Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

Shane shone at Vancouver’s Spoken World


Childhood bullying. A first kiss. Painful nicknames. B.C. slam poet Shane Koyczan shared life’s nasty jabs and quiet tenderness at last week’s sold-out Spoken World event in Vancouver, BC. The gentle wordster, best known for his rousing poem about the essence of Canadians at the opening ceremonies for the 2010 Winter Olympics, recited heartfelt poetry as if confessing intimacies in a cafe tete-a-tete, not facing an audience at Granville Island’s Performance Works.


Whether talking informally onstage to the 300 guests or reciting words from one of his youthful journals, Shane gave the bumps and beauty of his life a courageous tribute. This man peels back his soul and feels. Even without his untucked brown shirt, jeans, black cap and broad arm gestures, any listener could quickly see and hear that Shane was no slick, surface showman. He described a lover’s thighs and body softness with such fond detail and devotion that you knew he’d easily get an A for sensual attentiveness.


Shane still sounded hurt from a lover’s betrayal but crafted his angst into a clever, revenge-fuelled haiku called Herpes. Overall, he celebrated a pithy spirit, not self-pity. A highlight was his moving poem about sharing a hospital room for five days with a nine-year-old boy, a cancer patient. When he asked the boy if he was scared, the kid replied:  “Fuck, yeah” and then added: “But don’t tell my dad.” Shane’s  tears in reciting this poem didn’t seem like the appear-on-demand kind.


It was heartening that during the sports glitz of the Olympics and his recent global performance, Shane appeared without fanfare or any mention of his poetic feat at the opening ceremonies. Percussionist Sal Ferraras and his jazz band Poetic Licence added great spontaneous riffs and accents to Shane’s words and those of the evening’s three other performance artists.


Ivan E. Coyote, a Vancouver author and screenwriter, was another standout with her touching story about falling in love with a beautiful, smart woman ten years younger. Although smitten at first sight, Ivan initially feared their age gap was too vast and she didn’t want to be a “pussy crook.” It took five years before the two became a couple.


Ivan described a car ride filled with slam poets en route to Surrey for a public reading. When one encouraged her to read her love poem, Ivan was incredulous. She figured that conservative Surrey, whose school district has banned books about same-sex unions,was not the place for an articulate dyke with a tattooed bicep, who feels at home in jeans and a motorcycle-emblemed black T-shirt,  to profess her passion for a woman.


I found the work of the other two poets, Skeena Reece and California resident Ariana Waynes, less honed and rooted more in reactive emotion than skilful, thoughtful summary of experience . Skeena opened the evening, pulling her pony tail out and letting her hair and anger fly. Her throaty-voiced singing and gutteral cries were a compelling strength of raw power and direct-action motivation.


I enjoyed the spirited language of her poem Vulture Olympiad,  which used the refrain “Chomp, chomp” to condemn many aspects of the Vancouver Olympics exploitation. Although I agreed with her sentiments, her presentation seemed more like a cheerleading rant than an inspirational call to action.


Her line “I want to love Canadians but they make it hard for us” epitomized her rebuke of this nation’s poor treatment of  First Nations people and the city of Vancouver’s  disregard of  those on the Downtown Eastside. However, I’d still prefer to hear a poem that seeks solutions, evoking an alignment of shared values and social outcomes, than one that sustains race-based duality and divisions.


Ariana Waynes, the last poet of the evening, introduced herself as “bisexual polyamorous.” Enough said. She tossed off brash lines of impersonal coupling, flouting her diverse repertoire of sexual conquests. Seemingly preferring quantity to intimacy, she spoke flippantly of rape and asked: “Who hasn’t been abused?” She seemed exultant over, and empowered by, her many sweaty and sultry encounters, yet I couldn’t help wonder: “Where and how does love fit into this?” Her poetry seemed too skewed for shock value for my liking, her delivery too self-admiring to offer any hint of deep, universal connection.


Nevertheless, she drew out audience demographics that people rarely share at public events. She asked people to raise their hands to questions such as “Who has been in a bi-racial relationship” and “Who has been in a same-sex relationship?” A sprinkling of arms went up in both cases. For determining one’s company, this sure beat the usual age-and-income questions found on most surveys.


Hats off to Hal Wake, artistic director for the Vancouver International Writers Festival, for offering such a night of provocative poetry matched with captivating jazz. And many thanks to the guy at the ticket centre who, after telling me the show was sold out, kindly phoned me back about five minutes later and said that ten tickets were suddenly made available. What a thoughtful gesture.

