The time for a ban is now

The safety of Toronto’s streets has once again been tested. Last week an innocent bystander was fatally shot outside a Yonge Street strip club. In a sad turn of events, John O’Keefe, 42, was struck by a bullet intended for one of the club’s bouncers. Mayor David Miller, along with Premier Dalton McGuinty and local authorities, has demanded a nationwide ban on handguns. Although the Harper government has taken a tougher stance on gun crimes and has passed legislation for stricter sentencing, they have not taken any steps towards an official ban on the use and possession of handguns. John O’Keefe is another statistic to tally up at the end of 2008.

“The Year of the Gun,” a term coined by police in 2005, was a period of increased gun crime that made every Torontonian more watchful. Reports of gun-related homicides saturated the news, and left us feeling stunned. We questioned if we could ever walk on the streets again without being caught in deadly crossfire.

Community leaders and residents looked for strategies to curb the violence in high-risk neighbourhoods. Politicians attributed the rise in crime to poverty, high unemployment, and a lack of social services. Fast forward to 2008, and we seem to be on the road to repeating history.

The perception of gun use in Canada stands in stark contrast to that of our American counterparts, who appreciate their gun-toting liberties. Our current policies are relatively progressive and affirm a strong support of gun control, but a full-out ban would ensure that Canadians are well-protected, reducing future violent incidents. While many Canadians are registered gun owners and enjoy their firearms for sport, it is all too easy to have a weapon misused for a malicious purpose.

Authorities have discovered that gun smuggling has reached dangerous proportions. As our southern neighbours grapple with an influx of illegal immigration, we’re dealing with an influx of illegal firearms that are crossing the border and getting into the hands of criminals. Incarceration seems like the natural course to follow, but how much of a deterrent is it? Imprisonment for 10, 15 or even 20 years may seem like a justifiable punishment, but alone, this is simply inadequate. Once perpetrators leave the prison system, they could strike again. Police have taken steps to curb gun violence in the city, including the installation of video cameras to monitor activity in the streets and a boost in police presence in high-risk areas. But they can never be sure of what someone is hiding behind their back when they’re prepared to strike.

The solution requires strong commitment from the government. Toronto’s finest do their best to ease the threats, but we cannot rely on mere vigilance to protect us. How many more accidental fatalities will it take until a ban is put into place? There is absolutely no reason why Toronto’s citizens would need, or even want, to possess a handgun. We would be much safer if we relegated the weapons to trained and responsible professionals in law enforcement and the military. It’s obvious that the screening process that potential firearm owners undergo is ineffective. Securing our borders, placing harsher restrictions on gun ownership, and establishing a long overdue ban will restore some sense of peace in the city. Target shooters will just have to find themselves another hobby.

Manufacturing promise

The Vancouver Sun has reported that over 130,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in Canada last year. Taking a stab at Conservative inaction on the issue, Liberal leader Stéphane Dion has pronounced that he will invest $1 billion to revive the struggling sector if he were to win a federal election. One year ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke at a Toronto Conservative Party rally, calling the Liberals a party “of vested interests.” Perhaps a rhetorical exaggeration at the time, Dion’s latest row over national industrial policy increasingly legitimizes Harper’s statement. Dion’s plan is economically unnecessary, ethically unwarranted, and in many ways technically inefficient. Had the Conservatives proposed this plan with Canadian tax-payer dollars, would Dion have called it for what it really is—corporate welfare?

The idea that a failing manufacturing sector is a blow to our public welfare is misguided. Structurally, economies change over time. Canada and the U.S. used to be primarily agricultural producers. Now, having evolved into predominantly service-based economies, the agricultural sector comprises two and one per cent of the countries’ overall earnings, respectively. Despite these changes, neither country has suffered any long-term damage. In fact, most economists would agree that living standards have slowly risen despite these transformations. When observing the ailing manufacturing sector, the same perspective should be taken. Dion is missing the forest for the trees: the importance of the economy’s composition pales in comparison to its overall state. Both inflation and unemployment are relatively low, and while growth is slow, it’s due to the economic woes of Canada’s largest importer down south. Moreover, the economy is structurally dynamic: the Canadian workforce is one of the most educated, adaptive, and skilled in the world.

