What to Watch, What to Read, What to Listen to in April…

Gaza is an incredible documentary made by an Irish filmmaker in 2019. You can watch on Amazon Prime. Gaza shows every day life in Gaza, from the life of a taxi driver, to women who run a fashion atelier, to a teacher’s day in his classroom, to shopkeepers talking with passers-by. The film is vivid, and lively. There is no narrator, so the people speak for themselves. There are subtitles. In a way, it’s a delight to watch. Here is the trailer. Though some of the people are upbeat, others recall a different Gaza – before Israel’s 7 vicious military attacks which left thousands of Gazans dead, and many thousand severely injured –including hundreds of children. The footage of the young men throwing stones at the huge armoured tanks during the weekly demonstrations during the Great March of Return show how much Palestinians are willing to risk to fight Israel’s violent and illegal control of their lives.

Palestinian demonstrators gather at the Israel-Gaza border during a protest against U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem and ahead of the 70th anniversary of Nakba, east of Gaza City May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem from The Atlantic Magazine.

The Present, is a short film about a Palestinian man and his 5-year-old daughter who try to cross at an Israeli checkpoint (there are more than 500). They are merely going from their West Bank home to a market in another West Bank village – but just to get across the checkpoint and back is as dangerous as it is exhaustingly long. In a film that is under half an hour, The Present shows so much, so well – it’s brilliant. The title is a play on words. The film has been nominated for an Academy Award, but so was Five Broken Cameras in 2013—but of course it did not win. I highly doubt the Academy will allow The Present…. to win in this year’s best in Live Action Short Film category. Take a look at the trailer here. You can watch the film on Netflix.

On TVO, I watched Grizzly Cubs and Me – it was the most touching and delightful nature series I’ve seen. Scottish biologist Gordon Buchanan goes to northern Russia to live with a Russian couple that specializes in rescuing orphan grizzly cubs, raising them and re-introducing them to the wild. The cubs are totally adorable. Here’s part 1 and part 2.

Grizzly cubs, from the BBC docmentary above. Photo by Anwar Mamon

Even if you don’t have TVO on cable, you can watch online, or click on the above links. for the one hour long programs. They are beautiful, and Russia looks very like the Canadian north.

What to Read…

Sometimes the first half of a book is better than the second half. This is the case with We Have Always Been Here . The winner of Canada Reads 2020, this is a memoir about the life of a Toronto writer and journalist Samra Habib who emigrated as a near-teen to Canada from Lahore, Pakistan. Her life in Lahore is fascinating, as she describes how her parents – who started out living in a one bedroom apartment with their four children –moved up in the world when her dad began to work in real estate and the building industry. Habib took most of her cues and her way of acting from her mother who was religious, but also wanted her three daughters to fulfil their dreams and get a good education. The family are Ahmadis, a Muslim minority that was severely persecuted by Pakistan’s president Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s. It was only when the beatings and deaths of fellow Ahmadis came too close to home that Habib’s father decided the family had to move to Canada.

Samra Habib was married twice – once to her first cousin when she was 17, and a second marriage was to a non-Muslim man who had given her a place to live. It was only when she got away from home and started to experience life as a journalism student at Ryerson University that she realized she didn’t want to be married to any man. She was queer.

She opened a window into a world that had been previously closed. This changed me.”

Amanda Brugel, Canadian actor who defended the book on Canada Reads.