February 21, 2010 at 9:31 pm Comments (3)

Colbert to Canadians: “I take it all back”

                                                                                                                       — Heather Conn photos

Stephen Colbert looked right at home sitting on a taxidermied moose, under a spray of fake white snow, waving a large Canadian flag. The crowd of about 6,000, gathered Feb. 18 at Vancouver’s Creekside Park to watch an outdoor taping of the Comedy Central show Colbert Report, made him do it. Sortof. A repeated chant of “Get on the moose” prompted the improv-loving comedian to give up metaphorically his bald-eagle mount, an image on the stage’s banner backdrop, and hop on the hoofed Canadian icon instead.

“If anything happens to me, it’ll be your fault,” he quipped to the audience packed around the stage, safely behind barriers.


Colbert, in Vancouver to provide offbeat Olympic coverage and support the U.S. men’s speed skaters, clearly loved that Canadians can take a joke. After having called them “syrup-sucking iceholes” on his show, he confessed: “I take it all back.” He joked about needing an English-English dictionary to understand Canadian terms like “riding” for a political district. His stage manager and crew wore white T-shirts with a red maple leaf emblem that read on the front: “Icehole Crew.” The back of the shirt said: “Colbert Nation eh!”


(Colbert was reportedly delighted to receive a case of Iceholes Celebration lager beer, inspired by his Canuck putdown and specially brewed byVancouver’s R & B Brewing Company. R & B co-owner Barry Benson says on the company website: ” In celebration of our icehole-ish behaviour we have decided to get even rather than get mad.”)


Before appearing, Colbert invited the Dutch oom-pah-pah group Klein pils onstage to warm up the fans with jovial, brass-band versions of songs from The Turtles’ Happy Together to Sweet Caroline, We Will Rock You, and Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore. He had discovered the boisterous musicians the night before while they performed rinkside at the Richmond Oval.


Colbert’s guests included Seth Wescott, two-time gold medal winner in snowboard cross, who picked up his latest gold this week in Olympic competition at Cypress Mountain. After Colbert asked to wear Westcott’s medal, he refused to give it back to the athlete, despite urgings to do so from the fans. Wescott, in turn, gave his host a team plaid jacket and autographed a specially made snowboard that bore Colbert’s image. (Colbert wore a navy Ralph Lauren cardigan and white 2010 track pants for the show, a nod to the designer of U.S. team uniforms in this year’s Winter Olympics.)


After his vocal support for the U.S. Olympic speed skaters and his team fundraising drive which brought in about $300,000 from fans, one would have expected Colbert to interview Shani Davis, who has appeared on his show in a satirical speed-skating challenge. But Davis was apparently offended by some of Colbert’s previous remarks and was not a guest. Colbert played a taped segment of his show onstage, which included a public apology to Davis. (That same day, Davis won a gold medal in the 1,000-metre men’s speed-skating in Richmond.)

                                                                                                         Ryan St. Onge

Other Olympic guests included U.S. freestyle aerialists Ryan St. Onge and Jeret “Speedy” Peterson. While Colbert teased St. Onge, who appeared shy in a conservative shirt and tie, about his name, Peterson appeared to hold his own with Colbert. When asked about getting kicked out of the  2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy for a drunken altercation, Peterson admitted his actions and told his host: “Sorry to steal your thunder.”

                                                                      Jeret Peterson

As if for required Canadian content, Colbert interviewed the Honourable Ujjal Dosanjh, Liberal Member of Parliament for Vancouver South. He teasingly asked Dosanjh what caste he was from and repeatedly mentioned India’s caste system. Dosanjh said that he didn’t believe in the caste system and stressed the equality of all. Yet, when Colbert continued trying to pin down the ultra-serious federal politician on this subject, Dosanjh appeared taken aback and possibly offended. I wondered if he even knew that such stances are part of Colbert’s shtick and on-camera persona.  


This show was the last of a two-day taping for Colbert at the park. Fans had waited since dawn for the 10:15 start time. I arrived at 7:45 a.m., joining a long line of people waiting patiently in front of Science World. A friendly female parks ranger warned us that the park had four inches of mud in places and was very slippery. She urged people not to run on the grass to avoid injury.  


Yet, once the orderly queues received permission to move towards the stage,
 hundreds started running up the hill and charging through the mud. In such a free-for-all, someone who had arrived five minutes earlier could easily have gotten a much better viewing spot than someone who camped out overnight in wait. I ended up to the right of the stage close to the front.


Following these fun shoots, Colbert toured a variety of Olympic pavilions in Vancouver, doing his usual campy and impromptu repartee, besides serving as an on-air NBC commentator and the U.S. speed-skating team’s assistant sports psychologist.


