Healing the soul of a city

Legendary Torontonian blues musician Jeff Healey died Sunday of lung cancer at the age of 41.

His death comes after a lifelong battle with retinoblastoma, a rare cancer of the eyes that robbed him of his sight when he was just a year old.

As a young child, Healey picked up a guitar, developing his unique style of playing by laying the guitar flat across his lap. Considered a prodigy despite his blindness, legend says he was discovered in a Toronto club by iconic blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn.

After establishing an exhaustive gigging regimen in Toronto in the 1980s, Healey shot to fame with the 1988 album See The Light, selling more than two million copies worldwide and spawning the classic track “Angel Eyes.”

The album received Grammy and Juno nominations, turning The Jeff Healey Band into a true mainstream success.

After the release of their third album, Feel This, Healey and his bandmates Joe Rockman and Tom Stephen were invited to be the subjects of a MuchMusic Intimate & Interactive special.

In recent years, Healey’s records explored his passion for American jazz standards, a genre he studied his whole life, amassing a collection of over 30,000 obscure jazz recordings from the 20s and 30s.

In addition to his impressive musical accomplishments, Healey deserves praise for nurturing a new generation of blues talent here in Toronto at the venues to which he lent his name. The original Healey’s, a basement venue on the southwest corner of Queen and Bathurst that opened in 2001, ushered in a new era for live blues in the city. This location closed in January 2007 to make way for a new, swankier facility on Blue Jays Way.

Through the weekly Thursday night shows played at his own bars, Healey became a legendary Torontonian blues institution even as the cancer that plagued him spread to his lungs.

A statement from Toronto mayor David Miller on Healey’s passing echoes this sentiment: “Our city was enriched by his presence, as he showcased not only his own unique genius, but the virtuosity of others at exciting local venues he established to further the musical cause. His passing leaves a huge void in our city.”

Healey’s death comes just a month before the North American release of his first blues album in eight years, Mess of Blues. Remarkably, he had plans to tour in support of the album, in spite of his illness.

He is survived by his wife, Christie, and their two children.

Very Necessary

Veteran writer/director Daniel Brooks wasn’t particularly worried about his introductory speech. “You’re all thinking about yourselves, anyway. It doesn’t really matter what I say.” A smattering of slightly shocked laughter passed through the crowd—but this display of confident individuality is exactly what the patrons of Monday night’s “One Day: Three Plays” fundraiser have come to expect and appreciate about Brooks, the outspoken artistic director who has turned Necessary Angel into one of the most successful and highly-regarded Canadian theatre companies.

Held at the revamped Capitol Event Theatre and hosted by a charismatic Rick Miller, the gala aimed to raise money for the company and throw a damn good party at the same time. The program included a silent and live auction, a gourmet dinner, and three short plays created by some of the hottest theatre talent in town.

Globe and Mail food columnist Lucy Waverman set the menu, consisting of swanky treats like forest mushroom soup with truffle cream, braised beef short ribs, and scalded black bean rubbed sable fish in a soy ginger drizzle. Soy ginger drizzle! Of course, there was plenty of wine flowing between courses—and this was before the first play had hit the stage.

Here’s the drill: three top Canadian playwrights were provided, on Monday morning, with an opening line written by none other than British theatre icon Tom Stoppard. Each playwright was paired with an equally prominent director and a swell group of actors to create a 20-minute play in only four hours. The line that Sir Tom drummed up? “Don’t anybody move—there was an asp in that basket of figs and the little bastard is somewhere in this room!”

The first company to take on the line was playwright Morwyn Brebner’s team with Monkey Fights Snake—a hilarious hypothetical scenario featuring Conrad Black and Barbara Amiel the night before Conrad is set to hit the big house. Not quite as topical, but equally amusing, was Daniel MacIvor’s American Zombie, a meta-theatrical piece about actors in a classic British farce angling for spots in a zombie movie.