From the sublime to the absurd. Almost. I read the 2012 memoir 28 Seconds by Ontario’s former Attorney General Michael Bryant. As some of you will recall, in 2009, Bryant killed a cyclist on Toronto’s tony Bloor St. near Avenue Rd one fine August evening. Many faulted him for reacting too little, and too late, since Bryant did not stop, did not get out of the car and did not even know he had hit the cyclist. He dragged the bike about 100 metres without checking anything. The cyclist, Darcy Sheppard, was no angel; he harassed and taunted Bryant likely because he was driving a rich person’s Saab convertible, with his wife as a passenger. The bike courier zipped in and out of the lane, and ended up flipped onto the hood of Bryant’s sports car. In a desperate rush to get the man off his car, Bryant accelerated. Sheppard hit his head on a fire hydrant and died almost at the scene. Bryant had already driven into a hotel garage to escape the cyclist. This book is clearly part of Bryant’s bid to expiate himself and to rebuild his life, his law practice and possibly stir the embers of his ruined political career. What comes across is his serious lack of empathy, his life full of success and entitlement, and his deep desire to win. With the help of maverick lawyer Marie Henein, the charges of criminal negligence causing death and dangerous driving causing death were dropped. Though Bryant is an alcoholic, he was quick to point out that Sheppard (who identified as Metis) was also an alcoholic. Of course Bryant got all the help and encouragement he needed to beat his habit. He climbed to the top of the political heap and was a very high flying Liberal. The book is a who’s who in the Ontario and federal Liberal parties. There is no bigshot Bryant doesn’t know or mention. In comparison, Sheppard’s life is treated almost as a throwaway. Bryant does a calculated and clinical appraisal of his victim which is an insult and frankly unbelievably crass. This book is clearly s a public relations whitewash.

It’s rare for me to revisit a book – especially one I first read years ago. But here is a touching review of Maria Campbell’s brilliant 1973 memoir Halfbreed, in the March issue of Briarpatch Magazine.
First published as a skinny paperback by the now defunct premier Canadian publisher McClelland and Stewart, it has now been republished. The vital section about a 14-year-old Campbell who was raped by a local RCMP officer had been excised from the original version – likely because readers in the white community would never have tolerated disgracing the RCMP. That section is in the newer edition. Campbell, now in her seventies, is a playwright, a filmmaker, a community organizer and a scholar. Her ancestors fought alongside Metis heroes Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont in 1885. I knew her a little bit when I lived in Saskatoon.

Also in Briarpatch is James Wilt’s excellent, but troubling, article Parasitic Solidarity. You can read it here. He details how Winnipeg’s police union continues to cover up for police who kill and abuse people. He also looks at the fallout from the police’s infamous “code of silence”.

Wilt goes back to the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry called to review the killings of Helen Betty Osborne in 1971 and of JJ Harper in 1988. Harper, a member of the Wasagamack First Nation and executive director of the Island Lake Tribal Council, was shot on a Winnipeg street by Winnipeg police officer Robert Cross. Wilt shows how the WPA (Winnipeg Police Association) used a myriad of obstructions to derail the inquiry, including insisting

“there has been a great deal of suffering on the part of Constable Robert Cross”

to prevent him from testifying.
To read an accurate and shocking account of the death of Harper at the hands of Winnipeg police, read the 1999 book Cowboys and Indians: The Killing of JJ Harper by Winnipeg journalist Gordon Sinclair Jr.
In 1998, a decade after the inquiry, under the aegis of the WPA, 100 Winnipeg cops took part in a “sickout” to protest the suspension of one of their own who was charged for assaulting a handcuffed man when he was arrested for playing a stereo too loudly.
Wilt’s article focuses on the dirty tricks police unions across Canada use to water down their own accountability yet expand their police powers.

“Like policing in general, there is no way for police unions to be reformed. They must be marginalized, fought against, and abolished.”

James Wilt, in Parasitic Solidarity

What to Listen to…

The New Yorker short story, The Wish for a Good Young Country Doctor, is an old fashioned type of short story—that packs a bit of a punch. It’s comfortable, and nicely done. In the May 4, 2020 edition here.