Stephen Colbert will certainly never make the podium as an Olympic gold medalist, as portrayed on this banner made by a fan, but he has made phenomenal strides in bringing Canadian and U.S. psyches and spirits together through laughter. Maybe he deserves to keep Seth Westcott’s medal after all.


Click here if you’d like to know more about my past film and TV writing.

February 21, 2010 at 2:03 pm Comments (11)

Haiti and Havana don’t mix in mainstream media

While watching news broadcasts of the international aid effort in post-earthquake Haiti, I kept wondering if Cubans had arrived to help. Their country is so close to Haiti and I know that they have highly skilled teams in emergency response, due to their many hurricanes. The newscasters mentioned aid groups from Red Cross to Unicef and various nonprofits active in Haiti, but I never heard if Cubans were on hand.


It was no surprise that U.S. media outlets didn’t mention Cuba, due to their decades-old embargo of this island nation and its inclusion on the U.S. list of “terrorist” countries.  But I figured that Canadian reporters would at least acknowledge Cuban aid efforts. Not so.


A friend of mine sent me the following article, which he found online via Al Jazeera’s English media service. This untold-by-the-media information makes me think of the “Health Care Olympics” episode that Michael Moore did on his show TV Nation. In that documentary segment, he had a person with a broken bone receive health care in three different countries (Canada, the U.S., and Cuba), then compared the service provided in each case. Cuba won: it gave the best care in the fastest time with no cost to the patient.


However, NBC censors stepped in, saying that politically, there was no way they could show Cuba as the winner on prime-time television. They insisted that the segment had to make Canada the winner, and although Moore argued on this point up to show time, Canada was announced the winner. Moore writes in his book Adventures in a TV Nation: “Did NBC think that a new missile crisis would erupt if we showed the commies winning? . . . It makes you wonder what else is ‘changed’ on TV if something this insignificant cannot even make it on the air in its original form.”


 Here are excerpts of the article my friend sent me:

Cuba’s aid ignored by the media?

By Tom Fawthrop in Havana

After the quake struck, Haiti’s first medical aid came from Cuba.

Among the many donor nations helping Haiti, Cuba and its medical teams have played a major role in treating earthquake victims.

Public health experts say the Cubans were the first to set up medical facilities among the debris and to revamp hospitals immediately after the earthquake struck.

However, their pivotal work in the health sector has received scant media coverage.

Special Report: Haiti earthquake

“It is striking that there has been virtually no mention in the media of the fact that Cuba had several hundred health personnel on the ground before any other country,” said David Sanders, a professor of public health from Western Cape University in South Africa.

The Cuban team coordinator in Haiti, Dr Carlos Alberto Garcia, says the Cuban doctors, nurses and other health personnel have been working non-stop, day and night, with operating rooms open 18 hours a day.

During a visit to La Paz hospital in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, Dr Mirta Roses, the director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) which is in charge of medical coordination between the Cuban doctors, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and a host of health sector NGOs, described the aid provided by Cuban doctors as “excellent and marvellous”.

La Paz is one of five hospitals in Haiti that is largely staffed by health professionals from Havana. . .

Before the earthquake struck, 344 Cuban health professionals were already present in Haiti, providing primary care and obstetrical services as well as operating to restore the sight of Haitians blinded by eye diseases.

More doctors were flown in shortly after the earthquake, as part of the rapid response Henry Reeve Medical Brigade of disaster specialists. The brigade has extensive experience in dealing with the aftermath of earthquakes, having responded to such disasters in China, Indonesia and Pakistan.

“In the case of Cuban doctors, they are rapid responders to disasters, because disaster management is an integral part of their training,” explains Maria a Hamlin Zúniga, a public health specialist from Nicaragua.

“They are fully aware of the need to reduce risks by having people prepared to act in any disaster situation.”

Cuban doctors have been organising medical facilities in three revamped and five field hospitals, five diagnostic centres, with a total of 22 different care posts aided by financial support from Venezuela. They are also operating nine rehabilitation centres staffed by nearly 70 Cuban physical therapists and rehab specialists, in addition to the Haitian medical personnel.

The Cuban team has been assisted by 100 specialists from Venezuela, Chile, Spain, Mexico, Colombia and Canada and 17 nuns.

Havana has also sent 400,000 tetanus vaccines for the wounded. . .

Media silence

However, in reporting on the international aid effort, Western media have generally not ranked Cuba high on the list of donor nations.

One major international news agency’s list of donor nations credited Cuba with sending over 30 doctors to Haiti, whereas the real figure stands at more than 350, including 280 young Haitian doctors who graduated from Cuba. The final figure accounts for a combined total of 930 health professionals in all Cuban medical teams making it the largest medical contingent on the ground.

