Photos taken during this week’s internship at ‘The Eastern Door’

13 05 2010

I’ve been interning since Monday at the Eastern Door, a local newspaper serving the Kahnawake community across the river from Montreal. My friend and fellow Board member (at The Concordian) invited me over for a week while the head honchos (editors and publishers Steve Bonspiel and Tracey Deer) are in Europe accepting an award for one of Tracey’s films.

Long story short, I’ve been writing for this paper off and on for a few months and this is my chance to do a “regular” job like newspapering, as in come in every day and write stories about what goes on in the community, albeit without the money (which is what most would-be journalists are doing these days anyway…)

It’s been fun. The photo below will appear alongside a wee story about an artist’s endeavor to raise the creativity and self-esteem of Mohawk youth.

A volunteer at the Native Friendship Centre paints a mural in Concordia University's greenhouse, my absolutely favourite place in Montreal

Here are some of the guys from the Native Friendship Centre who really got into it: Luke on the left and Lava in the red shirt. They were fabulous painters.

This is a very cute little girl named Kyrie who helped paint. It didn’t make it into the paper.

The photo below was taken at a press conference I attended that same day for an announcement about the programming lineup for the First People’s festival in June and August. Lots of CBC and Radio-Can media there, which makes sense because they’re some of the bigger corporate sponsors.

André Dudemaine, founder and administrator of Land InSights, with Catherine Joncas, a member of Aboriginal dance troupe Oninndok.

That story won’t run until next week… No space.

The most interesting story I covered so far however, was a panel of speakers who participated in the events leading up to the Oka crisis of 1990. I think I did a decent job of summing up 20 years of history in a tiny (for me) 600-word piece. Of course I’m writing a longer version for the web… Naturally.

You can check out the stories at


Journal de Montreal workers still hold the line

26 01 2010

One year anniversary of lockout celebrated Sunday with show of solidarity at La Tulipe — by Tobi Elliott

One year after le Journal de Montreal‘s unionized employees were locked out of their workplace, negotiations are yet at a standstill between Quebecor Media and the workers. The war of words continues in the streets and online: Quebecor promotes its cause at, and the union workers at Neither shows any signs of budging.

Today, the 46-year old French language newspaper is still published daily by Quebecor’s management and freelancers. Much of the content comes from Quebecor’s other holdings, such as the TVA network, Sun Media dailies like 24 heures and the Canoë site.

On the other side of the locked doors, the union’s upstart news site is giving the Journal a serious run for its money. Underwritten by the worker’s union and staffed by le Journal’s reporting staff, the site went live four days after the 253 workers were locked out Jan. 24, 2009.

Not only is the upstart site looking more and more like a credible news source, it’s also attracting some decent advertising dollars. Pascal Filotto, the secretary of the workers’ union said that ruefrontenac is “exceeding everything that we’d hoped for.”

Ads from TELUS, Milk-bone Canada, Downy and TD Canada Trust have appeared on the site. Their biggest advertiser to date is the Federation des travailleurs et travailleuses du Quebec, a “million-dollar contract” that Filotto said came their way when Quebecor refused to run the agency’s ads in any of their outlets because FTQ refused to have their ads run in le Journal.

At a benefit concert at La Tulipe marking the one-year anniversary of the lockout, Raynald Leblanc, president of the Syndicat des travailleurs de l’information du Journal de Montreal, said it was “very, very possible” the union could hold out longer than two years if Ruefrontenac continues to grow at the rate it has been.

Raynald Leblanc says the union workers are "not victims" but fighters.

Filotto went so far as to claim Ruefrontenac “could eventually replace our strike fund.” At the start of the lockout, the fund had enough to pay workers 76 per cent of their salaries for two full years.

About one hundred reporters and editors work full-time on the site, another forty contribute to it occasionally. Those who don’t work on the site have to be at the picket lines at least twenty hours each week.

The two sides have only met once since the lockout. “We’re pretty much no where,” summed up Filotto. If anything, the divide appears greater than ever. While there was no talk of newsroom cuts before Christmas, said Filotto, now there is.

The union says they’re ready to meet to discuss “working conditions, working hours, financial issues… everything, everything would be on the table for us. That’s what we’ve always done,” said Filotto.