Dessert was being served by the time Claudia Dey’s Tom Stoppard Told Me To, a surreal love story between quirky characters named Finch and Mustang, took the stage. Patrons were happily shuffling out by midnight, some bearing auction items like a weekend at Stratford or a David Blackwood print. Daniel Brooks might not be too concerned about saying the right thing, but he sure knows how to bring public support to his company—and there’s nothing more necessary than that

Heads up: It’s Hudson

After an unusually brisk election period, Sandy Hudson is expected to stroll into power at the University of Toronto Students’ Union along with the rest of her Unite U of T slate. Out of the fi ve Unite slate members running for seats on UTSU’s executive board, only Hudson had an opponent. The other four candidates, Dave Scrivener (VP external), Khota Aleer (VP equity), Binish Ahmed (VP university affairs), and Adnan Najmi (VP internal and services), only needed to win a Yes/No vote.

Hudson’s opponent, varsity athlete and UTSU newcomer Ruben Vina- Garcia, ran on a platform of engaging students in political life and reinstating online voting in campus elections. He also ran on accusations of political nepotism at UTSU—and, after four years of familiar faces on the executive board, Vina-Garcia isn’t the fi rst to make that charge.

“I read that on [Vina-Garcia’s] Facebook group and I immediately submitted a complaint […] to the CRO,” Hudson said (the CRO is the Chief Returning Offi cer, hired by UTSU and tasked with ensuring a fair election).

Hudson protested Vina-Garcia’s charge that UTSU’s leadership was undemocratically entrenched.

“I think his word was ‘dynasty,’ or ‘unbroken line.’ I think it’s kind of ridiculous.”

Hudson, currently UTSU’s VP equity, assembled Unite U of T with current UTSU VP external Dave Scrivener. Scrivener approached Ahmed after working with her in the International Relations Society. Hudson knew Aleer from her work in the African Students Association. Najmi currently sits on UTSU’s board of directors and has two years experience with UTSU’s workings.

When UTSU’s top seats are almost all given away with no contest, is student apathy the culprit?

“To be honest, I don’t know,” said Hudson. “The Elections and Referenda committee did their best to publicize the elections. They even extended the nomination period. I guess it’s just the way it is.”

As for goals for the year ahead, Hudson said she hopes to make health and dental plan refunds and discount Metropasses available online.

But not voting?

On that issue, Hudson recalled incidents in

2003, when voting was done through ROSI, and drew complaints from students who were without web access. She noted that the Chestnut residence lost Internet access for a whole day, and many students didn’t vote.

“You never know what can go on with technology, and if you have it there and you’re tracking it and everything’s secure, I think that paper balloting is more reliable.”

UTSU’s apparent president also mentioned the TTC UPass proposal—a $480 pass that gives unlimited TTC rides from the beginning of September to the end of April. The catch? The proposed pass would be mandatory for all students, essentially bringing a large fee hike.

“We would really like that opt-out option, but we’ll just have to continue to negotiate with them,” Hudson said.

UTSC is already bringing the proposal to a student referendum—the only school in the GTA to do so. If they accept the TTC’s deal, it could severely weaken the ability of other campuses to negotiate more favorable terms.

“It’s a little difficult when Scarborough’s already going to referendum,” admitted Hudson. “That affects all the rest of the schools that are negotiating with the TTC.”

“It’s a touchy situation.”

A remarkably calm election, then, could mark the beginning of a turbulent year. Is Unite U of T’s virtually-uncontested slate a symptom of student apathy, or partly to blame for the problem? Hudson shrugged:

“Don’t know…” she said. “Don’t know.”

Under the covers

“This novel is a work of intuition.” So Isabel Allende writes of her latest work, Inès of My Soul, based on the real-life story of Inès Suárez, a 16th-century woman who aided with the conquest of Chile. With careful research of this undeveloped aspect of Chilean history and a gift for storytelling, Allende has managed to recreate the extraordinary life of a courageous heroine.

