A cyclist’s crash course

Kristen Courtney is no newcomer to cycling. The third-year law student at the University of Toronto has been riding her bike for years, and once took a 7,500 km cycling trip across Canada. She has ridden without any problems in nearly every major city in the country, except Toronto.

Since moving here in 2005, Courtney has been hit by cars seven times.

Her accidents all occurred on Bloor, College and Queen streets, the three major thoroughfares where, cycling activists say, bike lanes are most desperately needed.

Most of the accidents were minor, but the sixth one left Courtney with permanent damage to her back, neck and wrist.

Courtney said her accidents have not deterred her from cycling. She has become involved in several cycling advocacy groups, using her experiences to draw attention to problems facing cyclists in Toronto. At a recent event, “Bells on Bloor” in September, over 500 people rode along Bloor St. to protest the lack of bike lanes.

Courtney talks passionately about about environmental law, and after her first year of law school—and her first five collisions—she attended the International Youth Summit on Sustainable Urban Transportation. There, she learned about plans that other cities had followed to effectively promote cycling. She said she was shocked by the city of Toronto’s “unprincipled approach” towards cycling safety and bike lane planning.

Outlining activists’ proposal to plan the city’s bike routes “by looking at where cyclists ride, where cyclists need greater protection, and where potential cyclists would ride if they were provided with safe and convenient routes,” Courtney said bike lanes in Toronto are usually put on quiet side streets where they are not needed. These circuitous lanes often do not connect with one another.

Six years ago, the city council approved the 10-Year Bike Plan, which aims to increase the number of cyclists on the road and decrease the number of collisions and injuries. The plan’s mainstay is the expansion of the Bikeway network, expected to eventually cover the entire city.

According to the city council, 2007 has been a good year for the Bike Plan. Nearly six kilometres of new bike lanes have been approved by city council, and over 20 more have been proposed.

Despite some progress, however, activists contend that the Bike Plan has failed to address major safety issues. One of the biggest problems they point to is the lack of safe east–west routes. Streets like Bloor and Queen are treacherous for cyclists, but the city has made no plans for bike lanes on these streets. In the meantime, many cyclists have been injured or even killed on those routes.

Over 1,000 bike-car collisions are reported each year, but since many accidents go unreported, Courtney estimates the real figure to be closer to 6,000. Stories and statistics like this are alarming, giving lawyers as well as cyclists fuel in their push for more bike lanes. Last week, the law firm McLeish Orlando LLP addressed a letter to the city council on behalf of the family of a cyclist killed on Queen St. in 2005.

The letter pushed the city to consider improving bike routes as it works to make a “cleaner, better Toronto,” and lingered on the city’s ethical obligation to ensure safer cycling conditions.

Making Parliament Work

Last week marked the not-so-triumphant return of parliament in Ottawa. The weeks leading up to it were exciting ones for journalists—the prorogue of parliament until mid-October, the delayed opening, the Liberals’ (and thus, Stéphane Dion’s) failures in the Quebec by-elections, Harper’s hijacking of parliament by turning every vote into a confidence issue, and the NDP-Bloc rejection of the throne speech. Throughout all this, reporters and commentators across the country played their favourite game: election speculation. The fate of the minority Conservative government seemed to rest upon the decision of Stéphane Dion, a man whose name has been preceded with the word “embattled” in recent months.

But Dion decided to let the throne speech pass. The speech itself was very much like the Conservatives’ mandate: mild, balanced, and not, in fact, all that Conservative. A Conservative minority with three left-leaning parties in opposition hasn’t done the country too badly. The budgets have been about as fiscally conservative as Liberal ones, particularly after being fiddled with by other parties. Harper’s move to declare the Québécois a nation within a united Canada was a brilliant political response to Gilles Duceppe’s separatist rhetoric. More blatantly right-wing policies have been kept in check, as when aspects of the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act were not renewed. So far, our government hasn’t done all that badly at their job—governing.

That’s what makes all the more disappointing Harper’s insistence that every parliamentary vote be a confidence issue. Instead of attempting to debate, reshape, and reform bills so that they can get enough support from our elected representatives to pass, Liberal amendments to the throne speech are likely to be rejected. The Liberals, in a show of opposition, will likely only send enough MPs to parliament to allow the speech to pass. All of this is in fear of an election that would likely return us to the same sort of government we have now—either a minority Liberal or Conservative leadership, with sizable Bloc and NDP opposition.