Manufacturers will appeal to our sense of social justice and our predominantly liberal fantasy that government should solve all of our problems. If we accept that capitalism and free markets ought to play a less dominant role in our society, why should we feel obligated to use public money to bail out some of the most well-endowed players in the game? Corporate manufacturers have long enjoyed cushy profits and large market shares. They are large enterprises with a wealth of resources and talent. Recent failures are due to their lack of strategy to remain competitive against developing countries with cheaper labour and more efficient production processes. They suffer no disadvantage, and thus do not deserve our charity.

Of course, many wonder how lost jobs will affect ordinary Canadians who are not responsible for the managerial failures of their employers. Theoretically, they will eventually be re-absorbed into the economy in more high-demand sectors. Yet there is a solution that doesn’t involve pouring money into a failing sector of employment: aiding individuals most affected by retraining them in other employable skills.

In the larger scheme of things, Dion made another suggestion with potential: investment in green technology. And yet, if manufacturers have failed to meet expectations— make a profit, that is— why does Dion expect them to be better at using government R&D money? Such funding should be aimed in a general direction so that future entrepreneurs can re-appropriate these funds to create their own niche markets, in manufacturing or other sectors.

Canadians want to hold onto the idea of an industrious manufacturing base that has served as the “backbone” of our country. Dion, whether out of ideology or opportunity, is encouraging this misguided conception. But our manufacturers are the privileged trustfund kids of the economy, the ones who fail to perpetuate the past successes of their parents. In life, some people fail. In the market, some former winners lose. The proper response is to accept the results and move on.

Turning a blind eye

Last week, news leaked that a training manual on torture currently being drafted by Canada’s Foreign Affairs department lists the U.S. and Israel as potential sites for torture. An uproar unsued, and Foreign Affairs quickly began to backpedal amid protests from David Wilkins, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, who claimed that it was “absurd for [the U.S.] to be on a list like that.”

Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier soon announced his decision to review the manual with the intent of removing Israel and the United Sates from the list of potential torturers. This move does nothing more than bolster political interests, at the expense for the respect of universal human rights. For Canada to appease an ally by tolerating illegal and immoral policies is a prime example of politics working against the good of the people.

The U.S. has long been suspected of engaging in torture at its Guantanamo Bay prison. Despite Wilkins’ outrage, a 2005 Forbes article reported that the U.S. submitted an acknowledgement to the UN of its torture activity, not only in Guantanamo, but in Iraq and Afghanistan as well. Amnesty International’s country profile also lists America as a possible site for torture, and specifically mentions the secretive Guantanamo Bay prison. It is no surprise that the Canadian branch of the human rights organization was enraged by Bernier’s announcement.

Victims of torture are deprived of various sensory experiences for weeks. Beating the captives weakens them physically while denying them the basics of food, sight and sound. It is at this point that the captives begin to lose their sense of identity, and revert back to an infantile state. Are we, as a country, prepared to ignore behavior like this? How does such willful ignorance of injustice accord with Canada’s core values? It is easy to look down upon those who abuse human beings, but far more difficult to realize that those who turn a blind eye are just as much at fault.

As a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Canada has an international obligation to uphold article five, which states “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” In naming the U.S. a suspected torturer, Canada took a fundamental step towards preserving an essential human right. By revising facts to prevent the embarrassment of an ally, Canada promotes the use of torture, failing to protect the interest of its citizens abroad and human beings worldwide.

Carrier Waves

National Public Radio host Ira Glass once quipped that among North Americans, public radio was “less popular than jousting, a sport that has been dead for 600 years.” Hyperbole aside, it’s clear that radio is not the zenith of entertainment it once was.

“Radio doesn’t have a large place in the popular imagination anymore,” laments Chris Berube, who hosts the show Electric Boogaloo on the University of Toronto’s radio station CIUT 89.5 FM. “A lot of people think it is a stagnant form—that Top 40 and blowhard talk radio is all there is.” Berube himself became involved at CIUT after a similar reaction. “I worked in an office where they played Edge 102. I would hear it everyday and think, there is so much more that I could do with this,” he says.