Another batch if 200 Cuban-trained doctors from 24 countries in Africa and Latin American, and a dozen American doctors who graduated from Havana are currently en route to Haiti and will provide reinforcement to existing Cuban medical teams.

By comparison the internationally-renowned Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF or Doctors without Borders) has approximately 269 health professionals working in Haiti. MSF is much better funded and has far more extensive medical supplies than the Cuban team. . .

Western NGOs employ media officers to ensure that the world knows what they are doing. . .

Cuban medical teams, however, are outside this predominantly Western humanitarian-media loop and are therefore only likely to receive attention from Latin American media and Spanish language broadcasters and print media.

There have, however, been notable exceptions to this reporting syndrome. On January 19, a CNN reporter broke the silence on the Cuban role in Haiti with a report on Cuban doctors at La Paz hospital.

Cuba/US cooperation

When the US requested that their military plans be allowed to fly through Cuban airspace for the purpose of evacuating Haitians to hospitals in Florida, Cuba immediately agreed despite almost 50 years of animosity between the two countries.

Cuban doctors received global praise for their humanitarian aid in Indonesia. Josefina Vidal, the director of the Cuban foreign ministry’s North America department, issued a statement declaring that: “Cuba is ready to cooperate with all the nations on the ground, including the US, to help the Haitian people and save more lives.”

This deal cut the flight time of medical evacuation flights from the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay on Cuba’s southern tip to Miami by 90 minutes.

According to Darby Holladay, the US state department’s spokesperson, the US has also communicated its readiness to make medical relief supplies available to Cuban doctors in Haiti.

“Potential US-Cuban cooperation could go a long way toward meeting Haiti’s needs,” says Dr Julie Feinsilver, the author of Healing the Masses – a book about Cuban health diplomacy, who argues that maximum cooperation is urgently needed. . . .

The Montreal summit, the first gathering of 20 donor nations, agreed to hold a major conference on Haiti’s future at the United Nations in March.

Some analysts see Haiti’s rehabilitation as a potential opportunity for the US and Cuba to bypass their ideological differences and combine their resources – the US has the logistics while Cuba has the human resources – to help Haiti. . .

But, will Haiti offer the US administration, which has Cuba on its list of nations that allegedly “support terrorism”, a “new dawn” in its relations with Cuba?

In late January, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, thanked Cuba for its efforts in Haiti and welcomed further assistance and co-operation.

In Haiti’s grand reconstruction plan, Feinsilver argues, “there can be no imposition of systems from any country, agency or institution. The Haitian people themselves, through what remains of their government and NGOs, must provide the policy direction, and Cuba has been and should continue to be a key player in the health sector in Haiti.”


(For those of you who think “terrorist” when you hear “Al Jazeera,” consider this: the CRTC in Canada has agreed to broadcast Al-Jazeera English (AJE) to its cable and satellite providers. Started in 2006, AJE is the primary international news channel based in the Middle East that covers issues in the developing world. Hardly a terrorist sympathizer, AJE criticizes political repression and is banned in Iraq, Tunisia, Algeria and until last summer, Saudi Arabia. Ponder this media cred: former CBC News chief Tony Burman is AJE’s managing director. )  

February 16, 2010 at 7:33 pm Comments (0)

Stop the Tar Sands

                                                                                                                        — Heather Conn photo

I took this photo in east Vancouver en route to the Olympics protest on Commercial Drive. During the February 5 protest in downtown Vancouver, marchers to BC Place yelled out the chant: “Shut down the Tar Sands.” Although I agree with the sentiment, I wondered how many people would draw connections between that environmental issue and the Olympics. Neither the local or international media picked up on this topic in their Olympic coverage. Yes, the Tar Sands project has global environmental ramifications for all of us as a major carbon emissions source, but I don’t think this was the time or venue to try and publicize that message.

February 14, 2010 at 5:59 pm Comments (0)

Don’t agonize — subvertise


                                                                                                                  — photo by The Blackbird

I was delighted to come across the above photo at an exhibition at W2 Community Media Arts Centre at 112 West Hastings in Vancouver, BC. A photographer and poet in the city, known as The Blackbird, created this image as an example of subvertising. (Wikipedia defines this practice as “making spoofs or parodies of corporate and political advertisements to make a statement.”)