Fear of such an election is helping to set a dangerous precedent, and gives Stephen Harper undeserved power to pass unbalanced legislation, such as his Tackling Violent Crime Act. If the Conservatives’ past environmental plans are any indication, they could very well force the Liberals to choose between an unwanted election or an unsatisfactory environmental policy full of half-measures and concessions to big polluters (we’re looking at you, Alberta oil companies). Harper is attempting to simulate the power of a majority government, something that his party hasn’t earned, and, according to many polls, would be unlikely to gain in an election.

At the centre of all this is the oftmocked Liberal leader. Stéphane Dion hasn’t been well-treated by the media since the Liberal Leadership Convention honeymoon ended in February or so. He’s jeered at from across the floor, his communication skills are questioned, and even his own MPs anonymously e-mail reporters with their criticisms of his ways. As of right now, a trial-by-fire election victory would likely be the only way Dion’s image could improve, but that would require that Harper messes up to a John Tory or Kim Campbell degree.

Despite the negative buzz, of the four leaders, Dion (in true policy wonk fashion) is the only one who is attempting to make parliament work. The NDP and the Bloc are content to oppose most Conservative bills and are eager to head into an election to strip votes off of what they view as a weakened Liberal Party. Dion, if not his party as a whole, wants to do what he was elected to do: represent this country’s populace and pass balanced legislation that reflects their desires. Only time will tell if this session of parliament will be allowed to do so.

What happened to this city’s history?

In a typically understated CBC.ca article on October 17, 2007, citizens of Toronto received some wonderful news: “The Toronto Parking Authority (TPA) has decided the site of the Matador Club is not the right place to put up a parking lot.”

Even if one gets past the irony of “not the right place” (though rest assured that some other place will be), this little gem brings up some big questions that Torontonians should be asking themselves—namely, how did we come to completely disregard our own history?

The Matador Club is one of those classically Toronto institutions that, like Grossman’s Tavern on Spadina, betrays a wonderful and slightly grimy bit of Toronto’s past. Founded in 1964, the Matador has been a folk and country music house in Toronto for over 40 years, hosting such Canadian greats as Leonard Cohen. Yet despite this heritage, the TPA and some citizens in the area thought it would make a great place for a parking lot. The Matador, it was argued, was a “blight” on the neighbourhood— and just think of how many SUVs could fit on the lot.

This type of thinking is typical of Toronto, which now seems more concerned about building condos than protecting its history. We have an obligation as citizens to take a stand against this reckless destruction, reclaim our city’s past and preserve it for the future.

I have to confess that as an immigrant to the city and a student of history, my views on the importance of this project are undoubtedly coloured. But with a new condo on nearly every corner, this inescapable fact stands: developers are constantly seeking new land in Toronto, with little regard for the sites’ historic value. What makes the potential destruction of The Matador even more disturbing is that City Hall—not a private developer—worked actively to destroy the site.

One only needs to walk up and down Jarvis to see my point. What was once the centre of old Toronto is now a disappointing urban vista of dilapidated buildings and parking lots. The city and its citizens dropped the ball and let a glorious stretch of Toronto fall into disrepair (check out some old photos at the Toronto Archives if you don’t believe me).

City planning in Toronto needs to slow down in a big way—I’m talking about a massive reevaluation of the city’s plan, one that includes historic considerations. After all, world-class cities like Paris don’t tear down historic buildings in favour of condos, no matter how hot the market. Reclamation of Toronto’s history for citizens, as expressed in our development and planning, will be crucial to future generations of Torontonians. Take a stand and demand that Toronto begins behaving like the worldclass city it wants to be—appreciate the history that surrounds you.

He’s lost control

“It’s getting faster, moving faster now, it’s getting out of hand…”
—Joy Division, “Disorder”

Forget calling it a movie, or even a film, Anton Corbijn’s biopic about the life and death of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis is a work of art and history.

Known to most Joy Division fans as the photographer behind the most iconic images of the Manchester quartet, Corbijn has produced a masterpiece in his very first feature. Filmed entirely in black and white— which nicely captures the essence of Joy Division and late 1970s Manchester— each shot is immaculately framed, as if Corbijn’s old photographs have been brought to life.