As it stands, CIUT has been around a lot longer. Hitting airwaves back in 1966, the campus station has endured name changes, license squabbles, and shifts in the very way people listen to media. Over the air, CIUT beams signals as far south as Buffalo, and as far north as Barrie. But with the advent of live streaming and deals with Star Choice Satellite and Rogers Digital Cable, CIUT can now be heard virtually anywhere in the world.

Berube and fellow CIUT host Michael Clifton don’t have much in common. Berube is a third-year political science student at U of T who hosts a show dedicated to under-the-radar indie rock. Clifton is a fifty-year-old radio technician for CBC whose two CIUT shows, Funky Fridays and Passport, encapsulate nearly every genre, from funk to gospel, jazz, blues, and country. Clifton spins CDs and at times, vinyl, while Berube makes playlists on iTunes. Yet they both share a devotion to public radio that makes them willing to rise at the crack of dawn and play a show from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. in the middle of the week. If that’s not dedication, then what is?

Well for starters, both Clifton, a musician who previously owned Happy House Music on Markham Street, and Berube weren’t totally aware of the early morning slot when they started at CIUT. Both began through volunteering and standard training, then moved on to filling guest spots on other hosts’ shows before securing a program of their own. Clifton started with Passport, which airs on Tuesday afternoons, and Berube’s show aired on Mondays from 1-3 p.m. (currently it is on Wednesday mornings).

Yet Clifton loved being on the radio so much that the 5:30 a.m. slot came as a blessing. “When the slot opened I said, hey, what the hell, I’ll do it,” he laughs. “I realized this was an opportunity. Five-thirty in the morning gives you a captive audience: people are driving in their cars, lying in bed, frying the bacon for breakfast,” he says. “It is harder to get their attention at one in the afternoon, when everyone is at work.”

Berube also notes the success of morning radio, saying that the lackluster quality of most early programming is partially what motivates him to offer an alternative. And while the 4:30 wake-up calls in the dead of winter are not totally appealing, the sacrifice is worth it. “I’m just happy to be doing a show,” he says. “I’ll gladly accept a time slot that is ludicrous to others.”

While both Clifton and Berube were avid fans of the medium before becoming involved, neither estimated how much they would enjoy working at CIUT. “I probably wouldn’t have gotten into radio if people didn’t think I was already involved,” says Clifton, who was frequently mistaken for a host before he had ever been on air. Clifton even received recognition from CBC host Andy Barrie, who once told him that he had a perfect voice for radio. “For me, that was like being anointed,” he says.

With the morning slot, however, the question of how many listeners are willing to tune in inevitably arises. “Five-thirty a.m. is an ungodly hour to be doing anything, frankly,” says Berube, a reluctant self-promoter. “A lot of my friends don’t even know that I have a radio show,” he admits.

Likewise, Clifton argues that the numbers are not important. “There might be five listeners or there might be five million,” he says. “I try to ignore that factor and just express myself in a conversational way—people seem to like that.”

While their shows remain labours of love, both hosts are all about sharing the music that they adore with their audiences. Clifton puts special emphasis on the themes of his shows, creating Passport to capture the subgenres that comprise rock ‘n’ roll and playing high-energy music on Funky Fridays to invigorate listeners for their day. Likewise, Berube spends over 20 hours a week looking for new music and compiling his setlists, which are often themed around events or holidays (like backto- school and Halloween).

Even after their time at CIUT, both hosts have retained their differences. Berube frequently plays post-electronic artists like Battles and Stereolab, while Clifton considers drum machines “evil” and remains close to artists who play all their own instruments. Both heartily agree that working at the station has broadened their musical perspective. Clifton and Berube squeeze their programs into their own tight schedules (Clifton works at CBC, while Berube is a full-time student who also edits The Strand’s humour section and serves on the board of Victoria College). Yet the sacrifice is well worth it. “[Hosting a show] is something that really consumed me,” says Berube, while Clifton adds, “Every time I’m on the air, I learn something. It’s a thrill.” And with their tunes propagating through the air and cyberspace, there’s a chance public radio could reach the popularity level of say, polo. Now wouldn’t that make Ira Glass proud?

