What’s he really saying?

Canada’s Foreign Minister, John Baird

This week Canada’s, usually outspoken, Foreign Minister, John Baird took a decidedly timid stance on Russia’s harsh sentencing of three members of the punk band Pussy Riot. Meanwhile, leaders from all over the world spoke out loudly against Russian authorities.

The three members of the band Pussy Riot who were sentenced to 2 years in prison each for singing a protest song about Vladimir Putin.

In Britain, Alistair Burt, a junior foreign minister, had this to say, “We have repeatedly called on the Russian authorities to protect human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, and apply the rule of law in a non-discriminatory and proportionate way. Today’s verdict calls into question Russia’s commitment to protect these fundamental rights and freedoms.”

In the United States, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland was quoted as saying, “The United States is concerned about both the verdict and the disproportionate sentences… and the negative impact on freedom of expression in Russia, we urge Russian authorities to review this case and ensure that the right to freedom of expression is upheld.”

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton called on Moscow to overturn the punishment, saying, “This case adds to the recent upsurge in politically-motivated intimidation and prosecution of opposition activists in the Russian Federation. I expect that this sentence will be reviewed and reversed in line with Russia’s international commitments,” she added, saying the case “puts a serious question mark over Russia’s respect for international obligations of fair, transparent, and independent legal process”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the sentence was “excessively harsh” and “not compatible with the European values of the rule of law and democracy to which Russia, as a member of the Council of Europe, has committed itself. A dynamic civil society and politically active citizens are a necessary precondition for Russia’s modernization, not a threat,”

I have included the above quotes as a contrast to what John Baird had to say on the matter. John Baird is known for saying that he “won’t just go along to get along”. Baird has been a staunch supporter of Israel, gay rights and religious minorities facing oppression. He has publicly criticized China’s human rights records as well as the repressive regimes in Syria and Iran. Yes, Baird has been one tough cookie. That’s why his quote about the sentencing is so confounding.

Here is Baird’s quote. “We believe in every part of the world of sentencing having some relation to the serious nature of the crime. Obviously, there’s, I think, widespread concern that this was perhaps too much and that were perhaps political considerations. We support around the world independent judiciaries, and we certainly take note of what’s happened.”

That was preceded by the tame statement that Baird’s office released the day of the verdict that didn’t even mention the trial, “The promotion of Canadian values, including freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, features prominently in our ongoing dialogue with the Russian authorities.”

That wasn’t even a weak slap on the wrist, which makes me wonder what he’s really saying. Is Canada on the verge of passing some strong anti- protest legislation? Is he just so sick and tired of protesters getting all the attention in Canada (and yes, contrary to what some might think, Quebec is still a part of Canada)?  Is he in bed with the Russian authorities in some way that Canadians don’t know about? Does he hate women who aren’t afraid to speak their minds? Is he putting religion above human rights? What dirty little secrets is he hiding? His uncharacteristic lack of stance makes me wonder all sorts of things. When the public begins to wonder about the motives of an elected official, they start digging to come up with the answers, spelling the beginning of the end for said official. John Baird needs to choose his next words very carefully if he doesn’t want the public supplying his motives for him.

Baird also needs to remember that we elected this guy…

not this guy…

A Cavalcade of Canadian Comedy

HAPPY CANADA DAY! I am concluding Canada week with a salute to Canadian comedians through the years.

The cast of SCTV

When I was little, there was a Canadian comedy duo that helped shape my sense of humour as it is today. These men called themselves Wayne and Shuster. Here is one of my favourite, and one of their most famous sketches.

In my teens, the Canadians who made me laugh were a group of comics from Toronto’s Second City troop who did a show called SCTV. Starring many comics who are still enjoying illustrious careers like Eugene Levy, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara and Harold Ramis, SCTV was a great showcase for Canadian talent. SCTV is also responsible for launching the career of the late, great John Candy. Below are a few of my favourite characters in action.