As one of the pioneers of the post-punk movement—and the lead singer in one of the most uniquesounding bands in the history of rock music—many people wonder why Curtis would kill himself at the young age of 23, on the eve of Joy Division’s first U.S. tour. The mission of Control seems to be to explain his final, desperate action. As Corbijn put it, speaking before a screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, “It’s about a man who follows his dreams and ends up in a very unhappy place.”

Control begins with Curtis (played by unknown Sam Riley) as a 17-yearold. Here he seems like a different person: hopeful, ambitious, sporting a wide grin as he listens to David Bowie records, spouting Wordsworth to impress his mate’s girlfriend. Later he meets Peter Hook (Joe Anderson), Bernard Sumner (James Anthony Pearson), and Stephen Morris (Harry Treadaway)—the trio who, with Curtis, would form Joy Division, and after his death, become ’80s superstars New Order—and offers to join their then “pretty shit” band.

Curtis also gets married. He and his wife, Deborah (Samantha Morton) are both still teenagers when they tie the knot. At the same time, Joy Division’s star is beginning to rise. The band hires a manager, Rob Gretton (Toby Kebbell), who gets them signed to Factory Records. Factory’s head, Tony Wilson (Craig Parkinson), is also a British TV presenter and features the band on his now-famous program So It Goes.

As the band starts to tour, Curtis has his first epileptic seizure. Doctors back in Manchester put him on a cocktail of drugs that produce a nightmarish list of side effects (vomiting, acne, swelling of the gums) and tell him to avoid late nights and alcohol (yeah, right). It’s also around this time that Curtis—still in his early twenties—becomes the father of a baby girl named Natalie. His constant touring and withdrawn personality begin to weigh on Deborah— she wants a stable life and a husband who isn’t up all night or on the road.

While on tour, he begins an affair with a Belgian reporter named Annik, with whom he realizes that his marriage to Deborah was a mistake. As seizures continue to invade his life (he even has one on stage), he begins to emotionally unravel, unable or unwilling to perform. “They don’t understand how much I give, and how it affects me,” he writes in a letter to Annik. All of this begins to tear Curtis apart.

Writer Matt Greenhalgh—who used Deborah Curtis’s memoir Touching From a Distance as a reference— does a great job of showing how Curtis—pulled apart in four directions by band, wife, illness, and mistress—finally loses control.

The core cast of Control is superb at recreating their characters, especially Riley—who looks, sounds, and acts just like Curtis—and Toby Kebbell, who is hilarious as Joy Division’s highly motivated yet horribly crass manager.

Another impressive feature is that all the live shots of Joy Division playing are accompanied by versions of the songs recorded by the actors themselves. While this prospect may initially frighten Joy Division purists (myself included), the renditions are superb. Versions of “Transmission,” “Disorder,” and “She’s Lost Control” sound like raw re-mastered reels rescued from Martin Hannett’s attic.

In short, Control is an incredibly fitting elegy for Curtis—a must-see for any fan of rock music—and is easily the best British film of 2007.

Control is currently in limited release.

New federal drug plan a give-and-take

Unveiling his National Anti-Drug Strategy in early October, Health Minister Tony Clement and Prime Minister Harper promised mandatory prison sentences for serious drug offences, a national awareness campaign targeted at youth, and more funding for drug treatment, but did not promise funding for harm reduction programs. This, combined with the government’s promise to “refocus” existing drug programs, has many worried about cuts to existing programs.

Harm reduction aims to reduce the impact of drug use without forcing users to stop using drugs completely. Initiatives can include needle exchanges, methadone programs, and safe injection sites like the pilot Insite in Vancouver.

“The reality is that some people cannot or will not stop using drugs,” said the AIDS Committee of Toronto, in response to Harper’s new strategy. They argue that too much focus on punishment and abstinence will increase the rates of HIV and overdosing. World Health Organization studies show that needle exchange programs reduce HIV/ AIDS infection rates among injection drug users. But Harper still insists that he is going after dealers, not users.

“Our message is clear: drugs are dangerous and destructive,” he said. “If drugs do get hold of you—there’s help to get you off them. And if you sell or produce drugs—you’ll pay with jail time.”