For program schedules and show times, visit

Stepping up to success

I was not looking forward to seeing How She Move. It is the latest entry in the hip-hop/step dance subgenre that has proven to be consistently successful at the box office, but less so with the critics. Now, I know next to nothing about hip-hop and step dancing. I grew up on Lloyd Manor Rd. in Etobicoke and was once referred to as “the whitest white boy in the world,” so there you are.

I woke up at an ungodly hour on a dreary January morning to catch the press screening. All I could think about was how nice it would be to skip the movie and catch a few more hours’ sleep. Oh, sure, The Varsity would probably fire me, but man, some more sleep would be heavenly…

But no. Instead I got up and saw How She Move. And you know what? I’m glad I did, and not just because I would have been fired if I missed it. It’s a surprisingly good movie, and an above-par entry in its subgenre.

A Canadian production, the film is set at Jane and Finch, where an ambitious Caribbean-Canadian girl named Raya (Rutina Wesley) has been forced to return after her college money was used on her sister’s funeral. She needs money to break out of the ghetto environment and go back to college, and an unlikely salvation arises: she joins a step dance team working its way towards a championship. If they win the prize money, she’ll be able to afford college.

This plot is formula, but who cares? It has likable characters and a positive message, and it moves at a fast pace. The cast, most making their big-screen debuts, is uniformly excellent. And damn, I really liked those dance scenes. They were kinetic, energetic, and impressively choreographed, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a snob.

Two days later, I met the film’s director, Ian Iqbal Rashid, a Canadian filmmaker who garnered critical attention in 2004 with his first feature, A Touch of Pink. If you’ve seen that film, you’ll recall that it was about a gay Muslim who works up the courage to tell his mother about his sexuality… thanks to advice from the spirit of Cary Grant (played by Kyle MacLachlan, no less).

“The Canadian producers who coproduced A Touch of Pink also made How She Move, and initially they brought me on as a kind of story consultant, which I do from time to time,” said Rashid. “And then when they were looking for a director they were sort of interested in my take on it, and I kind of got invested in the project, and we went from there.”

“There was a lot in the script that I identified with and that felt familiar to me. The setting is very familiar for me, as I grew up in a neighbourhood like that in Toronto, and the story of Raya—second-generation immigrant kid who’s trying to get out and has her own ambitions to deal with, her own dreams to follow—that all sort of felt very familiar.”

How She Move was filmed in Hamilton in an astonishing 25 days. “The most I had on any dance number was four or five hours, whereas a Hollywood movie would be days if not a week for each number.” Rashid compensated with an extensive rehearsal period. “We had 25 days’ prep as well. It wasn’t a luxurious amount, but we just used every second of it. We put the kids through dance camp—they were dancing eight hours a day. Some of them had never acted before, so I was working with them doing improv and acting rehearsals as well. So that’s where we nailed the movie.”

Indeed, How She Move was one low-budget production. When I asked Rashid about the film’s gritty cinematography, he said, “That evolved just out of necessity. With 25 days to shoot, we had to come up with a visual strategy to help make the schedule and the budget, as well as tell the story. So we decided to go with a 16mm, handheld camera, which just is lighter, more mobile, we can get more coverage. We shot it like a documentary, really. That was our plan, really, just our way of getting our days, but it also gave it a sort of edge. And we just went from there. The colour palette we tried to keep quite neutral—the browns and greys—and the look emerged from that […] necessity is the mother of invention.”

Despite being a genre film, How She Move was a surprise official entry at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. “I was a bit surprised when we got in, because it is a kind of mainstream project, and I wasn’t sure that its indie credentials were enough to get us into Sundance. But they loved the movie and gave it a great slot, and […] we sold it within seconds.” The buyer was Paramount Vantage, which plans to release the film tomorrow on over 1,500 screens across North America.

