Tag Archives: Cultural Commentary

Thoughts on a Grim Day

kissing_hebdo

Some very foolish, backwards people did an awful thing today. In a misguided attempt to satisfy the insane demands of their purported faith, three men stormed the offices of a satirical French magazine and shot ten people dead. They then killed two police officers, one pathetically as he pled for mercy lying prone on the ground. That man, 42 year old Merabet Ahmed, was a Muslim. I’m quite certain the faith of the dead officer was vastly different, and indeed in innumerable ways better, than whatever sick corruption manifested itself as faith in the minds of the gunmen.

The magazine, Charlie Hebdo, was attacked and a dozen people massacred because three young men had committed themselves to the extreme end of a religion, and believed that the magazine’s depictions of the Muslim prophet Mohammad was a blasphemy so extreme and heinous the only appropriate reaction was to gun down the cartoonists responsible.

What sins did those people commit, to warrant their deaths?

Illustration?

Caricature?

There is no justification for such violence. And indeed the violence is so unjustifiable and sickening it reminds me why I’m convinced religious fundamentalism of any kind is a nefarious social pathology.

But worse was how we in the decadent West reacted.

It upsets me to no end that some would argue this nearly insignificant weekly satirical newsmagazine had it coming, or that they baited religious fanatics into being attacked.

Who cares how they illustrated Mohammad? Should we not live in a society free the restrictions of any one particular religious dogma? Am I not free to doodle whichever deity I should choose?

It confounded me to see people of ‘the left’ argue that the illustrations had been perceived as racist or otherwise culturally insensitive. For one, the prohibition on visual representations of the man known as Mohammad are unique to extremist Sunnis. Why should anyone give two shits about their obscure rules – neither Canada nor France is a caliphate.

And Islam is not a race.

It’s a religion that purports to be multi-racial and all-encompassing. It’s a set of values and a collection of ideas, and ideas are fair ground to be mocked, belittled, dismissed etc. If anything, the Sunni extremists who perpetrated the attack want their understanding of Islam to be the dominant form, and believe further that their racial identity as Sunnis gives them the right to dictate Mohammad’s teachings. They are the racists for pushing a Sunni Supremacist worldview. They’re fascists too. The cartoons were not ‘racist’ even though they may have been tasteless, but they sure as hell were critical of of those who want to turn back the clock on human evolution by appealing to religious fundamentalism, and severely curtail individual rights and freedoms.

It should be of primary concern to all those who want to defend free speech to acknowledge this means defending all that you personally disagree with as well.

As an example, I cannot morally support Quebec independence, pro-lifers or death penalty advocates, but in our society they have every right to express themselves. Should they, or I, choose to belittle/undercut our own positions by stooping to the level of mocking the rhetorical opponent, the onus is on the audience to consider that debasement as well, in context, and weigh it against whatever other pertinent information is available.

It shouldn’t have to be spelled out like that, least of all to those on the ‘left’ of the political spectrum.

Freedom of speech, freedom of expression and thought are the most important, fundamental freedoms in a liberal democracy.

And yet, when it came time to show some true solidarity, The Associated Press, the Daily Telegraph, CNN, New York Daily News and from what I can tell, an unfortunate number of Canadian news outlets have decided that they would rather censor Charlie Hebdo’s caricatures and cover pages in their news reports.

There’s a word for this: cowardice

The unfortunate reality is that, as damaging and despicable as today’s terrorist attack in Paris is, it’s not nearly as damaging and despicable as our own media’s self-imposed censorship.

The only thing more insane than gunning people down for ostensibly mocking a 6th century merchant who claimed divine revelation is for ostensibly secular news and media corporations to defend the outrage of religious fanatics by supporting their efforts at censorship.

Censoring the images does nothing to defend the rights, values and responsibilities of our society. It does the exact opposite.

Worse, it encourages terrorism, because it demonstrates just how quickly we’re willing to compromise our values and further demonstrates that violence can be used as an effective tool against the apparent ‘excesses’ of Western secularism, free speech and liberal democratic tradition.

It is pathetic and perverted that news organizations in Canada and the United States, organizations that have a civic responsibility to defend the public interest against censorship, have collectively decided to fold like umbrellas and censor themselves.

If I can put it simply, this is literally how the terrorists win.