In my 20’s I was watching and laughing with, The Kids In The Hall. With a nod to Monty Python, the sketch comedy of the  Kids in the Hall was often ridiculous in premise, but was always funny. Here are some of my favourite moments from the show.

Stand up comedy has also given us some fantastic Canadian talent. I would be remiss if I didn’t include some of my favourites.










Then there are the comedic actors from Canada… and there are many. Enjoy these clips of some of the best.








Here’s hoping you are all smiling this Canada Day.

A Canadian environmentalist in his natural habitat

Today’s Canada week entry is consummate Canadian science broadcaster and environmental activist, David Suzuki.

David Suzuki

David Suzuki is my favourite Canadian scientist. Suzuki was trying to educate the public about the environment before it was cool and he is still a leader in the field. Through his Suzuki Foundation (founded in 1991) he is actively researching and trying to implement real solutions to our lack of environmental sustainability.

Here he is talking to George Stroumbouloploulos (the smartest interviewer on television today), on the CBC show The Hour, about alternate energy sources among other things.

In 1979, David Suzuki began hosting a TV show called The Nature Of Things. A science magazine show that focuses on the natural world, how we live in it, and how we can better live with it. The Nature Of Things is aired in nearly 50 countries world wide and is one of the most truly educational shows on television. For me, there were a few truly memorable episodes of the show.

As a proponent of medical marijuana (and legalized marijuana in general) the episode done in 1998 called Reefer Madness 2, which explored the effects of medical marijuana and people dealing with it’s legalization was groundbreaking, as it debunked quite a few myths about the plant.

As a huge fan of Charles Darwin’s work in the field of evolution, the 3 part episode entitled Darwin’s Brave New World, aired in 2009, was riveting television.

Below is a trailer for Darwin’s Brave New World.

Suzuki has been widely recognized and honoured for his work over the years. he is a recipient of The Order of Canada, The Order of British Columbia and UNESCO’s Kalinga Prize for science among many other international awards. He holds 26 honorary degrees from universities around the globe and is showing no signs of slowing down at the age of 76.

To say that I admire this man is a real understatement. Building a career he is, not only,  passionate about, but world renowned for,  from meager beginnings, David Suzuki is a tribute to what an education can accomplish. He is a scientist, a teacher and a true Canadian inspiration.

Who is… the most famous Canadian host on television?

Canada week continues with a tribute to a proud Canadian, Alex Trebek.

Trebek and one of his many Daytime Emmy Awards

Alex Trebek has been a fixture on American television since 1973 when he began as host  of the game show Wizard of Odds for NBC, though Canadians had seen him in their living rooms for a decade previous as host of a music program called Music Hop (1963-64) and the quiz show Reach for the Top (1966-1973). Trebek had a long history of hosting game shows before he was tapped as the host of Jeopardy in 1984 that included shows like, High Rollers, Double Dare, the $128,000 Question and Battlestars.

Alex Trebek hosting High Rollers

It is as the host of Jeopardy for which he will be most remembered. Trebek has been the host of television’s smartest game show for 28 years (or 6300 shows) and counting, having recently extended his contract with the show until 2014. Jeopardy has been good to Trebek, garnering him five Emmy Awards and stars on both the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Canada’s Walk of Fame.

Trebek’s star on Canada’s Walk of Fame

As host of Jeopardy, Alex Trebek seems to take great pleasure and pride in his knowledge of all things Canadian. Both Trebek and Jeopardy have become part of pop culture. With no fewer than 26 cameo appearances as himself in his role as Jeopardy host, in movies and television shows, as well as shows like Saturday Night Live and Family Guy lampooning the show and even a Weird Al Yankovic parody song called I lost on Jeopardy, Trebek is much, much more than just your average game show host. Alex Trebek is an iconic television personality.

A clip of my favourite Celebrity Jeopardy as done by Saturday Night Live. Not the best quality, but still funny.