Suárez’s Latin American journey begins when she travels from her native Spain to the freshly discovered continent in search of her fortune-seeking husband. After a grueling nautical voyage and several trying and terrifying incidents, Suárez discovers that she is a widow. From this moment on, her life transforms from that of a quiet Spanish seamstress to one of a bold and courageous conquistadora. A fiery romance with Pedro de Valdivia leads her to become the only Spanish woman on a colonizing expedition to the Chile. With a mix of determination and strength, Suárez not only shatters the traditional view of 16th-century women but also becomes an indispensable member of the journey, saving lives on several occasions. Though tried by hardships and sexism, Suárez lives to see the goal of founding Chile come true.

The extraordinary life of this novel’s heroine is ultimately worth telling, all the more because it is true. Written as a memoir, Allende politely assumes the character of Inès Suárez, relaying the events as she believes they were once experienced. The depth and passion present in the novel reveal Allende’s incredible literary and emotional abilities. The narrative is littered with adventure, love, anger and fear that are familiar yet shocking. The vivacity of certain passages, especially those involving violence, demonstrate the author’s knowledge. Allende attributes her familiarity with torture, a reality often present in the novel, to her time spent in Chile during the coup that brought down her uncle, Salvador Allende, from power.

In many ways, this novel is a success. It brings clarification and honor to a little-known historical figure, enriching otherwise plain names, events and dates. Isabel Allende brings these to life, inviting readers to discover the potential of the author herself.

Rating: VVVV

Fined and fuming

Issuing the “No Levy” campaign 20 demerit points and a $150 fine was not enough. The Election Referenda Committee decided to add another five demerit points as a “slap on the wrist.”

The campaign, which urges students to refuse to pay $18 per year to operate the Varsity Centre, was penalized for allegedly trying to intimidate Sandy Hudson’s “Unite U of T” slate into supporting it. After appealing the punishment, the campaign was harshly rebuked for “presenting frivolous and irrelevant accusations” to the appeals committee.

“No” campaigners sent an email to all members of the Unite slate early Monday morning, asking the slate to endorse their position on the Varsity Center levy and citing the slate members’ avowed commitment to accessible, publicly-funded education. “No” campaigners asserted that this stance made it impossible for Unite U of T to be neutral.

“They have not taken a position,” said Ryan Hayes, who is leading the “No” campaign. “And to add insult to injury, when someone asks them to, they turn around and file a complaint that could have gotten us disqualified.”

Hudson insisted, however, that there were no such intentions. “We have nothing against them. We just wanted to ensure that the elections and referenda did not interfere with each other in a negative way.”

Election and Referenda Committee co-chair Faraz Siddiqui pointed to the last paragraph of the email No Levy campaigners sent to the Unite slate: “If we do not hear back from you by tonight […] we may need to reconsider our campaign strategy, but more importantly, how we as progressive students will be able to work together in the year ahead,” read the letter.

“It was ominous messaging,” said Hudson. “So [Unite] went to the CRO so they would be aware of the potential issue.”

Hayes confirmed that letter informed Unite slate members that, if they did not endorse the No Levy position, No Levy would reword its campaign materials in a less “considerate” manner: The materials would say simply to “vote no” instead of “no levy.” As four out of five Unite can-

didates were Yes/No propositions (they ran unopposed), this could induce students to check “No” on the ballots—disqualifying those candidates.

In their appeal, the “No” campaign cited similar tactics in a Canadian Federation of Students campaign, one in which some Unite members participated. That argument, ruled a “frivolous and irrelevant” accusation, landed the “No” campaign a further five demerit points.

“The email […] asked us to take a position by that night, and we weren’t able to sit down as a slate and talk to each other about it,” said Hudson.

“When we talked about it the next day, we decided that […] we would like to have the plebiscite run its course.” Hudson reported the email to the CRO before that meeting.

The emails in question are currently online, viewable on the No campaign’s Facebook group “How Stupid Do They Think We Are? Vote NO Levy March 4th-6th.”