State secularization and political and economic socialization are fundamental aspects of the progressive evolution of our species. Today, the wretched fist of the Middle Ages, of barbarism, struck a satirical magazine in early 21st century Paris. Twelve people dead because they dared imagine what a 6th century Arabian might look like, and dared further to criticize the beliefs and practices of that man’s most insane followers.

And in the supposedly free and learned West, the progressives blamed the victim and the media tacitly endorsed censorship.

It was a very grim day indeed.

Montreal Goonery Inspires The Wall

So here’s the deal.

It’s the night of July 6th 1977 – Olympic Stadium is filled to capacity with a heaving mass of 80,000 die-hard Pink Floyd fans. Two records were broken that day – one for concert attendance at the Big O and one for ticket cost, the then unheard of price of $10. A momentary lapse of jugement pre-show, backstage, resulted in a foot injury for Roger Waters, one for which he would seek treatment at a local hospital afterwards. It was during the ride from the hospital back to the hotel that Rogers would, for the first time, articulate his desire to erect a massive stage between him and the audience. That was the night The Wall was born, arguably the band’s cumulative creative magnum opus.

It was also the album that broke the band.

It was muggy. Waters graced the front page of the Gazette, though with a cautionary note that the band liked its privacy, an omen perhaps of what was to come. Talk that week had been of Bill 101 and its implications. The day before a troop of overly enthusiastic teenagers had paraded through the downtown streets at lunch hour singing ‘O Canada’ to the bewildered looks of bystanders, one of many misguided federal government efforts to promote Canadian Unity after the election of the PQ in 1976.

These were strange and eventful days, the kind I feel we’ve grown accustomed to over the years. This city is its own trip.

Copious amounts of hash smoke billowed from the open roof of the still incomplete stadium, smouldering like an ashtray under clear skies. People were excited, as this was a party no one wanted (or would) forget. Ask any old hippie in the city, chances are they were there and witnessed history, though they didn’t realize it at the time.

The crowd’s exuberance quickly earned Waters’ scorn. 1977’s In the Flesh tour had been the first in which the band played almost exclusively in stadiums, something none of the members were particularly fond of. But record sales and record-label requirements compelled to band to perform for one of the best attended tours in rock history.

Indeed, albums such as Dark Side of the Moon was specifically conceived of as to be played, ideally, in concert halls – with the associated decorum expected. Waters’ frustration with some of the more boorish elements in the crowd that night would lead to an altercation where he reportedly spat in the face of a drunken fan (the specifics of the incident may have been lost to time).

Montreal crowds – what can I say. They shot off their own pyrotechnics and screamed and hollered all throughout. You can actually hear someone yell ‘Rock n’ Roll!’ at 13:53, and hear Roger’s first verbal assault on the crowd comes in at 33:32.

Regardless, the crowd was insatiable (and at least well-behaved enough for the band to play for over two and a half hours in total), as you can hear in the recording posted above. But it was all getting to be to much. At around 2:08:00 in the recording Rogers excoriates a small group that had begun to riot near the front of the stage. The band launches into the first encore – Us and Them (which Waters points out is a soft, tranquil song) – and you can hear some people in the crowd echoing Gilmour’s request that people sit down and relax.

Unfortunately that’s where this recording ends – the band would perform Us and Them and then a prolonged twelve-bar ‘bluesy’ outro number, albeit to Gilmour’s protestations, while their crew disassembled and packed away the more valuable pieces of the tour kit. At some point later on in the night some fans actually tried to prevent the band from leaving by blocking an exit.

Suffice it to say Pink Floyd escaped unharmed and, rather amazingly by local standards, the crowd didn’t riot, as it did under arguably different circumstances in 1992 when Axl Rose decided to axe an equally hyped Guns n’ Roses/Metallica double-bill.

The next day the Gazette reported it as a massive achievement, setting the highest possible bar for all rock concerts to come, and one more reason the Big O was going to be a big success and a boon for the city.

What they couldn’t report on was that Roger Waters and David Gilmour walked away from the concert feeling more detached from their fans than ever before. In the drive back from the hospital Waters got into a conversation with a psychiatrist (a friend of the tour manager driving the car) and formulated the root of The Wall’s over whelming theme of post-modern isolation. Though by Waters’ own admission he had been struggling to articulate his sentiments (a point likely further exhausted by the ambitious performances and tour schedule) the tour’s grand finale in Montreal and the events that had transpired between the band and arguably their most ardent fans that night resulted in the band’s single greatest, perhaps broadest artistic achievement (personally I think Dark Side of the Moon, Animals and Obscured by Clouds to be better albums, albeit somewhat less accessible, but I digress).