According to Montreal’s The Gazette, Isabelle Dessureault, vice-president of public affairs at Quebecor Media Inc., said the major stumbling block in negotiations continues to be the question of layoffs.

Apart from work conditions and layoff negotiation, a major sticking point for the union is how Quebecor incorporated le Journal’s content into Canoë’s network. Quebecor President Pierre Karl Peladeau wrote in the Jan. 26, 2009 edition of le Journal de Montreal that they want to use the newspaper’s material “on Quebecor Media’s current and future platforms – and vice versa – in order to respond to the expectations of the readers.”

The union workers say they don’t want their stories incorporated into a system that includes, and, and used in TVA publications such as 7 Jours, Lundi, Dernière heure, Écho Vedettes, etc.

The union claims they have asked management for a Journal website for eight years, but they were told. “ ‘We’re not ready, give us some time, let us use this stuff from the Journal on all our other websites,’” said Filotto. Instead of their own website, they got Canoë.

“At some point they stopped wanting to talk to us,” said Filotto, “… and they’ve just put our stuff on Canoë, and started promoting the Canoë in the pages of the Journal as if it was the Journal’s website.”

The director of Concordia’s journalism department, Mike Gasher, said that although he’s skeptical ruefrontenac “will be able to make a serious go of it for very long,” he doesn’t think the Journal’s unionized workers are being unreasonable in their demands.

“I think the journalists recognize that the content they produce is the real franchise of Le Journal de Montreal and diluting that content is the wrong way to go,” said Gasher.

This symptom isn’t just local and Gasher thinks le Journal’s workers are in tune with what’s happening everywhere. “They are seeing newspapers all around them gutted by companies simply interested in squeezing out as much work as possible from as few workers as they can afford, with very little concern for the integrity of the editorial content or the integrity of the journalists who produce that content,” said Gasher.

“They dress it up in the language of convergence and the realities of multi-platform journalism, but their game is really putting the squeeze on the so-called content producers,” he said.

“The newspaper industry is not dying; it’s committing suicide by gutting newsrooms and becoming mere repeater stations of the rival media they don’t seem to want to compete with,” Gasher continued. “The unions recognize this and are resisting.”

That resistance was celebrated in the form of a sold out show at La Tulipe Sunday night with musicians Richard Desjardins, Tricot Machine, Louise Forestier and El Motor, Loco Locass and Jean-Sébastien Lavoie.

December 1 is World AIDS day and there is still no known cure. Now, are you ready for some good news?

27 11 2009

AIDS. It’s been over a quarter century since the world’s most devastating virus was first discovered. Although science and epidemiologists know a lot more about it now than they did in the early 1980s, there is still no vaccine on the horizon.

But lest discouragement set in that no progress is being made… that there’s no end to the bad news where the AIDS epidemic is concerned… that it’s all doom and gloom on the battlefront… there is a ray of hope.

A report out this week from the World Health Organization and UNAids, the UN body charged with monitoring and combating the disease, is surprisingly encouraging.

Before we get to the good news, it seems fitting to first look at the numbers of people who have died from HIV/AIDS, who will die from it and are struggling to live in spite of it right now.

Six thousand people die every day because of AIDS.

Today, 7,400 people around the world contracted HIV. That’s right: seven thousand four hundred. And seven thousand more will contract it tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.

Allow me one more unpleasant set of numbers, this one even nastier: around 33.4 million people worldwide are currently infected with HIV, an increase from 33 million in 2007.

Hidden in the awfulness of those numbers, however, is the trickle of good news.

The encouraging news is that the higher number of HIV carriers in the world actually means less people are dying of it now than in previous years. People with HIV are living longer. Something is working.

In sub-Saharan Africa – the epicenter of the battle against AIDS – an estimated 1.4 million people died of HIV/AIDS in 2008. This actually represents an 18 per cent decline in annual deaths due to HIV since 2004.

These numbers are coming from the UNAids/WHO 2009 AIDS epidemic update, released last Tuesday. The report also states that the incidence of new HIV infections has dropped over the past eight years by 17 per cent.