Trebek believes in giving back. As a spokesperson for World Vision, Trebek has travelled to many third world countries, providing aid to families battling poverty. He is also involved with the U.S.O and has embarked on several tours with the organization in order to support U.S. troops overseas. Education is another subject that is important to Trebek. He sits on the boards of the National Geographic Society Education Foundation and the National Advisory Council for the Literary Volunteers of America.

Trebek, surrounded by contestants of the 2010 National Geographic Geo-Bee

Bravo Alex Trebek. His career proves you can be successful for celebrating intelligence and that is something we need more of in this world.

A Canadian imagination that knows no bounds.

Armed with an incredibly fertile imagination and a gift for storytelling, today’s honoree for Canada week is author, poet, teacher, literary critic and environmental activist, Margaret Atwood.

Margaret Atwood

It would seem that this woman was a literary prodigy, as Ms. Atwood began putting pen to paper at the tender age of 6. Beginning her career as a poet, her first published work was Double Persephone, in 1961. Atwood had some success as a poet publishing four more collections of poetry before her first novel, The Edible Woman was published in 1969.

In this novel, Atwood explores the rejection of gender roles, loss of identity and alienation, themes that were ahead of their time when she originally wrote the book, in 1965, but right in line with where the women’s movement was by the time it was published, four years later. It is for this reason that Atwood rejected the description of this book as feminist, preferring, instead to call it protofeminist. Ms. Atwood has a knack of being able to see where society is headed before it gets there.

Margaret Atwood has been a finalist for the prestigious Booker prize five times. Her first appearance on that list was in 1986 a year after The Handmaid’s Tale was published. Her most famous work, The Handmaid’s Tale also won the very first Arthur C. Clarke award in 1987 for science fiction writing, was nominated for the Nebula Award in 1986 and the Prometheus Award in 1987.

Inspired by Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, The Handmaid’s Tale takes that inspiration, turns it on it’s ear and goes places Chaucer would never dare to go. Because of it’s controversial, often sexual nature, The Handmaid’s Tale  is listed as one of the 100 ‘most frequently challenged books’ from 1990 to 1999 on the American Library Association’s website. It has been accused of being anti- Christian and anti-Islamic as well as pornographic.  What it is, is another book that was ahead of it’s time that challenges the status quo. It’s a book that is typical of the kind of literary bravery one can expect from Margaret Atwood.

The novel that finally won Atwood the elusive Booker Prize was The Blind Assassin, published in 2000. Another novel that was showered with awards, The Blind Assassin also won The Hammett Prize in 2001 and was nominated for The Governor General’s Award in 200, The Orange Prize for Fiction and The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2002. Time Magazine named The Blind Assassin the best novel of 2000 and included it in its list of the 100 greatest English-language novels since 1923.

The ambitious thing about the Blind Assassin was the inclusion of a novel within a novel. The book also deals with the guilt and shame of an extramarital affair during the 1940’s in a unique and intriguing way. The Blind Assassin shows that Atwood is as skilled at historical fiction as she is at fiction set in the future.

Margaret Atwood is also adept at telling a true story. The novel Alias Grace recounts the notorious 1843 murders of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery in Upper Canada. Although the novel is based on factual events, Atwood takes some creative liberty with the addition of a fictional narrator who is investigating the case.

Some of my favourite books are ones that expertly weave fictitious characters in with actual events and Alias Grace is no exception. Atwood often writes in multiple points of view. In this novel she shifts between first and third person narrative seamlessly.

Though she is primarily known for her novels, Margaret Atwood has written in many different mediums from collections of poetry and short stories, to children’s books, non-fiction, anthologies and television scripts.

One of Atwood’s seven children’s books

This year, Atwood was honoured with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for Canada. This is fitting, because Margaret Atwood and her work have become synonymous with Canada and the Canadian experience.

And you can follow her on twitter at @MargaretAtwood

A Canadian director’s horrifically beautiful body… of work.

Another quintessentially Canadian artist is the focus of today’s Canada week entry. There are quite a few famous Canadian film directors, James Cameron, Atom Egoyen, Norman Jewison, Ivan Reitman (and his son, Jason), but my favourite, by far is David Cronenberg.