Familiar territory for Leafs Nation

The roller-coaster that is Leafs fandom is climbing the rails once again. Whether it plummets down the other side is yet to be seen. With a score of six points back of eighth and 14 games left, the Leafs manage to hold onto the chance of a playoff berth just long enough for their fans to rationalize the odds of making it. The team is at a fork in the road, and which direction they take will not only decide their fate this season, but for seasons to come. The road presents three possible paths. The first is for the team to put together an amazing run, squeezing into the last playoff spot in early April. The buds may actually fare better than most would predict.

Toronto’s first round opponent would likely be the overachieving Montreal Canadiens (who have a question mark between the pipes with rookie goalie Carey Price), or the inconsistent Ottawa Senators, a team with an obvious lack of depth on the bench. The Leafs have played well against each team this year, splitting the season series with both rivals. The New Jersey Devils, another possible matchup, would pose more of a challenge for no other reason than All-Star goaltender Martin Brodeur. However, given the fact that many of the Leafs, most notably Darcy Tucker, often rise to the playoff occasion, anything’s possible.

But in the long run, would making the playoffs,or even the second or third round, really accomplish anything? Considering the unlikelihood of winning the Stanley Cup. A playoff birth would only relieve the mounting pressure on Peddie and Tannenbaum to change their authoritarian ways. Without increased demands from the fans and the media, there would be no need to fix what isn’t broken. A playoff appearance would only end in long-term stagnation.

The second option, most likely to occur, assures that the team will play well enough down the stretch to instill faint hope in Leafs nation, but miss the post-season by two or three points in the end. This is the worst-case scenario. The club wouldn’t finish low enough to have a chance of acquiring a high draft pick, yet they would finish high enough to lift the pressure to make drastic changes from the organization. And worst of all, we lowly die-hards would be forced to support (or at least pretend to support) another Canadian team for the third straight year.

The third and final path would fix both problems. Tank the season. Throw the next 14 games to ensure that we would finish low enough get in the lottery for the number-one draft pick. For many, this is blasphemy, but hear me out. Pretend Toskala pulled his groin and throw in Raycroft, get Kaberle deported back to the Czech Republic, and feed Sundin Swedish meatballs so undercooked that he can’t be five feet from a bathroom. Crash and burn so hard that Peddie and Tannenbaum can’t pick up their morning paper without enduring an onslaught of disgruntled and resentful fans demanding they release their tyrannical hold on the franchise. Together, they have already led this organization so far into managerial disgrace that a few dubious tactics would seem par for the course.

Sometimes in order to build a stronger future, you have to let the present collapse. No team has ever admitted to tanking on purpose to salvage its future, but maybe in this case, the road less travelled could be the most advantageous. Just wake me up when it’s over.

Docs slam bad ads

“The purpose of health care is to make money.”

It isn’t at every student-organized event that the speaker has to ask his lawyer, sitting in the audience, whether he’s allowed to talk on a given topic. But on Tuesday, when Dr. John Abramson spoke on “The World of Drug Advertising,” hosted by the Health Studies Student Union at Hart House Theatre, he was fresh from testifying as an expert witness in an Ontario Superior Court case on the rights of pharmaceutical companies to engage in direct-to-consumer advertising.

Based on trends in the United States, DTCA is believed to be worth half a billion dollars annually if allowed in Canada, the world’s eighthlargest drug market. The Canadian Institute for Health Information staetd that of all health care costs, prescription drugs represent the fastest growing expenditures. “They want to bring the suit because they know there’s money in it,” said Abramson, a Harvard Medical School instructor and author of Overdo$ed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine.

Abramson was introduced by Dr. Nancy Olivieri, a U of T professor of paediatrics and medicine who is herself locked in ongoing legal wrangling with the pharmaceutical company Apotex, after breaking confidentiality about drug trials which she helped conduct for them in the 1990s.