In his accompanying artist’s statement, The Blackbird said that he was wondering: “How do I combine the cute and mascot dolls with the harsh socioeconomic and political realities of playing host to the [Olympic] Games while 1) not diminishing the mascots’ accessibility as products of popular culture intended for mass consumption and 2) not making light of serious problems such as Vancouver’s homelessness crisis, the drafting of bylaws that restrict guaranteed Constitutional freedoms in the interests of a corporate elite, and the complete militarization of a peaceful democratic metropolis?”

I had just created a sillier, more whimsical version of subvertising with a similar Olympic theme (see my post below called “Introducing Quarotchety . . .”). It was a wonderful moment of synchronicity to discover this image taken on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. It depicts beautifully the startling difference between the cutesie, moneyed version of life, as per Olympics advertising, and the reality of a dumpster diver in Canada’s showcase coastal city. What better way to convey that than use a primary Olympic icon? Well done.

February 13, 2010 at 10:35 pm Comment (1)

Introducing Quarotchety and her Olympic misadventures

Quatchi’s sasquatch face might be splashed on everything Olympian from goalie masks to scarves and hats, but he’s no match for his twin sister Quarotchety, an activist and challenger. Tired of her brother’s  shameless corporate shilling,  she has finally emerged from the “mysterious forests of Canada” to speak her furry mind on Olympics-related subjects skirted by the mainstream media. Besides, there’s nothing like sibling rivalry to get passions flowing. Quarotchety, after all, was born three minutes before her “little” brother.


                                                                                                                       — Heather Conn photos

Here she is on February 4, watching the Coastal Renaissance ferry departing Langdale terminal with Premier Gordon Campbell, political poohbahs and hundreds of other Olympic boosters onboard. Quarotchety is ticked off that she and many other taxpayers were left onshore, uninvited, while they pay ever-increasing ferry rates and will pick up the tab for this  five-ring love-in.  


Quarotchety tried to sneak on board to eavesdrop and give Gordo a grilling over Olympics spending and his budget slashing of British Columbia’s arts and school sports, but security-minded  BC Ferries personnel nabbed her. They let her go with a warning, hollering to her hirsute rump: “Go back to the forests where you belong.” She was incensed.


At Horseshoe Bay terminal, Quarotchety noticed a window painting of ski jumpers, which got her fuming over why men can compete as ski jumpers in the 2010 Olympics but women can’t.  (Since Nagano in 1998, the International Olympics Committee has denied women ski jumpers from competing.) Yet, Lindsey Van, a 25-year-old U.S. skier, holds the record for both men and women for the longest jump off of Whistler, B.C.’s normal ski jump. Quarotchety, whose mood was beginning to match the colour of the mural’s background, wondered: “How high do women truly have to jump to break that glass ceiling?”


When Quarotchety saw a stuffed polar bear during her free visit to the Olympics’ Canada North Pavilion, all she could think of was global warming, diminishing ice floes, and species extinction.  She wondered: Is this the only way that future generations will get to see polar bears — dead and under glass?

These gloomy thoughts were making Quarotchety crotchety, so she figured that she’d take a tip from Olympic sponsor Coca-Cola and “open happiness.” But that got her pondering the nine million bottles of water that Coke was hoping to sell during the Olympics and the landfill mess that would make. She felt distressed over Coke’s efforts to gain exclusive access rights to aquifers and rivers,  draining her source of natural drinking water.  Quarotchety thought that maybe she could try, like the little boy who kept his finger on the hole in the dyke, to stop this endless outflow of water, so she jumped into a Coke machine like an Olympic diver but all she did was get stuck.  


She wondered if  her awkward, upside-down position is how  public school officials feel when they host a “Coke Day” event for students and sign exclusive contracts with Coca-Cola that legally prevent them from publicly criticizing any of Coke’s products. Or how university administrators feel when they remove  drinking fountains so that Coke machines won’t have any on-campus competition. That got Quarotchety thinking again of the slashing of public education budgets.


Overwhelmed, Quarotchety decided to find inspiration from arts and culture and stopped to admire an innukshuk at the Canada North Pavilion. Instead, this made her think of how poorly Canada has treated its First Nations people and how poorly Stephen Harper and Gordon Campbell have treated  artists in this country. Poor Quarotchety couldn’t forget that  Vanoc had made all Cultural Olympiad artists sign contracts preventing them from publicly criticizing the Olympics.  And she thought that she lived in a democracy with free speech . . .


Quarotchety had to lie down to compose herself with these troubling thoughts, but the garbage fumes from the mounting trash made her wonder about the claim that Vancouver is the “greenest Olympics ever.”