So there you have it, Montreal Goonery inspired the wall.

-Coda-

If things go south at the Stones show, does it mean they’ll crank out something that tops Exile on Main Street?

-Coda II-

The audio isn’t great on this recording but is about as good as you might expect, I’m going to see if I can try and clean it up. If so I’ll re-post. Enjoy it.

Cité des Familles

Aerial Photograph of Old Montreal - credit to Mario Faubert, 2012
Aerial Photograph of Old Montreal – credit to Mario Faubert, 2012

Fran̤ois Cardinal asks an important question Рis the city wasting its time trying to prevent the exodus of families to the suburbs?

In the last ten years, during which time the city has ‘officially’ been trying to reverse this trend, annual losses have remained somewhat constant at about 20,000 people leaving the city for elsewhere in Québec, largely outside city limits but within the metropolitan region known as Greater Montreal.

Attracting and retaining families inside the city limits was intended to reverse this trend, but so far the city has come up short. When $300,000 can get you either a detached multi-room suburban home near a train station or, at best, a single room condominium closer to the city, young families in essence have no real choice but to move to the suburbs. Services for families, aside from the daycares increasingly integrated into office towers, are virtually non-existent in the city’s most heavily developed central core.

In response to Mr. Cardinal’s question, I propose a follow-up – has the city really done anything material to secure an influx of new families?

Because if the mandate was nothing more than to advertise the advantages of theoretically living in the city as compared with the suburbs, then I can only wonder what anyone actually expected the city to be able to accomplish. Bringing families back into the city requires a major investment in civic infrastructure and a lot of hyper-precise zoning regulations to make a new urban neighbourhood from scratch, as might be the case in Griffintown or the former parking lot adjacent to the Bell Centre. Branding and marketing is enough of an investment to attract young professionals, but families need a far greater commitment.

There’s been a lot of concern recently that the city’s near-total lack of involvement in Griffintown’s resurrection may have the unintended result of creating a ghetto of single and double occupancy condos and not much else. Similar criticism has been made of the new condo towers destined to occupy nearly every available open plot in the central business district. Montreal’s downtown is not a neighbourhood in and of itself, but seems to have identifiable communities all around it (be it the Plateau, NDG, Mile End etc). Everything inside the core is reduced to a single condo project’s ‘branded lifestyle’ identity of urban chalets and minimalist sophistication; community remains completely elusive.

I would argue the Tremblay and Applebaum administrations have both done the exact same thing – nothing – to actually facilitate family living in the city, or even the actual establishment of the bare services to make the city a place where one lives a more interactive existence. Current city living is capsule living, sanitized and overtly corporate. I would hate to think there are people who may live many years in our great city and believe, based on limited experience, that our downtown is emblematic of the city. It’s anything but.

The question is whether the city can mandate the construction of family-oriented real-estate, and develop schools, clinics and myriad other services without waiting for provincial ministries to green-light the various projects. It’s curious too – provincial authorities have failed to provide adequate public schooling options in both the new suburbs as well as the city centre. Real-estate development can and will occur much faster than the province can react, and the city is all too often excoriated (and rightfully so) for not taking a leadership role in trying to maintain what institutional space we actually have downtown.

So as the city scratches its head on how to encourage people to move into the city, local school boards announce the closure of public schools in urban communities. Library branches shutter. Hospitals are put on the auction block to be re-processed, likely into condominiums, retirement homes or student dormitories. None of this helps re-establish long-term residency in the urban core.

It boggles my mind how no one is seeing the obvious connections, or why the city administration wouldn’t make the argument it’s their responsibility first and foremost to intercede given their stated intentions of downtown densification.

It’s not just the buildings of one variety or another designed with multiple closed rooms, within proximity of the diverse services required by urban families that need to be mandated into being. Schools, community and cultural space, parks, playgrounds, sporting facilities and public pools would all have to be built by the city, putting capital up front to be paid back with the new sources of taxation the city is in the process of creating. If enough new residents can be attracted to a given area based on the services available, the city succeeds in building a new and better kind of revenue generator.

In sum, why can’t the city legislate neighbourhood creation. leaving that up to the private sector and provincial government has so far proven to be ineffective. Quite frankly, it’s well beyond either’s purview.

My argument wouldn’t just be why not, but more – isn’t that what a city administration is supposed to be doing in the first place? Creating and refining the built environment?