David Cronenberg.

I am a lover of dark subject matter, that questions the mainstream perception of beauty, in both books and movies. So, it would seem, is David Cronenberg. His films often deal with topics that challenge people’s of fear of body transformation and infection and have been labelled ‘body horror’.

I still remember the first Cronenberg movie I ever saw. It starred Jeremy Irons (one of my favourite actors on the planet) as twin gynecologists , Dead Ringers. That movie haunted me for weeks after the first viewing. So much so, that I found myself watching it a second and third time, just to try to figure out what it was that triggered me so deeply.

That’s the thing about a Cronenberg movie, they really mess with your mind and challenge your perception. After Dead Ringers, I sought out more of Cronenberg’s films. The next one I saw was Videodrome, a movie that challenges the psyche on a very base, sexual level. Another thing I like about Cronenberg’s movies is that he takes as many risks with his casting choices as he does with the subject matter. In Videodrome, Deborah Harry (of Blondie) is cast as a sado-masochistic psychiatrist and radio show host… a non-singing role for a celebrity mainly known for her singing was risky at the time. Perhaps, a more famous casting risk that payed off for Cronenberg was in the movie Rabid, when he cast porn star, Marilyn Chambers in the lead role.

In 1999, the same year the Matrix was released, Cronenberg released a movie called Existenz, which also dealt with the perception of reality (among other things). It didn’t do near as well in the box office, perhaps due to less CGI effects, less of an advertising budget and less black patent leather, but for my money it was the superior of the two movies. The story was riveting and far less convoluted than that of the Matrix and much more cleverly written (by Cronenberg, himself).

By far, my favourite David Cronenberg movie is Crash.

I am a fan of the author J.G. Ballard, whose novel of the same name, the movie is based on. I saw Crash in a theatre in Toronto the day it was released. There was not an empty seat in the house. I knew exactly what to expect from having read the book and was very much looking forward to seeing how Cronenberg would deal with showing some of the more graphically sexual scenarios. The film did not disappoint, even in showing the two male leads in a steamy scene, which I was almost sure wouldn’t make the final cut. Kudos to Cronenberg for, not only remaining true to the original text, but for being brave enough to show two men having a sexual encounter and not just imply it.

While, I have yet to see all of the films in his catalogue, there is no denying David Cronenberg’s impact on the way I view the world around me and the people in it.

A Canadian woman who defined an era and herself

Today’s entry for Canada week is a true Canadian icon, artist and writer Emily Carr.

Emily Carr

Best known for her paintings of aboriginal themes and landscapes, Carr, through her autobiographical writing, was also one of the earliest chroniclers of life in British Columbia.

Klee Wyck- by Emily Carr

As noteworthy as her writings were, it was her paintings that she is primarily remembered for. She explored themes in a unique modern style that no one else was exploring at the time. She had a real affinity for the indigenous peoples of British Columbia and celebrated their totems and villages in her work.

The Crying Totem- 1928

Kwakiutl House

Carr’s work can be divided into three distinct phases. her early work, before she studied in Paris.

 Canoes- 1908

Her work from her time in Paris from 1910 to 1912.

House In Brittany- 1911

And finally her work after her encounter with the Group Of Seven, in the 1930’s… the work, for which she is best known.

 A rushing sea of undergrowth- 1932

The Mountain- 1933

Cedar Sanctuary- 1942

Self Portrait- 1938

Her association with the Group of Seven (Canada’s most recognized modern painters of the time) took her out of a 15 year artistic isolation and put her in a social circle of her peers for the first time. This acceptance by her peers reinvigorated her sense of purpose as an artist and inspired her most recognized works.

Carr’s most famous painting, Big Raven-1931

Carr was not only a great talent, but a darling of the women’s movement, as she was succeeding against the odds. She was a successful artist in a decidedly inartistic society. She lived in seclusion, far away from any major art center, carving out her own path. In a time when women’s roles were clearly defined, Carr was undefinable.