Rather than silently stew, Quarotchety decided to exercise her citizen’s right to free speech and serve as witness to the several hundred Olympics protesters of the torchy relay on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive. Quatchi begged her not to participate, fearing that observers might mistake her for him and as a result, he would lose all of his lucrative Olympics merchandising contracts. But Quarotchety is a redhead, after all, and follows her own heart.


Although Quarotchety likes the cachet of phrases like “To the Barricades!”, she is committed to peaceful protest and admires the civil disobedience legacy of people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi.


When some black-clad protesters with kerchief-hidden faces started stretching string across Commercial Drive at Venables, she wondered how effective this would be in stopping the torch relay. When they added a line of barbed wire, she thought: This could get ugly. Then one angry protester threw down five large rocks along the barbed wire.


The situation seemed tense and Quarotchety thought to herself: That’s not how peace is supposed to feel. She appreciated all of the signs like “Homes for all” and “Communities not Olympics” but why stop the torch relay?


Although the Vancouver police had a paddy wagon waiting on Commercial Drive, officers stood curbside and made no effort to interfere with the protest. Quarotchety was pleased to see that the protest had kept the Coke-mobile  silent and parked, so she wouldn’t have to endure its grating, blared music and dancing, youthful smile-athon.


Quarotchety was grateful that the protest did not result in any arrests or violence. It caused the torch relay to get rerouted along Clark Drive, which left hundreds of seniors, schoolchildren, and immigrant families without a chance to see the torch. They had waited along the curb for blocks, waving or wearing Canadian flags. She wondered: Was this disturbance fair to them?


Quarotchety was glad to see musicians and entertainers join the protest, putting the fun back into freedom of speech. She especially enjoyed the red-clad folks who danced salsa at the February 12 protest by the Vancouver Art Gallery. They wore shirts that said on the front: “I want to celebrate” and on the back, each one made an important statement like “Homes for All” and “Quality Public Education.” This made Quarotchety think of anarchist Emma Goldman’s famous quote: “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.”


Quarotchety is still worried about Olympic debt and homelessness in Vancouver and outraged that such vital considerations disappear under the “it’s-party-time” media  coverage of the Olympics. (What does she expect? Canwest Global, an Olympics sponsor now taken over by Shaw, owns most of Vancouver’s TV and newspapers.) But protest or no protest, Quarotchety is proud to be Canadian and will continue to speak up when she sees injustice and hypocrisy at work. She’ll keep razzing her brother too. And working on her anger issues.



February 13, 2010 at 7:14 pm Comments (5)

Peaceful protest displays spirit and ingenuity

When it comes to placards and protest, nobody has a monopoly on what free speech should look and sound like. At the Olympics protest on February 12 in downtown Vancouver, all manner of Canadians clamoured freely for an audience, from Burnaby, BC teachers protesting public education cuts to angry jocks yelling from a megaphone “Go, Canada, Go.” The latter, barely a handful who didn’t last an hour, waved red-and-white, computer-generated signs that read: “They say protest, we say party.” I even saw some old gents outside the Archdiocese of Vancouver wearing sandwich boards that said things like “Fear God, Judgment is coming”, “Winners Trust Jesus”, and “Winners Turn from Sin, Turn to Jesus.”

                                                                                                                 — photos by Heather Conn

A young man in a costumed top hat and tails joked that he represented “Billionaires for the Olympics” while a bagpiper said he was playing “an instrument of war” with a peaceful message. Overall, the poignant and playful event brought recognition to the suffering of the homeless and people on the Downtown Eastside and the harsh contrast of their lives to the Olympic bon vivant atmosphere.


 Dalannah Gail Bowen, a Vancouver activist and former addict who runs the Downtown Eastside Centre for the Arts, challenged the audience to imagine a life of poverty in an SRO (single-room occupancy) hotel while the city fetes and feasts at a multi-million-dollar, two-week party.  A professional vocalist who is part-Cherokee, she led a plaintive song while drumming a native drum and said: “These are the cries of our people.”


David Eby, president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), said that he was incredibly proud of the free speech and tolerance displayed at the protest. Yet, he condemned police for visiting protesters’ homes prior to this event “as if there’s something illegal because you don’t support spending money on this enterprise [the Olympics].” He said: “The police should not be buying military-grade crowd-control equipment.”


 Eby called the double standard in treatment of pro-Games people to those who protested the event “an embarrassment as a free country.” He told a story of a homeless friend who tried to keep warm by a kerosene lamp after trying to find space at a downtown shelter. He was turned away and ended up burning to death. “People have a right to shelter,” said Eby. “That is a priority before a party.”


Eby  told the crowd of roughly 2,000, a diverse age and class mixture of Canadians: “Thanks for exercising your free speech rights. You’re very brave to be here. I congratulate you.”