And for all the money spent just to study the effects of new private sector densification in the downtown real estate market, and all the rest spent studying how best to expand the public transit system, spent on branding initiatives and marketing campaigns, our elected officials have come no closer to actually implementing anything. What’s spent studying potential future cityscapes could be be answered by any of the urban planners teaching at any of our universities. What’s spent on studies could build the schools or help finance the small businesses real communities desperately need.

As an example, the PQ has announced it will spend $28 million to study the feasibility of including a light-rail system to run on the new Champlain Bridge, which is supposed to cost anywhere between three and five billion dollars and may be completed by 2021, eight years from now if the project ever actually gets off the ground. That money could fund the creation of a public school as well as pay for its staff, something that would most certainly attract the attention of urban dwellers thinking of splitting for the burbs.

And furthermore, what needs to be studied? It’s common sense that a light-rail system, which may be able to haul 100,000 commuters at rush hour in twenty-minute runs from the South Shore to Downtown is a good idea worth implementing. As to how it’s to be built into the bridge, leave that up to the engineers who design it. As to cost, let it be folded into the total. If the Fed is hell-bent on financing such a ludicrously expensive bridge we may as well design it to incorporate a public transit system that can haul so many people so quickly and efficiently. It will doubtless spur a major population increase in the South Shore suburbs, and better still, will likely also serve to improve public transit access in the first-ring suburbs immediately south of the CBD, namely Griffintown, the Pointe, Technoparc, Cité-du-Havre and Nun’s Island areas. It is precisely here where the city should focus services for families, as there is room for growth favourable to urban families. There’s enough open land and low-use industrial areas we could be better off without, and the proximity to the city is really justification enough alone for the civic administration to push for redevelopment to be concentrated in this sector.

There’s no question it would sell, the question is what the city decides to sell.

Do we want condos or communities?

***

Another thought.

If you were to walk around any of the current, established, urban neighbourhoods and first ring suburbs you’d find some common housing types – notably the limestone triplex and its many derivatives, intermixed with modern apartment towers and turn-of-the-century apartment blocks, with duplexes and triplexes being by far the most common type.

In nearly all cases these buildings are comparatively old – the younger ones are approaching their centennials. Many have been renovated extensively throughout the years, some less so but well maintained nonetheless. Either way, through direct civc action to preserve our architectural heritage, coupled with an enduring public attachment (between the progeny of so many generations of working class urbanite locals) we’ve managed to protect, preserve and promote much of existing, heritage, built-environment.

Condo towers are very new in Montreal, especially in the most urban core. Up until about a two decade ago city condos were limited to buildings such as the Port Royal or Westmount Square, and with time development in that sector generally focused on converting old industrial properties into condominiums. About a decade ago buildings such as the Lepine Towers, Roc-Fleury and Crystal de la Montagne went up, leading to today’s boom.

Point is, all this is recent, and despite all the new construction, we can for the moment relax – we’re not going to look much like Vancouver or Toronto anytime too soon.

But to really guarantee against this we can’t redevelop every unused or underused property in the city into a shiny glass tower or a big brown box. We should save some space for new versions of the city’s iconic limestone triplexes.

I don’t think it’s so nutty an idea. It’s a building design that works – it has for a hundred years. Perfect as a flop house for students inasmuch as a three bedroom home for an urban family. I’ve lived in several such buildings over the years, and have spent time in countless more.

Why not build newer versions of a proven design?

You could live your entire life in Montreal duplexes – from your student days in a rented basement room, to starting out in your first full apartment occupying the upper floor, to swallowing up an entire duplex with your family until you eventually live upstairs in your retirement, renting the bottom floor to supplement your income.

There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Montrealers who have done just this over the past few generations.

It occurred to me, walking down Bleury from Boul. de Maisonneuve the other day, that we should maybe try to focus urban residential development to favour a re-introduction of this building type, though perhaps a four or five-floor model complete with a storefront base (designed for independent businesses owned and operated by residents). Bleury is but one example of an unfortunate phenomenon we have here in the city of urban streets that have lost buildings to parking lots, often leaving the tallest building on a given block still standing (in Bleury’s case a monolithic building stands completely abandoned on a prominent public space, but I digress). Rue Guy is still disfigured by the sea of parking spaces lapping at the base of the Tour Guy. Mansfield has the double problem of being largely defined by an open parking lot and the ass ends and loading docs of so many monolithic buildings. And in all these cases more traditional buildings stood not a half century ago.