A podcast I’d recommend is The Big Story. Julie Lalonde, a women’s rights activist and writer, totally overwhelmed the Big Story’s Host Jordan Heath-Rawlings when she talked about Femicide in Canada, the plight of elderly women, especially in long term care during Covid. The interview with her is excellent
Lalonde is also a writer. Her 2020 book, Resilience is Futile: The Life and Death of Julie S. Lalonde is reviewed here. The author was stalked by a former boyfriend for a decade, which changed her life “He was very committed. As she writes,

“He was very ambitious. He was hungry for life and I am that way too, so I felt like we connected. But then I realized that also includes me. That this isn’t just deep, deep love; this is obsession.”

Episode 304 of Canadaland is interesting. Mostly because of guest journalist and writer Nora Loreto. She takes a far more radical (and I think much better) stance on several subjects than host Jesse Brown. He rails on about allowing American internet providers to flood Canada because he thinks they can’t do a worse job – or charge more to Canadians – than Bell and Telus do. Loreto disagrees and explains why. Brown also barks on about Covid and the unimpressive rollout of immunization – but Loreto explains what’s really important is what is happening to essential workers. She says the vaccine isn’t the magic bullet. Employers have to take responsibility for creating dangerous workplaces, including the lack of ppe (personal protective equipment), ignoring social distancing, and little ventilation in warehouses and factories.

Most of us have heard about the dearth of sick leave – but let me ask you – what good is the standard sick leave negotiated in many unionized workplaces. That sick leave works out to about one day with pay a month. During this pandemic, workers need to get at least a month off with pay to seek medical treatment or stay home (in isolation) to beat Covid. The two provinces often cited for having paid sick leave are – Quebec with 2 paid days per year, and PEI with one paid every year. The other provinces have no paid sick leave, though they boast a clutch of unpaid days off. Nora hosts her own podcast she shares with Sandy Hudson, a Black academic and activist here: “How to Confront Politics” is really worth listening to.

The Scream by Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1893)

Christchurch and the Right

There is a new podcast about the 2019 mass murder of 51 Muslims at two mosques in New Zealand. The first of six episodes told me a lot – a lot about the Muslim community, bonds of family and friendship and how newcomers and long time residents of Christchurch viewed the city as safe. The podcast is called Our Darkest Day, from Rising Giants Network, and you can listen to it through Apple Podcasts. The second episode explains that while the city seemed safe, it was not welcoming to Muslims. That’s the interesting part of the podcast. This article explains a lot, and refers to the 792 page inquiry about the shootings, how they occurred and who is responsible. The rise of the extreme right is analysed.

I think of the shooting of 6 Muslims at prayer, and 5 others severely injured in a Quebec City mosque in 2017. And I note that there was no inquiry, no serious investigation and certainly — other than the one racist bad guy shooter – we don’t know whom to blame. But we do know about the rise of the right in Quebec, and in Canada. We hear about La Meute, in Quebec. And how dangerous they are.

But we barely know anything about the man, Corey Hurren, with the arsenal in the back of his truck, who drove from northern Manitoba through the gates of Rideau Hall in Ottawa in July 2020 — where the prime minister and his family lives. Clearly he had targeted Trudeau, but was stopped before he had the opportunity to carry out his task. Hurren said he just wanted “to speak” to Trudeau.

According to Global [News], Hurren said he feared Canada was turning into a “communist dictatorship” under Trudeau, and that the suspension of Parliament during the COVID-19 pandemic was preventing government accountability.

Toronto Star, see https://www.thestar.com/politics/federal/2020/07/11/accused-in-rideau-hall-gun-incident-has-long-history-of-being-drawn-to-conspiracy-websites.html

Hurren was an “active member” of the Canadian Armed Forces. Though the media has been told he is not a member of any right wing group, is that just a cover up? Who was the gunman? What group was he involved with? Who backed him? All we know today is that he was charged with 22 offences and got six years in penitentiary. Case closed. Why?

sketch of Hurren, at sentencing hearing, March 2021 (CBC News)

Featured Image: Resurgence of the People, by Kent Monkman (Canadian, 2019). For a review of this painting see this article.

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