I enjoyed seeing the creative interpretations of the Olympic five-ring emblem, particularly the one above. That same image of the faces in the Olympic rings was ordered removed from the Downtown Eastside by police last December because they deemed it “graffiti”, even though it was a painting hanging over brick. (For details, see my December 14 post “What’s happened to free speech in Vancouver?”)


As a helicopter hovered overhead, a faint aroma of pot wafted through the group. Some of the BCCLA’s hundreds of legal observers, wearing orange T-shirts, took notes and monitored the police presence; officers stayed on the outskirts of the event.  Bicycle cops in yellow jackets walked their bikes along the curb on Georgia Street. One cop told me he had received crowd-control training for the Olympics and confided: “Peaceful protest is great. Non-peaceful protest isn’t.”

(This image was taken earlier that morning on Commercial Drive.)

Crowd chants varied from “No Olympics on stolen native land” and “Homes not Games” to “Shame on Canada” and “This is what democracy looks like.”


As the protesters marched towards BC Place, where the Olympics opening ceremonies were beginning at 6 p.m., they faced barricades and a phalanx of police officers spread in a block-long line along Beatty Street. Behind these cops stood a row of 12 police on horseback, each equipped with a wooden baton about four feet long. The crowd pressed against the barricades and some protesters hurled a few things at the police, but the event remained peaceful.


Unfortunately, the following morning, a group of protesters smashed windows at The Bay downtown, which displayed figures wearing Olympic clothing and accessories with other merchandising. The police made several arrests. Such needless vandalism undermines the peaceful efforts of those who speak out against the Olympics and its out-of-control costs. How unCanadian.


On a celebratory note, I liked the Olympic logo made out of O-ring jar insulators in the window of Home Hardware on Commercial Drive near 1st Avenue.


Let’s keep speaking our minds and work to find solutions to the city’s social problems.

February 12, 2010 at 6:18 pm Comments (2)

Good-bye, Tundra

Sadly, the beautiful, mellow dog Tundra, who appears on my blog main page and on my business cards, has died. I will miss this sweet-souled creature, part Siberian Husky, and his soft yet glacial ice eyes. (I remembered him as having one blue eye and one green, but Duane corrected me.) Tundra was 15.

In Tundra’s honour, his owner, Duane Burnett, has launched a fundraising campaign to install water fountains along the oceanfront walkways on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast. These would include a fountain low to the ground, reachable for dogs, and a wheelchair-accessible one higher up on the same vertical column. Anyone on the Sunshine Coast can make a donation at the Sunshine Coast Credit Union.

If you want to help or know more, check out the FaceBook Fan Page that Duane set up for the Drinking Fountain Fundraising Campaign.

February 9, 2010 at 6:09 pm Comment (1)

Vancouver’s got its own Checkpoint Charlie

A German friend of mine who lives near Main Street and East 5th Avenue in Vancouver, BC said that it looks like Checkpoint Charlie around 2nd Avenue and Quebec Street. She’s got helicopters flying over her condo about every 20 minutes.

I encourage you to read the article “Class-War Games: The financial and social cost of ‘securing’ the 2010 Olympics”, which appeared in the May/June 2009 issue of Briarpatch Magazine, based in Regina, Sask. The article’s authors, Chris A. Shaw and Alissa Westergard-Thorpe, state: “Olympic boosterism has worked to exclude critical voices and suppress important public policy questions.”

They add: “Growing numbers of people oppose the host of issues that accompany the modern Olympic Games: the commercialization of sport, lack of transparency in government [some  public companies that hold Olympics-related meetings are not taking minutes to leave no record of the discussion], backroom deals for real estate and development interests, exploitative labour standards for migrant workers, promotion of corporate sponsors with appalling human rights and ecological records (including Nike, Shell, Royal Bank, Petro-Canada, Dow Chemical, Teck Cominco, General Electric, General Motors and Coca-Cola), and appropriation of public space.”

Activist Harsha Walia, in a Feb. 8 Vancouver Sun opinion piece, says: “[T]axpayers are the real sponsors of the $6 billion-$7 billion Winter Games.” A January 2010 EKOS poll revealed that 70 per cent of respondents think that too much money is being spent on this months’ Winter Games in Vancouver.

Meanwhile, U.S. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to carry the torch through Stanley Park. Apparently, he’s a good friend of B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell. Did Gordo and Arnie make a deal regarding California’s “runaway (film) productions” relocating to Vancouver? Did Gordo promise a sweet I.P.P. deal for California, or a guarantee to prevent the state’s next blackout? Who knows what resources have changed hands between those two?!

