits on “I Got You Dancing,” “Think twice before I break-dance / I might fall on my arse and break my arms / Give my white girl skank a chance / I don’t cha-cha or dance with the stars.” Sov’s sampling of The Cure’s “Close To Me” on the track “So Human,” however, is unexpected and feels inconsistent with the rest of the album.

The big surprise on Jigsaw is Lady Sovereign’s newfound emotional sincerity. Listeners get a rare treat on the title track as Sov sings bittersweetly about lost love. It’s great to get rare a glimpse of Sov’s soft side. In the context of the album, it provides a little breathing room, like an intimate conversation held in the corner of a rowdy party. While poignant and private, Sov’s reflections don’t interrupt the good times for too long.

As such, Jigsaw lives up to its title: the pieces don’t always fit together, but the process of trying out new combinations is what makes the game fun.

—Rae Matthews

Patrick Watson – Wooden Arms (Secret City)

Québec native Patrick Watson offers an eclectic collection on his latest record, but it’s not as eclectic as one might hope.

Watson’s lovely voice wafts its way through songs both wistful and whimsical, soft and hard, intense yet full of dreamlike airiness. His musical arrangements vary, with biting, throbbing percussion weaving into delicate harp melodies. Watson begins with a gentle lightness, only to turn up the dark and bitter, then back again, feeling like a soothing massage that suddenly hits a sensitive, deeply buried nerve.

The title track wanders into a Venetian vaudeville act à la Tom Waits while drifting through a Claude Lelouch montage. Other songs seem to belong everywhere from European circus sideshows to Wiccan yoga classes.

Yet for all his floating around, the album never quite escapes its Nick Drake-meets-Final Fantasy disposition of soulful folk reaching for playful profundity. The songs are at heart simple, sometimes even naïve, and don’t really require Watson’s experimental dressing-up. In the end, they all sound pretty much the same, despite occasional adornments. It’s a very pretty album overall, but only if you can manage to stay awake throughout.

—RM