Convincing real-estate developers to construct such buildings may not be an easy proposition at first, but legislation could make it a requirement. Buildings like these could not only help re-populate the urban core, but further still, offer truly unique examples of multi-functional building design, one that could accommodate much needed families.

L’Affaire Jennifer Pawluk and the Nuances of Social Media

The offending image, since removed.
The offending image, since removed.

A local activist and student, the aforementioned Ms. Pawluk, was arrested after posting a photograph of the above image to Instagram. She was questioned and released on a promise to appear in court (ergo, not formally charged). She is accused of criminal harassment as the above image is of Montréal Police Commander Ian Lafrenière, the head of the police’s public-relations team (here’s his profile on the SPVM website, which lists him as a Sergeant. This may be the single most Québécois English-language webpage in the world, but that’s another issue).

He’s their spokesperson.

Not the pricks swinging their dicks and busting heads out in the street.

And the image is of him, his name, a bloody bullet hole in his forehead, and the tag ACAB (all cops are bastards).

Of course – what a logical image. Killing the mouthpiece of the police force is a surefire way to investigate and eliminate police brutality and corruption, not to mention ease tensions between cops and activists.

This is the kind of message I’d have included if I had been in her shoes, or something to that effect which could be said in 140 characters. Or maybe nothing at all.

What I most certainly would not have done would be to include hashtags of two different, common spellings of the commander’s surname, nor include the SPVM hashtag, or Montreal as spelled in two languages. I think that’s where documentation crosses the line into making a statement, and this statement advocates cop-killing.

Whether an individual would be incited to act upon seeing this image isn’t really the issue. I see it as simply being this – people have the right to feel threatened, even the cops, and they have the right to have their concerns addressed.

Put it this way – imagine an abusive boyfriend posting an image of his ex in the style of the cartoon Lafrenière. It circulates on Facebook and catches the attention of a police officer. We’d expect the police to intervene (and from what I’ve heard our police force takes violence against women and children very seriously, but I digress). Lafrenière has the right to feel as threatened as he wants; whether he can prove a legitimate threat is another thing, but I don’t think this will ever make it to court. He’ll eventually withdraw the complaint and we’ll forget about this. Pressing on would be very foolish on the part of the Montréal Police or Cmdr. Lafrenière.

Also, I certainly wouldn’t have reminded those who follow me on Instagram that all cops are bastards while also hash-tagging the cops. That’s a fight I’d rather not pick.

It’s like calling a cop a pig to his or her face. Yes, you’re technically allowed to do it – you can do whatever you want – but you can’t turn around and blame the cop who punches you in the nose in turn.

We can’t act like the cops are so far removed from society they wouldn’t pick up on these kinds of things. Ostensibly, that’s what we’re paying them to do – pick up on the details. I think it’s silly not to expect the police to react very negatively to such a thing, and if she’s already been ticketed for whatever the fuzz busts people for these days (standing, waiting, looking etc.) then she should expect the police to be watching her. They saw an opportunity to pick her up for questioning and they did so. From their point of view they’re giving her a scare that may prevent people from circulating similar images in the future (directed at anyone, for that matter).

I remember avidly reading various publications issued by the COBP and the old anarchist bookstore (among other tracts I consulted when I was an activist) concerning what to do when confronted by police. This was later confirmed by books such as David Simon’s amazing Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets.

The only answer anyone should ever give to a cop’s question is: I need my lawyer.

I need my lawyer.

I need my lawyer.

I need my lawyer.

Like a mantra until the cops get you your court-appointed civil-defender.

It’s what you should do, it’s what I hope Ms. Pawluk did.

Because that at the very least would have been a smart move. Calling Lafrenière out was a foolish move, one which has now earned her some kind of an arrest record, which may or may not come back and bite later on.

And all of this is aside from the key issue – even if you didn’t articulate the message, be mindful of what you might re-articulate. In this context, even though I don’t think she was personally indicating she would consider utilizing violence against a civil servant, she nonetheless gave her appui to the notion violence (or perhaps the aesthetic of violence) can be a useful political tool.

The reason our protest movements go nowhere is because violence, be it physical or rhetorical, is all too often used as first, rather than last resort. It discredits the message and erects needless walls, isolating those advocating social change from the society they seek to change.