The drop is most encouragingly visible in sub-Saharan Africa. Even though the region still accounts for 67 per cent of all new infections worldwide, the number of new infections has actually fallen from 2.3 million in 2001 to 1.9 million in 2008. Incidentally, this counters North America’s trend, where the 52,000 new cases of HIV that emerged in 2001 climbed to 55,000 in 2008.

The numbers tell us that access to care and vital drugs is improving. Access to antiretroviral therapy in sub-Saharan Africa rose from two per cent in 2003 to 44 per cent in 2008, which means nearly three million people needing it are receiving those services.

Currently, Botswana is emerging as Africa’s leader in access to treatment. Botswana was the first African country to make treatment available to HIV carriers in need, and the national investment is working. With current antiretroviral therapy coverage exceeding eighty per cent – 80! – across the country, the number of people estimated to die annually of AIDS in Botswana has been halved, from 15,500 in 2003 to 7,400 in 2007.

But that is just one shining example and isn’t representative of the whole picture. Nothing short of universal access will satisfy activists and generic drug lobbyists and leaders in the fight to get treatment and care for HIV sufferers.

The fact is, while nearly four million people are currently receiving treatment, 9.7 million are still in need. Still more sobering is the fact that for every two people put on treatment, five more become infected.

In 2006 at the UN General Assembly, 111 governments around the world set targets to achieving universal access to care and treatment by 2010. UNAids stresses that universal access will only be made possible with considerable investment, mainly from rich, developed nations.

An estimated $13.7 billion USD was invested in the AIDS response in 2008, about half of what’s estimated to be required for the global AIDS response in low- and middle-income countries.

Canada ranks relatively low on the list of donor nations to UNAids. Coming in at 26th with a total contribution of just $83,415, Canada doesn’t compare too well with first-ranked Netherlands, which donated a whopping $48.8 million out of a total $256 million raised in 2008.

Although the latest AIDS update presents a more encouraging picture than we’ve seen in almost 25 years, there is yet much, much work to be done.

Half of all children born with AIDS will die before their second birthday, and that’s nothing to celebrate.

By 2010, more than twenty million children will be orphaned due to AIDS, and by 2020, AIDS could kill up to 12 percent of Africa’s workforce – as many as 58 million people.

Thirty three million still infected with HIV is nothing to throw a party about.

We have our ray of hope. Let’s use it to spur our governments and our communities to greater acts of mercy and activism, more innovation and investment, and strive to improve access to care, right now, for those living with – and dying from – HIV/AIDS.


Thank you, Montreal

20 11 2009

When my iPhone was plucked out of my hand by someone walking casually down Ste. Catherine St. earlier tonight, I didn’t know what to do.

It disappeared from sight even as I stood there, open-mouthed and slow to comprehend.

Did I just –?

Did he –?

Yep. He did. And there it goes. My phone. With everything. My photos. Addresses. Texts from the past nine months with the Wildman.

My phone. Everything was in there.

As my brain caught up,  alarm pushed air into my lungs and I shouted down the street, “Hey, you can’t DO that! That’s my PHONE!” And then we both took off.

Let me back up a bit…

It was busy on the corner of Peel and Ste. Catherine, brightly lit with Christmas decorations and the wash of fluorescence from store windows. I had stopped walking to text the Wildman, leaning by bike against the HMV storefront. I stood facing the wall with a dreamy half-smile on my face as I tried to text something funny and sexy and witty in 250 characters or so.

A group of young guys passed behind my back, and I noticed them out of the corner of my eye because they kind of paused… stood there for a second and looked at me. As a group. A bit out of the ordinary, but I ignored them — Do they think I’m hot? I’m so not hot tonight. What are they looking at?” — and went on with my text.

Another young man passed me and then turned, looked at me and surprised me by asking me full in the face if I had the time. I was about to say, ‘can’t you see what time it is?’ because I thought I saw him checking his watch even as he asked me. Then I turned to look at my phone to verify, and said “7:30″.

The words were barely out of my mouth when he reached over and took the phone out of my hand. Minimum fuss, maximum confidence.

This guy knew what he was doing.

I stood there dumbfounded. I, on the other hand, did not know what to do.

The other guys fell around him and they walked away, and the only thing that kicked my body into gear was the thought that that little guy had my whole history with the Wildman in his hand, and he didn’t even care about it, would probably just sell it.