For years people have moaned, “the musical is dead,” although the genre has seen a recent resurgence with the successes of Hairspray, Once, and High School Musical. For the most part, musicals from the last 40 years that have failed at the box office have been rigidly traditional, while the ones that are finding success today are the ones that are most eager to embrace contemporary music genres. Dare I say it, but perhaps a film like How She Move is the next logical step in the evolution of the musical

Mercury rising

After almost 33 years, NASA has returned to the planet Mercury through the aid of the MESSENGER spacecraft. MESSENGER, which stands for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging, made its first flyby on Jan. 14, 2008 at 2:04 p.m. EST, passing within 200 kilometres of the surface.

The last spacecraft to visit Mercury was the Mariner 10, which made three flybys from 1974 to 1975. However, it was only able to photograph 45 per cent of the surface, as the same hemisphere was lit during each of its passes. Even so, the photographs and information uncovered by Mariner 10 were enough to pique the interest of scientists.

MESSENGER has already sent back many highresolution images of the first planet from the sun, including photos of the hemisphere not seen in the mid-1970s. The spacecraft is equipped with wide and narrow angle colour and monochrome cameras. Better known as the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS) instrument, the images of the hemisphere show it to be heavily cratered, much like Earth’s moon, revealing ridges, cliffs and evidence of volcanic activity. Planetary geologists study the high-resolution close-ups to understand how Mercury’s surface has evolved over the last four billion years. The MESSENGER mission aims to answer questions about the structure of Mercury’s core, the nature of its magnetic field, and the reason behind its unusual density.

A major point of interest for NASA scientists is Mercury’s Caloris basin, one of the largest in the solar system. Mariner 10 saw less than half of it, but the MESSENGER has already photographed what its predecessor could not. “Caloris is huge, about a quarter of the diameter of Mercury, with rings of mountains within it that are up to three kilometres high,” said Dr. Louise M. Prockter, instrumental scientist for the Mercury Dual Imaging System, and a scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. “By looking through different colour filters, we can start to understand what the composition of the Caloris basin may be and learn something about the subsurface of Mercury.”

Even with massive amounts of data to sift through, the spirits of NASA scientists involved with the project are high.

“I’ve been waiting for this for 38 years—since my parents woke me up at age 18 months to watch the first Apollo moon landing on our black-and-white TV,” wrote MESSENGER instrumental scientist Noam Izenberg. “Today I joined a small crowd of scientists and engineers in the MESSENGER Science Operation Center, and watched the first picture of Mercury in 33 years—showing almost a third of the planet that had never been seen in any detail before—pop up, BLAM, on a screen in all of its alien glory.”

NASA scientists aren’t the only ones impressed by the new photos of Mercury. “Even though the pictures reveal, to our eyes, another uninteresting, barren planet in our solar system, they also confirm the high value of our little unique and beautiful planet in the cosmic shore,” said Siavash Ganjbakhsh, a fourth-year evolutionary biology student and member of the Astronomy and Space Exploration Society. “We ought to protect and appreciate this beauty.”

MESSENGER will make two more Mercury flybys— one later this year and one in 2009 —before settling into orbit around the planet in 2011.

History calling

When Joe Strummer passed away in December 2002, it was obvious that a new chapter in the story of The Clash needed to be written. The 2000 Clash doc Westway to the World had hit too soon to capture and contextualize the outpouring of emotions and memories following the death of the band’s frontman and only consistent member.

The Future is Unwritten calls upon a large ensemble of voices (band mates, ex-girlfriends, co-workers, and celebrities) to build a well-rounded biography of Strummer. However, the most surprising and powerful voice in the mix is Strummer’s own. Retrieved from BBC archives of his World Service radio show London Calling, his own descriptions and recollections add an important and unexpected dimension, making it almost surreal to remember that he is dead.

The narrative follows Strummer’s globetrotting youth (his father was a diplomat stationed in Iran, Turkey, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia), his eventual entry into a strict private boys’ school, his older brother’s stint with Nazism and subsequent suicide. When music arrives in Strummer’s life, the film vividly details the history of his four major music projects: The 101ers, The Clash, his “Wilderness” phase, and The Mescaleros.