It’s not that simple, according to Diane Riley, Associate Member of the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of Toronto, and founder of the International Harm Reduction Association.

“Lots of users have to be small-time dealers to survive,” she said. “And at the same time the government is doing this, arrests for simple possession for marijuana have more than doubled, if not tripled, in the last year.”

Riley appreciates that the strategy puts extra money into treatment, but she also argues that there needs to be greater choice of treatment to better suit specific users.

“I think people have to remember that harm reduction is secondary prevention, so we have to emphasize that with the Harper government,” she said. “You’re funding prevention, so be sure to fund primary, secondary and tertiary prevention.”

An international expert on harm reduction, Riley has long been frustrated by the attitude towards drug policy reform put forward by both Conservative and Liberal governments. She also suggested that there is also more that U of T could do.

“I’ve offered to teach a course on harm reduction, which I’ve been teaching at York, and U of T is not interested,” she said.

Urban Craftwork

Did you cut the neckband off your T-shirt for that DIY look? Do you know what “felting” is? Maybe you just like making lampshades out of Popsicle sticks? That’s cool—but you could stand to be a little cooler, Popsicle Pete. Even if shelling out sweet coinage for more courses is not at the top of your to-do list, check out these local craft workshops that will turn you into a better, more virtuous, and, ultimately, sexier person. You’ll actually develop a tangible skill—maybe even something you can eat, wear, or both (chocolate underwear?). How many Poli-Sci majors can say that?*

Sewing, Knitting & Textiles

These studios offer a range of different courses, from tailoring and patternmaking to recycling old pieces of clothing. Knitting has taken off in popularity amongst the “cool” and “young” sets. Take delight in creating visual irony in the UC Quad—be that poncho-hooking football player. Everyone loves a good juxtaposition!

Sew Be It Studios and Workshop 2156 Yonge St.

Sew Be It is great for learning the basics of sewing one step at a time. From workshops on zipper use to classes in beadwork appliqué and bra-construction, you can find the thing that most appeals to you. sewbeitstudio.com

Studio Opal – 1184 Queen St. E.

Offering workshops and classes not only in sewing and pattern-drafting, Studio Opal also gives instruction in home décor (cushions, etc.), alteration and customizing. The ’50s-style pastel interior and low-key staff are also tops. studioopal.ca

Knit-o-Matic – 1378 Bathurst St.

Besides organizing yarn swaps and giving away free knit and crochet patterns on their website, Knit-o-Matic is a fun place to pick up your supplies, learn how to cable-knit a toque, and talk about personal issues with fellow crafters at their Stitch ’n’ Bitch Wednesdays. knitomatic.com

Lettuce Knit – 70 Nassau St.

Like Knit-o-Matic, Lettuce Knit offers a swell variety of yarns, and provides useful advice for specific knit projects, like sock-making. Get right to the source and take a dyeing workshop, which lets you customize your effort even more. lettuceknit.com

The Naked Sheep – 2144A Queen St. E.

For all you east-enders, this cozy little boutique has a range of classes and levels, whether you’re considered beginner, intermediate or advanced with a needle and thread. The helpful employees are more than willing to help you find your place within the ranks. nakedsheep.ca

Peach Berserk – 507 Queen St. W.

This iconic Queen St. shop offers not only designer Kingi Carpenter’s signature prints and girly dresses, but also workshops that will walk you through the whole silk-screening process. The class also incorporates insight with regard to starting your own business or setting up a studio. peachberserk.com

Metalsmithing, Encaustic & Glassworking

These workshops tend to be a little pricier for tools and supplies, but the classes (and results) are creativity- satisfying, producing some unique and valuable handiwork.

C1 Contemporary Art Space – 44 Ossington Ave.

If you’re into encaustic painting, mosaic, and book-binding, C1’s goods are practical, fun and diverse. c1artspace.com

The Devil’s Workshop – 955 Queen St. W., unit 112

The Devil’s Workshop will put your idle hands to good use. In their rigorous workshops, you can learn how to do metal printmaking—that is, etch your design onto a steel plate which will then be roller-printed onto a silver or copper setting. Other courses on the menu include lost wax casting and wire-working. thedevilsworkshop.ca

Margie Jewelry Studio – 1402 Queen St. E., unit C4 (lower level)

Includes delicate handcrafting of things like glass-sculpture, bead making, and good old-fashioned metal-smithing fun. margiejewellery.com

Nanopod Hybrid Studio – 322 Harbord St.