That made me mad. That is MY PHONE, and you’re not getting away with it, Punk.

I roared out, “Hey, stop! You there, you have my phone!” My voice surprised even me. I didn’t think I had a roar, I thought I was more of a screamer. But there you go…

A power and an urgency I didn’t know I possessed pushed up from inside and I ran after him. He saw me coming and took off. I glimpsed the phone in his hand.

Little bugger!

“You have my phone! You can’t do that!” I said over and over again. It was all I could think to say. “You can’t do that! You can’t just take a phone out of someone’s hand… You can’t!”

I caught up to him and pulled at his arm to swing him around to face me. He dodged and pulled away.

I jumped on his back, wrapping my arms around his chest, still yelling. I was also still holding my pink BFA-free water bottle in my hand. I thought idly that I might choke him if I got too close to his neck. I should be careful. I didn’t want to hurt him. It was hard to hold him and the bottle at the same time. And he wasn’t giving up. He kept twisting.

His friends pulled me off. Or maybe he shook me off, I don’t really remember. But all too quickly he was off down the street again.

I took off again, shouting even louder. Now I had figured out something else to say. “Thief! … Stop that man, he’s a thief! He’s got my phone!”

I’m running hard, but shock has made me slow, not fast. And I’m wearing these stupid high-heeled boots that, don’t get me wrong, look great but aren’t made for running.

He’s getting away. My phone!

I keep shouting, getting louder. I know I’m causing a scene, I see people turn to look, but I can’t help it. I’ll keep yelling until someone comes out.

But I see the opposite of what I hope for… Instead of stopping him, people are moving out of his way. They’re intimidated, I think. No one wants to get in their way. He’s got a group around him and no one knows what’s going on, they just let him run by.

Now he dodges into the street. We’re about one block from where we started. Even though I’m a fast runner, I can see I won’t catch him on foot, he’s too slick, dodging cars and criss-crossing the street. I’m in despair, all of a sudden, and I imagine life without my phone. So pathetic!

It’s only a communication device… but I need it. I run harder.

Suddenly from my left I see a man in a business suit running diagonally across the street toward Phone-Snatcher Guy. Business-Suit man runs right up to him, practically tackles him and pushes him against the wall. But he can’t hold him and my guy slips away again.

Then someone else joins, and then a few other people give chase. I can’t see who, but people are not just looking anymore, they’re moving in the same direction we’re traveling, following along the opposite sidewalk, maybe hoping to head Phone-Snatcher off. I’m still hollering, shouting my head off, getting louder and louder. I don’t know what to do but yell and run.

Someone, ironically, drops a cell phone and it breaks apart on the street right in front of me. I stop to pick two of the pieces up, losing my grip on my water bottle as I do. I hold onto the phone and take chase again, only now I see there’s a whole crowd of people calling to me, yelling at him, following along. We are now a bigger crowd than the group surrounding the Phone-Snatcher, and picking up more and more people along the way.

He dashes into the street, a couple of men keep up and try and pin him down again. I don’t know how many times they grab him and he slips away, but the other guys in his group are also helping, pushing, shoving, urging him to keep running. I find out later they pushed one lady hard, almost causing her to stumble into traffic.

Finally we’re all grouped together: me, the phone-snatcher and two or three of his guys, Mr. Business Suit the saviour, a host of other people I can’t properly see, and a woman who taps me on the arm and says she’s called the police. It feels like half of Montreal has rallied.

All of a sudden if feels like this whole thing has sprouted wings and been taken completely out of my hands. I look at all the people around – there must be thirty, maybe thirty-five – and realize they don’t even know why they’ve been chasing this guy down, they just heard yelling and came running. I want to cry.

I walk up to Phone-Snatcher where he’s struggling, still trying to push his way clear to run and say, in a slightly more subdued roar, “You took my phone. You can’t just do that. Where’s my phone?”

He looks at me and, with a face of helpless, angered, wounded innocence!, says, “I don’t have it. It dropped into the street. It’s on the road.”

I’m convinced my phone is crushed. My history with the Wildman, our love texts, our photos – gone.