Annual Fistfight with Police Ends in Multiple Arrests

Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay Condemns SPVM Police Brutality Parody 2

Once again Montréal was the scene of it’s much beloved annual fistfight between students/activists and the city’s police, leading to a record-breaking 250 tickets being handed out, an as yet undetermined number arrests and several officers taken to hospital for treatment.

Mayor Applebaum could not be reached for comment, but a pre-typed statement indicated he had absolutely nothing to do with unethical and preferential re-zoning legislation, resulting in a multi-million dollar residential development project he most assuredly did not personally benefit from. His press-attaché noted that he had recently become an admirer of MP Peter Penashue’s method of answering unscripted questions from the public.

I kid – no one asked him what he thought.

Who could possibly care – all this was expected anyways.

The Anti-Police Brutality Coalition’s seventeenth annual anti-police brutality march was over pretty much before it got started, which I can imagine any sensible person might suppose, given the heightened police presence in general as a consequence of long-running and utterly futile demonstrations against education-specific austerity measures employed by our most recent minority separatist youth-parliament.

In fact, it seems as though police from the GTA were called in to bolster SQ and SPVM ranks, something I’m sure didn’t sit all too well with a bunch of activists who are convinced of a broad state conspiracy in which all police forces are working together to clamp down on dissent etc. etc.

Yes, we live in more of a conservative state than we’re generally used to, but it is not a police state.

And though the Montréal police do not have the best of reputations when it comes to apparent ‘over-zealousness’ (to use a term recently batted about the local press) in dealing with demonstrators, to do have a very real problem killing people needlessly, be they poor, young, immigrants or orderlies walking to work on a sunny summer morning.

That said, the COBP should know better by now that they have no hope of holding any kind of peaceful demonstration if the people they attract have no actual interest in having a peaceful demonstration.

Among other things, they know full well that the law states the planned march/demo needs to be approved by the SPVM ahead of time. While I’m certain the opinion of the membership is that doing so would be a waste of time, I’m also willing to bet they didn’t bother just to cover their own ass.

In any event, apparently the cops were more than ready for it and employed what I would consider to be excessive force in quickly dispersing an already illegal demonstration. Considering the actions of some of the protestors (but by no means a small number) – including blocking irate drivers rather than simply letting them pass – police action doubtless had the tacit approval of the working classes too busy getting on with their jobs to participate.

I didn’t see much but considering how many local journalists covered the events, I feel like I was in the thick of it. Kudos to all the brothers and sisters out there reporting and recording for posterity the very minutiae of our lives. Once we sober up we might be able to make sense of it…

***

Is it me or this all a bit nuts?

For COBP, does it not discourage the general public from taking their issue seriously (and let’s face it, there aren’t too many organizations out there who are actively engaged in at least drawing attention to police brutality, save perhaps for Julius Grey (for those who can afford his rates) and the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations’ Fo Niemi, who is specifically focused on race-relations)?

Where are their lawyers?

Where’s their legal fund?

When do they hold their fund-raisers or issue their press releases?

What relationship do they have with the voting public? Which local politicians and elected officials also care about this problem of police brutality and have the interest of COBP in their hearts and minds when they’re developing legislation?

If these seem like ridiculous questions (as they might pertain to COBP) then I think you get my point – they exist but to use ‘direct action’ against the police as a single entity instead of using public appeal to push out the truly rotten apples in this bunch.

But of course, if the organization is opposed to very concept of policing in the first place (an easy position to take when one grows up in the nearly-no-crime suburbs, but I digress) then there’s simply no chance an event like this will go anywhere but South.

As for the police, the sheer number of police who are available (and seemingly enthusiastic about such operations) is disturbing – but maybe not for the reasons you think.

Montréal police make, on average, $19.50 an hour, and work about 65 hours over two weeks. They are close to the very bottom in terms of police salary nation-wide (ballpark $33,000 per annum for the young cops who handle the bulk of the work, especially the dangerous stuff). These are, predominantly, family-oriented people who live in the suburbs, and signing up for riot duty is a surefire way of making a little more green to help pay all the bills a typical nuclear family might incur. Toronto cops make three times as much as their Montréal counterparts.

What I find disturbing here is that we have an abundance of police officers who require more work, shitty work, and further still that there’s clearly a burn out in process if police need to be ‘imported’ from at least three different forces in the GTA.