Unwritten makes great use of old home videos, concert and backstage footage, as well as present-day interviews. Certain conversations are filled out visually with re-purposed stock footage, presented in an appropriately tongue-in-cheek manner. Unfortunately, this trick was overused and sometimes confusing.

Another interesting choice was not superimposing the names of any of the interview subjects. Most people quickly made reference to how they fit into the Strummer story, but remembering the massive cast of players was difficult, and could prove impossible for people not already well-versed in Clash mythology.

Also odd were some of the celebrity talking heads. The weird list includes: John Cusack, Matt Dillon, Martin Scorsese, Steve Buscemi (who was actually great), Johnny Depp (wearing his costume from Pirates of the Caribbean for some insane reason), and Bono (sporting threads from the How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb tour for some other insane reason—including sunglasses at night).

That being said, Unwritten offers an intimate look into the difficult and often contradictory path taken by Strummer. Seen now in pop culture as one of the archetypes of punk, watch him perform rockabilly with hippie squatters in his first band The 101ers.

After getting upstaged by the then up-and-coming Sex Pistols at a gig, Strummer is recruited by a manager to form a band that will play off the Pistols’ new punk sound. With that, The Clash is born and Strummer instantly adopts the punk look, disbands The 101ers, and stonewalls all his old hippie friends.

If punk ethos is all about self expression, it’s telling to hear Clash drummer Topper Headon say it took years for him to ever see Strummer “out of character.” The circumstance for this revelation was that Headon and Strummer were both arrested and imprisoned in the same jail cell for three days after getting busted with 30 stolen hotel pillows while on tour.

With all his imperfections, Strummer still emerges as one of the most talented lyricists and singers of the 20th century. His love for a diverse array of musical styles (dub, rap, reggae, country, rock, punk) is reflected in the music that accompanies the film (oftentimes the selections are introduced by Strummer himself in clips from his radio show).

Taken as a whole, Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten is a fitting, if slightly imperfect look back at one of the most influential rock musicians of all time.

Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten opens February 4 at The Royal Cinema.

CFS leader skips out

The Ontario chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students has appointed Carleton University Students’ Association president Shelley Melanson as its new chairperson starting June 1. Melanson will replace current chairperson Jen Hassum, a former UTSU president.

“We agree way more than we disagree. Shelly’s going to have a great year,” Hassum predicted of her successor.

The choice came at a CSF-O general meeting held last week from Thursday to Sunday in which two other positions, the treasurer and national representative, were decided. For the second year straight, all of these positions were acclaimed.

As with Hassum, tuition fees top Melanson’s priority list. “In the spring we will be having lobbying sessions at Queen’s Park,” she said. “Armed with the information that will enable us to argue articulately why we really need to have a cultural shift in post-secondary education.”

At these lobbying sessions, Melanson promised to call special attention to practical issues students face, such as debt and escalating fees.

“It’s becoming less and less feasible for students who need those opportunities of social mobility to attend post-secondary schools,” she insisted.

Also high on her priorities list will be reviews to the government’s scholarship fund. “Gaining momentum on ending the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, and having an actual needs-based grant system, is going to be a huge priority both nationally and provincially,” she said.

During Melanson’s time as president of CUSA, her executive voted, controversially, to call for killing the CMSF program.

This fall, CFS has announced they will hold a national day of action to draw awareness to the federation’s many post-secondary education campaigns.

CFS has had its share of internal rifts this year. In fall of 2007, CFS-Quebec weathered through legal battles, impeachments and political scandal over its executive elections. It has been effectively shut down by court order since late September.

Last year, students at BC’s Simon Fraser University voted to leave CFS. Meanwhile CSF-O has kept a steady keel, remaining free of major internal disputes.

Hassum’s year as CFS-O president featured the MMP referendum campaigns and She looks to the tuition fee freeze and as a major success in recent years.

In the upcoming months, Hassum will be preparing to pursue graduate studies in Canadian history, though she said she won’t be returning to the University of Toronto.

“Definitely not U of T. Costs too much.”

She does plan to remain politically engaged, she said.

“I have always been involved as an activist. But I have enjoyed the academics. It will be interesting to be back in the grassroots level. I can’t imagine not being involved.”