I pull away and tears streak down my face. I can’t help it, I’m crying like a baby as I bawl incomprehensibly about my phone. The woman next to me puts her arm around me to console me and tells me again the police are coming. A French-speaking man says he’s going to punch the guy and literally pulls up his sleeve as if getting ready to. Business-suit man is keeping an eye on the culprit and then someone else steps in… a tall black man with a distinguished look about him steps between me and the phone-snatcher and says, “You can’t touch him. He has rights, you can’t hit him.” I bawl at him that I don’t want to hit the guy, I just want my damn phone back.

I turn away. I don’t care what happens anymore. My adrenaline is still pumping hard and I can’t think straight. The next few minutes are a blur as we end up in front of the mall, the Phone-Snatcher has slipped inside and his protector is preventing me from going in after him. His barring me from the door is superfluous as I’m too tired now, and I can only think about my phone on the street. I don’t want to chase him anymore.

Then, after a short conversation with Business-Suit man, who shows me his knuckles swelling and a pinkie that he thinks might be fractured – God only knows how – I’m summoned to the revolving door by a petite woman who tells me the police caught the guy and have him, and my phone, downstairs.

Flabbergasted, I can’t believe it. I’m blown away. Completely shocked that they actually caught him, AND HAVE MY PHONE, I go with her downstairs, taking one last look at the crowd gathered at Ste. Catherine and Metcalfe. They’re talking away excitedly, and I hope they know that Phone-Snatcher is caught thanks to them.

Downstairs in the foodcourt of the McGill metro, six policemen surround a guy on the floor, bound with handcuffs. I start to cry again, feeling pity for him. He looks so small down there. One of the men hands me my phone and I’m shocked with the same sense of unreality as when it was first taken from me. It’s not crushed on the street like I thought it was. I can’t believe it’s back.

I start to feel guilty and burble that I don’t want to press charges. The lady who came down with me said to the police officer, “Well I want to press charges. They pushed me into the street, they were getting violent!”

The police then kindly explains to me that since they already had him in custody and had lifted the phone off him, I didnt have to charge him. He would already be charged. They just needed to get a statement from me.

That’s when I called the Wildman and sobbed over the phone, trying to explain why I hadn’t texted him back. The next hour was a draining non-event, writing out a statement of the events, getting the police to recover my bike – they found my water bottle and other glove too! – and thanking the people who still hung around. I was still in shock for a good few hours, and when finally released to go home, found myself clutching my phone and eyeing carefully every group of black teens that passed me.

Slowly I realized that I hadn’t been the only one affected by my phone incident. When Business-Suit man had picked up the chase with me, and as more joined in and we united in the end in a circle around Phone-Snatcher, I realized I wasn’t the only one assaulted that night. Others who took up the chase for me had to pay the cost too.

As the increasingly desperate group around Phone-Snatcher had pushed and shoved at the crowd closing in on them, they had only succeeded in angering everyone around them to the point that no one minded getting involved, even if it meant getting knuckle-bruised or shoved into the street.

A comforting realization settled around me with the knowledge that while something had been taken from me by one Montrealer, many more Montrealers had been willing to stick their necks out, risking dignity and danger for a total stranger.

Walking away that night, I saw Montreal in a new light.

This is a city of people who are willing to come together when called upon. This is a city of people who will rise up when it counts, who will step in and help a stranger, even if they don’t fully understand why. This is a city of people who rallies to a cry of need. They heard my call, and they gave chase.

Montreal, you showed me your true colours tonight, and for that, I thank you.

Aboriginal sovereignty article, printed in ‘The Eastern Door’ Nov. 8 2009

16 11 2009

Last  week, the powers of the Indian Act were called upon to impose an elected band council on the Barriere Lake community in Ontario. * Whether or not the Minister of Indian affairs was justified in forcing elections because the deeply divided community cannot settle on a Chief through traditional means, there is no question that Chuck Strahl’s action will cause the question of aboriginal sovereignty to be debated anew in many First Nations communities.

That question is also the inspiration for the week of Aboriginal Sovereignty that took place Oct 25-Nov 1 in Montreal and other major cities across Canada. The week was organized by the coalition Defenders of the Land, with the aim of educating non-Aboriginals about why First Nations fight so fiercely for their rights to self-determination and sovereignty, in a country whose nationality they refuse to adopt.