This is bad news. On top of all of this is the anachronistically-named Policeman Brotherhood’s request that the ‘test-schedules’ implemented a year ago become the new normal (something beneficial to the load of new parents on the force, and a plan which has been rejected by the city leading to the possibility of more ‘fashion-protests’ wherein the police don’t wear their new all-black uniforms) and union boss Yves Francoeur’s on-going feud with the city’s director general Guy Hebert, asserting the latter wanted to sack SPVM police chief Marc Parent.

While I don’t think the SPVM will strike as they did back in 1969 (leading to an as-yet un-matched orgy of violence, chaos and destruction in our fair city), more student unrest could result in such drastic action. And why not? All we need is for the police to say they won’t work for a defined period of time and we can sit back and witness the city tear itself to pieces, seemingly for the sport of it.

It would be as silly and needlessly destructive as maintaining an annual anti-police brutality that habitually results in police brutality. It takes two to tango after all.

A thought: next year, what if COBP held a candlelight vigil on St-Jean or Canada Day, in front of City Hall, or in Place Jacques-Cartier (or any other high-tourism location), as opposed to what they currently do, which is in essence to bring a knife to a gun fight, giving the police every reason to use irregularly strong force and then decry the actions COBP instigated.

There are saner ways to achieve social change.

In any event, for your viewing pleasure, a CBC report from the 1969 Murray Hill Riot.

Those were the days… people used to get killed in Montréal riots. It occurs to me that there’s a part of the current student/activist mentality that yearns for the street battles of Paris, Chicago or Prague circa 1968.

That was a long time ago, and time’s have most definitely changed. Their issues are not our own, their methods useful for purposes we no longer have. But there’s nonetheless a palpable sentiment public demonstrations, marches and rioting is all part of the process on the road to social progress.

I doubt it – at least with what I’ve seen here, and I came up in my more formative years in precisely this environment.

Yes, there’s a lot to be royally pissed off about, far more today than eight years ago in my opinion. But we’ve known nothing but widespread and regular public demonstrations for a considerable time. Most have been peaceful, but there seems to be a troubling number that quickly turn south and further isolate the movement for social change from the general, and voting, public.

Such a situation is untenable. If violence is to be avoided, those organizing against state-sponsored violence must do all they can so as not to elicit it. Again, as I said before, we don’t live in a police state.

So why provide the justification for a such a state to exist? We, the youth, have no power but our ability to use modern communications technology to make our point heard, quickly and often with devastating effectiveness. In the last weeks, we saw how idiotic PQ policies quickly wound up making our province an international laughing stock and yesterday saw the birth and death of Amir Khadir’s equally idiotic notion we should commemorate the terrorist and murderer Paul Rose.

We can’t find a better way of getting our point across?

Are we even trying?

Thoughts on Montréal Museums and Major Cultural Institutions

Avenue du Musée - Montréal (su

I took in the recent Impressionism exhibit at the MMFA on closing day – always an exciting time to visit a museum, even if it is chocked-full of the dilettantes and bridge & tunnel types of our local cultural community. I count myself proudly among them, and either way it’s a nice feeling to see the place at maximum capacity, because I know more often than not I’ve seen the place too empty.

As an aside, after seeing the lines two weeks prior, I decided to get a VIP membership. Would highly recommend, many excellent little bonuses (i.e. no waiting, 10% off in bookstore etc.) and have a gander at the MMFA’s beautiful website while you’re at it.

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Though perhaps times are changing. The museum has been expanding considerably over the last few years – they just opened a dedicated children’s education centre where there was once an ill-suited eye-glass store, and the renovation of the old Erskine & American Presbyterian Church into the new Canadian arts pavilion was completed last year and is an excellent demonstration of the re-purposing of heritage architecture. It looks like the museum is gearing up once more to expand, this time into a fifth pavilion south of the main halls of the Desmarais Pavilion on Sherbrooke. The new building will be completed in five years to house a sizeable collection of Old Master paintings donated by Michal and Renata Hornstein. Cost is $25 million and to be paid by the province. Here’s the presser announcing the finalists.

Based on some of the renderings I’ve seen, this new pavilion will extend far enough south to make it nearly at the Hall Building’s doorstep, and thus it’s likely the city, Concordia and the museum may conspire to connect the museum to the university. Doing so would link up to disconnected pieces of the Underground City, the museum’s tunnel under Sherbrooke Street and Concordia’s tunnel system, recently extended from the Métro to the library and hall buildings.