February 9, 2010 at 4:00 pm Comments (0)

What a catalyst to honour Canada, the Creek, and community

                                                                                                                     — Heather Conn photos

Last week, on Feb. 4, I temporarily set aside my criticisms of the Olympics and celebrated Roberts Creek spirit and community with several hundred others. As local children waved Canadian flags or tissue-paper torches they had made in school, we greeted torch relay runner Caroline Depatie and her youthful co-torch runner, whose name I don’t know. (I had no idea that Caroline was going to be the torch runner; she just lives a few doors down from us in Roberts Creek and is my work contact at Capilano University in Sechelt.)

                  Roberts Creek resident Caroline Depatie


I saw how touched the young torch runner was, almost in tears, and saw her mother hug her and say: “I’m so proud of you.” How could anyone fault that heartfelt interaction? Seeing the excitement and glee of the children made me realize the positive impact that such a  global event can have on kids when the torch comes  to people’s communities. But they sure don’t need the message of competition, competition, competition and that winning is everything. Besides, where’s the funding for school sports groups that the B.C. government took away?




A poignant encounter wasn’t enough to make me forget about our — taxpayers’ —  impending debt from the Olympics, its exclusive corporate marketing deals and use of sports as a merchandising commodity, surveillance cameras, massive cost overruns, and, in the words of British historian George Monbiot, its “legacy of a transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich . . .they have become a licence for land grabs.”


I wanted to wretch at the abrasive canned music of the Coca-Cola “float” that followed the torch runners, especially with its bouncy young dancers and corporate slogan “Open happiness.” I was pleased to see that few people lined on either side of Roberts Creek Road took any of the small freebie bottles of Coke handed out by young, smile-stuck shills. (Coca-Cola, by the way, hopes to sell nine million units of bottled water during the Olympics in Vancouver. Meanwhile, we’re supposed to believe that a Big Mac and Coke are the hearty, healthy breakfast of an Olympic champion — “do you believe?”)


Thankfully, we had some Roberts Creek, gumboot-clad musical talent to offset the corporate melodies of Royal Bank and Coke. Lead singer Mark Lebbell, who chairs the Creek’s Official Community Plan Committee, sang these lyrics, which he wrote himself:

Nero was getting nervous, as he sat there on the throne
People needing bread, filled the streets of Rome
He knew the crash was coming, he knew he had to act
He said: “We need a Circus, 5 Rings that will distract”


Let’s straighten out the highways, build some Coliseums
Folks will fly from miles around just to come and see ’em
Pave the Callahan Valley, clear the rabble from the streets
Invite the Northern Hemisphere, and party for two weeks


He knew from 1936 it was good for the nation
And any other country, that could afford refrigeration
As people lined up for a piece of the apple pie
He stood on stolen land, explained how televisions had rights

He said you’re gonna love it, but we’ll need 12,000 cops
Only going to cost us 4, 5, 6 billion, tops
3 Pokemon for mascots, the eagle’s the one in the middle
And climbed upon an innukshuk, and took out his fiddle



But the people realized, there isn’t any correlation
Between a giant corporate orgy, and participation or paction
We’re all for healthy living, we’re all for chasing dreams
but debt and spandex superheroes aren’t what our kids need

There was a yellow ring for Royal Bank,
One red ring for Coke
One ring for the green wash
That’s all a bit of a joke
Two for wasted time and money,
Black and blue for all
But there’s no . . .gold . . .rings for the kid with a ball


I liked the yellow gumboots that Caroline Depatie was wearing — a nice touch. Donna Shugar, chair of the Sunshine Coast Regional District (who was left off the invitation list for the Olympic festivities in Sechelt) encouraged Roberts Creek torch relay attendees to wear our community’s trademark gumboots. She, of course, wore hers.


I had expected to see some protest signs at the Creek event and had thought of making one of my own, but my husband Frank encouraged me to keep the community focus on the pleasure of the kids. I took his advice. Donna Shugar had shared the message “Loving kindness to all, loving kindness to all.”

That same afternoon, when my husband and I went to the Langdale ferry terminal to drop off my friend Annie, we had no idea that we could encounter another torch relay. (I confess: we didn’t read the recent media.) When we tried to pull out of the parking lot, a BC Ferries employee stopped us and told us a torch procession would be coming down soon. I was delighted to see the torch relay participant roll past us in a wheelchair.






Gee, even some of the most hardened cynics can stay patriotic to Canada. And people think that we Canadians aren’t nationalists . . .

February 9, 2010 at 8:53 am Comment (1)

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