Strangely, Abramson’s case was launched not by the drug companies themselves, nor by the ad firms that work for them, but by a media organization claiming its right to freedom of expression extends to the right to carry ads ruled illegal in Canada. In December 2005, CanWest Mediaworks—owners of the Global Television Network, several digital channels, newspapers including the National Post, Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen, and Calgary Herald, as well as the commuter dailies Dose and Metro—filed a lawsuit against the Attorney General of Canada.

At issue is the Food and Drugs Act, which allows ads either to name a prescription drug or the condition it treats—but not both. The law is poorly enforced, and illegal ads often reach Canadian airwaves from the United States, one of the two countries in the world that allows DTCA (New Zealand is the other). The regulation do not apply to over-the-counter drugs and the Act does not restrict editorial content concerning pharmaceuticals.

In November, the court ruled that a coalition of advocacy groups could testify on the side of Health Canada. Abramson testified Tuesday before the court on the effects of drug advertising on women.

“We’re not talking about corporate free speech,” said Abramson. “Corporations can say whatever they want. We’re talking about the freedom to use capital—your capital—to mislead you.”

Loony Saskatoon

Bracket fever has struck early this year with the CIS women’s basketball championship set to begin March 7-9 at the university of saskatchewan. The top teams from Western and Eastern canada will battle it out for the coveted Baby Bronze trophy. here’s a quick look at the ‘Elite Eight’ participants.

1 Simon Fraser Clan (22-1) vs. #8 Laval Rouge et Or (12-4)

The Skinny: It’s hard to bet against the defending 2007 CIS champions, but SFU showed they were vulnerable in their upset to number-four Regina during the Canada West semi-finals. In addition, no team has won back-to-back titles since the Manitoba Bisons in 1995-96.

The Clan owns a dynasty of sorts, having taken three of the last six national titles, but with four seniors from the 2007 CIS championship team no longer in the fold, their success will hinge on the play of Canada West MVP Lani Gibbons. The fifth-year guard was third in team scoring with 12 points per contest, leading the nation in assists (5.7 apg) for the third straight year.

SFU boasts a strong inside-outside combination with Gibbons, who shot a stellar 36.1 per cent from three in 2007, and second- year forward Kate Hole, who leads the team in scoring (13.48) and rebounding (8.91). The 6’2” forward will be guarded by Laval’s top player, centre Marie-Michelle Genois. Genois averaged 13.4 points and 8.75 rebounds for the Rouge in the weaker QSSF conference.

The Bottom Line: There’s no comparison. SFU is the best of a tough west, while Laval barely dominated a weak Quebec conference. The two teams haven’t met so far in ‘07. The last time SFU faced Laval in the national tournament was during 2005, when they won by a surprisingly narrow 61- 59 score. Simon Frasier averaged 85 points a game this season to Laval’s 67.

Betting Line: Simon Fraser by 10

2 University of British Columbia Thunderbirds (21-2) vs. #7 University of Toronto Varsity Blues (18-4)

The Skinny: UBC is fresh off a dominant 72-55 victory over Alberta in the Canada West finals, capturing their second consecutive title. Led by stellar guard play as well as sound defence, the Thunderbirds won two of the last four CIS championships (2006, 2004).

First-team all-star and defensive player of the year, Erica McGuiness leads the way for UBC, averaging 17.2 points and 4.4 rebounds a ballgame, while fifth-year Cait Hagarty chips in with 10 points and 4 assists. Toronto will counter with guards Alaine Hutton and Kyla Burwash. An OUA first team all-star, Hutton leads the Blues in scoring (17.1ppg) but struggled when the two teams played on Dec. 30.2006, scoring only 10 points on 4-11 shooting. The Blues fell to the Thunderbirds 72-59 as Burwash scored only five points to go with six turnovers and zero assists.