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Though the initial cost estimate may seem very low and likely to change, perhaps what we build over the next five years (in the lead-up to the city’s 375th anniversary and the nation’s sesquicentennial) won’t get taxed by “Monsieur 3%”. From what I’ve heard from some ‘well-placed sources’ in the local construction industry, the Charbonneau Commission has at the very least succeeded in making people far more discreet in their dealings, and cost throttling and the various other acts of brazen corruption we’ve been discussing are not occurring to the same degree as they once did. All that to say, build now while we’re being cautious.

The provincial government, whether federally-inclined or not, should nonetheless take advantage of up-coming anniversaries and invest heavily in the development, renovation, rehabilitation and beautification of the city of Montréal in particular. Call it Keynesian economics, call it keeping up appearances or straightforward opportunism, regardless, investments in these areas helped us mitigate economic troubles in the past, we’d be wise to consider them again. In fact, it would be nice to have a civic administration that took a leading role in cultural development, but I digress.

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In other museum-related news, the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal is also planning an expansion of sorts, though the scuttlebutt is that rather than acquire a new building or renovating the existing structure, the MACM needs to build an entirely new facility.

I tend to agree. Though I wouldn’t call it an eyesore I also wouldn’t call it a museum – it looks like they repurposed a parking garage. I’m generally disinclined to knock down anything built as recently as 1992, but considering how much of an imposition an uninspired and far too small building can be on a site such as the Place des Arts, Place des Festivals, I honestly think it needs to be re-conceived nearly from scratch. Apparently less than 2% of the total collection is on display at any one time and this is aside from the current difficulties regarding public access to their archives and documentation centres. Moreover, the museum is not directly connected to the Métro.

Perhaps this is why Alexandre Taillefer is so keen to move Calder’s Man – maybe he wants it as an integral part of a wholly redesigned MACM (of which he is chairman of the board.)

I would rather see our contemporary art museum prominently display an original piece created with a specific purpose in mind. Moreover, I’d want that piece to not only be emblematic of the museum, but made by a local as well.

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Of course, should a complete re-development be required (and I’d argue that it should be seriously considered given that a new facility could better unite Place des Arts with Place des Festivals) we’d have to deal with the collection and where to store it. I’d argue strongly in favour of putting it up at the airport, something done by Atlanta’s fascinating mayor quite recently, and otherwise put as much of the collection on display in choice public areas – institutional buildings, public space, Métro stations and perhaps even strewn about the city in small temporary rented galleries. Why not make art far, far more accessible and public?

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A few after-thoughts. Some museums we could use:

1. Either a new pavilion for the McCord or an independent gallery altogether, dedicated to the photography of William Notman & Sons. There’s simply no better record of late Victorian and turn of the century Montréal than Notman and I’m absolutely certain it would be a smash hit – the displays along McGill College always seem to catch passers-by. I’d love to know if there’s ever been any serious thought concerning this.

2. A museum and ‘interpretive centre’ dedicated to hockey, and Montréal’s role in the development of modern professional hockey as we know it. I say interpretive centre because I think it would be neat to give people the opportunity to experience hockey as it was back in the beginning, such as by offering a venue for ‘historical hockey’ (in a manner similar to old-rules 19th century baseball re-enactors). Not exactly hip but definite fun for tourists, school outings and families. Plus we have an added advantage in that the Victoria Rink still stands on its original location downtown. Though it would be a considerable renovation effort to convert it back into a functioning hockey rink (especially if the original details were to be restored), I can imagine some corporate sponsors could turn this into a reality. Plus it would provide a venue of sorts, something the deep downtown is sorely lacking.

3. A larger and more comprehensive natural history museum, ideally located far from existing ‘cultural focal points’ while remaining within the periphery of the central business district. I can’t think of a location off the top of my head, but having been to the Redpath within the last few years I can say it’s clearly too small even for their small collection, and a more modern facility could help it secure far higher attendance and better serve the local school boards, among others. Putting a collection together these days is a little more difficult considering no one wants to be responsible for the slaughter of elephants, tigers and other endangered animals, and the concept of a natural history museum may seem a bit antiquated, but I’m certain we could put a sufficiently modern twist on the notion to make it more suitable for Montréal’s needs.

And yeah, we need to make sure kids understand that the oil in Alberta comes from extinct dinosaurs and not the magical hand of god. A natural history museum with some fearsome looking dinosaur recreations can help us inoculate our children against creationism, and if there was ever an unaddressed public health concern that’s it in my books.

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