This fascinating little studio houses not only a terrific gallery and shop, but also tutorials and instruction in different areas of metal-smithing. One unique option is to take the Recycle + Upcycle workshop, where you can transform old jewelry into something with your own creative mark on it. nanopod.tv

Look out for further installments of Urban Craftwork, focusing on local instruction in such activities as cooking, baking, candy-making, bookbinding, paper arts and soapmaking. Chocolate underwear-making will be included in Part II, although you can certainly experiment in the privacy of your own home. (Just remember to close the blinds.)

*Answer: two.

Toronto Guluwalks a mile in others’ shoes

This past Saturday thousands of people in over 100 cities across the world marched during the annual Guluwalk to show their support for the Acholi children of northern Uganda. The walk, founded in Toronto only two years ago by Adrian Bradbury and Kieran Hayward, has grown to be international in scope, and was recently named one of the world’s best fundraisers by New York-based Non-Profi t Times.

Bradbury and Hayward made headlines in 2005 when for the entire month of July they walked 12.5 km into downtown Toronto to sleep for four hours in front of City Hall, only to then march back home. During the month they also continued to work full time. While sleeping outside City Hall the two friends faced freezing temperatures and numerous run-ins with Toronto’s rodent population.

As many as 40,000 Acholi children walk throughout the night every night of their lives to large towns such as Gulu for a safe place to sleep. Those who don’t walk risk being abducted, raped or even killed by the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel guerrilla army notorious for its use of child soldiers.

Since that fateful month, GuluWalk has grown tremendously. In 2006, 300,000 participants in 82 countries raised over $500,000. The charity has continued to grow in 2007. On February 22, the group organized its first ever Guluwalk Gala.

Speaking on the large stage erected at Metro Hall during the conclusion of this year’s walk, Bradbury urged the crowd to “take a risk and do that one more thing for northern Uganda” by phoning or emailing their MPs, and pressuring the Canadian government to publicly support peace in northern Uganda.

Some MPs have already begun to take notice. NDP Trinity-Spadina MP Olivia Chow was present to say a few words. “Peace cannot be talked down. It has to be from the grounds up, from the community,” she said, going on to argue that with respect to Canada’s role in the 21-year conflict, “we have to pressure our government to say that this is critically important, we have to push the peace process through the UN.” Her call for Canada to allocate 0.7 per cent of its GDP to foreign aid was awarded with a large roar from the crowd.

Almost everybody at the walk was sporting the organization’s bright orange T-shirts, proceeds from the sales of which to Guluwalk programs. A band played traditional African music and the atmosphere was electric. “Can you image walking the walk we just did in the middle of the night, in a much more harsh environment every single day, and doing so for the sake of your own life?” one woman asked. “I really feel like I am making a difference in the lives of these children and so does Bella,” she added referring to her canine companion.

A Guluwalk delegation will be going to Uganda in November.

Visit guluwalk.com for information on how to get involved before next year’s walk.

Book Review: Maynard and Jennica

A conversational tone, humorous remarks, dry wit, and characters the reader will care about—Rudolph Delson’s first novel, Maynard and Jennica, is a hilarious and poignant telling about a couple, their city, and a major world event.

Like most culture in our paranoid and terrorist-conscious society, this novel examines the build-up, execution, and aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Not merely a backdrop for the novel, Delson weaves New York into characters’ lives until it becomes a character itself, foregrounded in the characters’ consciousness as well as our own. The red brick walk-up that Jennica lives in is a shelter, but it also becomes a part of her personality; the subway, a stage for romance; and of course, the scarred skyline reflecting the new fear and emptiness.

The novel is much like a Shakespearean play in its fivepart division and slew of characters (all listed in the back for quick referencing), its witty humour, and candid portrayal of human nature. Delson’s characters all speak directly to the reader, telling their story their own way but as if being interviewed or more accurately, interrogated. Maynard and Jennica captures a society changed, and the way humans turn to relationships, and comedy amidst turmoil and tragedy.

Rating: VVVV