The Bottom Line: Toronto was 1-5 in exhibition play versus Canada West opponents this season, and will have difficulty advancing against superior competition. History is not on the Blues side: the team’s lone CIS title dates all the way back to 1985-86, and the team hasn’t played on the national stage since a first-round exit in 2002. For the U of T to pull the upset, they will need to shoot better than the 25-77 outing they had in 2006. Post play will be a huge factor in this game. Laila Bellony, who won Blues player of the game in the OUA finals against McMaster, has had success against UBC in the past (11 points 4-9, Dec. 30, 2006), but will battle with UBC’s huge front line led by third-year forward Leanne Evans. Evans has averaged 10.78 rebounds and 2.70 blocks a game in 2007-08. Last time they played, the Thunderbirds dominated the paint, out-rebounding the Blues 48-34. UBC will miss guard Devan Lisson, who is out due to a knee injury sustained during the Canada West tournament. She was second on the team in three-point shooting at 43.6 per cent.

The Betting line: UBC by 8

3 McMaster University Marauders (21-1) vs. # 6 University Of Saskatchewan Huskies (9-13)

The Skinny: Saskatchewan makes its third appearance at the tourney (2006,1982), but will have much to prove after going only 9-13 in the Canada West Central division. They will be in tough against the OUA champion McMaster Marauders who boast a talented group of players in MVP Lindsay Degroot, point guard Taylor Smith, and centre Chiara Rocca.

Degroot led the Marauders in scoring with 18.9 points a game, alongside 7.7 rebounds. The Marauders are a run-and-gun team, McMaster relies on strong guard play to win, boasting five players in the OUA top 20 in assist-to-turnover ratio. The Mauraders throws heavy pressure defence on their opponents, particularly fifth-year guard Rachel Hart, who was named Defensive Player of the Year this past season.

The team doesn’t have much size up front other than Chiara Rocca, so a strong post presence can be effective against them, as Windsor’s Iva Peklova (14 points, 14 rebounds) and Toronto’s Laila Bellony (17 points, seven rebounds) showed in the OUA tournament.

The Bottom Line: Count any home-team advantage out of this equation, tournament hosts University of Saskatchewan Huskies are just happy to be there. Receiving an invite to the CIS championship based on merit is one thing, but geography and logistics? Historically, the host team has participated in the event, but at times diluted the overall talent pool.

This explains why no hosting team has ever won a national championship in the same year. If I were UBC, I’d complain that while McMaster gets to feast on Huskies, the Thunderbirds have to tangle with an upstart Varsity Blues team.

The Betting Line: McMaster by 16

4 University of Regina Cougars (16-6) vs. # 5 Memorial University Sea Hawks (17-3)

The Skinny: Regina returns to the Nationals after a two-year absence for its eighth appearance in 11 years. The Canada West finalist Cougars captured their sole CIS title in 2000- 01. Having shocked top ranked Simon Fraser with a win in this years semi-finals, the team should have confidence to compete with any of the top teams. Regina played all year in a weaker Great Plains division in which they’re the top team (no other team has a winning record). They are led by fourth-year forward Chelsea Cassano who is averaging 11.4 points and 7.1 rebounds, while shooting 56 per cent from the field (fourth in the CIS).

Memorial advances out of the AUS for the sixth time in nine seasons, a year after claiming its first CIS medal (bronze) at home in St. John’s, with a 75-60 win over Dalhousie. The Memorial Sea-Hawks are two-time AUS Women’s Basketball Champions following their 64-61 victory over the Cape Breton Capers. Memorial will again lean heavily on AUS MVP Katherine Quakenbush averaging 15.1 points and 5.6 rebounds, in the Atlantic conference.

The Bottom Line: The Regina Cougars have home town advantage in this match up, but Quackenbush and the rest of the Sea Hawks are a “dark horse” team that could surprise in this tournament. Memorial is averaging 85.9 points a game compared to 73.9 for their opponents. Expect this game to be a low scoring game, whichever team can thrive in that kind of situation will win.

The Betting Line: Memorial University by 4