In Kahnawake, Quebec, community leaders still repeat what has been said many times before: traditional governance is best. Kenneth Deer has never voted in a municipal, provincial or federal election, and is proud of it.

“In most Iroquois communities, there is a voter turnout of about 20 per cent vote in civic elections,” said the Mohawk elder, formerly the editor and publisher of Kahnawake’s newspaper, The Eastern Door. “Most believe longhouse government is the best form of government,” he explained last Sunday to a group of Montrealers visiting the reserve.

About fifty urbanites from the Montreal area toured Kahnawake last Sunday for the final event of Aboriginal Sovereignty week. They learned that Mohawks like Deer consider themselves members of the Six Nation Iroquois Confederacy, not citizens of Canada.

When Deer travels, which he does often due to his work over the past 20 years with the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations, which meets annually in Geneva, he uses a Haudenosaunee (People of the Longhouse) passport. This passport is one example of what Indigenous Sovereignty means to the Mohawk people in Quebec. It is issued by the Iroquois and recognized more often than not by immigration controls around the world. If it’s not acknowledged as legitimate, Deer says he simply doesn’t travel to those countries.

The visit also included a trip to the Mohawk Traditional Council and a talk about traditional versus electoral band council governance by Stuart Myiow Jr.

The week-long series of events also included a panel called ‘Defenders of the Land, Overcoming Canada’s colonial agenda’ with Arthur Manuel, the former chairperson of the Interior Alliance of BC First Nations and Russell Diabo, editor of the First Nations Strategic Bulletin. Chad Katsenhake:ron Diabo of Kahnawake talked about cross cultural training: ‘What you need to know when working with First Nations Communities’. There was also a conversation about the Lower Churchill Dam on Innu land, as well as a workshop titled ‘Colonial Canada 101’ by the Barriere Lake community.

Two documentary screenings were presented by groups at Concordia University: Muffins for Granny about the effects of the residential school system on seven elders, and The Experimental Eskimos, about the attempted assimilation of Inuit boys in the 1960s.

Chad Diabo, one of the members of Defenders of the Land, works for Kahnawake Community Services and helped organize the Montreal events. He said one goal was to “get out to a new population, a new Canadian-Quebecer audience to talk about the issues and the struggles we’re having as Indigenous people.”

Last Thursday, as Diabo helped workers from Concordia’s le Frigo Vert set up the vegan “Anti-Colonialist Feast” at the Native Friendship Centre on St. Laurent Blvd., he said the average Canadian’s perception of native issues is largely negative.

“What gets out to the media is the negative,” said Diabo. “But they don’t seem to talk about [the government’s] policies when they don’t involve us in the decision-making process. They don’t talk about how they shift resources around, or the hoops we have to jump through to get to those resources.”

Defenders of the Land is only one year old, but it has a bold ambition: to force Canada to honour historic treaties with Indigenous Peoples, and to sign and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The non-binding UN declaration was passed 143 to 4 in September, 2007 in the UN’s General Assembly. Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States voted against it.

At the time, the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs said the declaration was “inconsistent with the Canadian Constitution, the Charter, several acts of Parliament, and existing treaties.” Strahl cited problems with the wording regarding provisions on lands, territories, and resources.

Australia has since signed on to the declaration, but Canada still refuses on the grounds that it gives preferential rights to certain groups not accorded to others.

Diabo said this week is not about changing government policy however; it’s to inform the public about the daily problems faced by Aboriginals, “such as addictions, socio-economic problems, poverty, (and) poor water treatment,” he said. “Everyday Canadians aren’t told about what daily life is on the reserve– it is horrendous.”

Reactions from non-Aboriginals were largely positive. One student from Concordia University who wanted to remain anonymous said after the Kahnawake tour, “the cool thing about the Iroquois is they have a strong sense of sovereignty in relation to what they want.”

An immigrant from Tunisia, Marouane Tlili said, “We have a lot to learn from them – the Mohawk and other communities close to nature – in this time of multiple crises. We need to be inspired by a different way of seeing life and people, ways that aren’t based on materials and domination.”