A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for November 2016

[URBAN NOTE] “John Abbott College’s new program supports Montreal’s Inuit students”

At MacLean’s, Emily Baron Cadloff describes a program set up by a Montréal CEGEP to meet the needs of Inuit students from the northern Québec region of Nunavik, to migrate south for education.

In 2009, Alicia Aragutak finished high school in her hometown of Umiujaq, on the eastern shore of Hudson Bay. She was one of three students to graduate, and one of two from the remote, fly-in-only community of 400 people to study in Montreal, 1,245 km away.

Arriving in a huge metropolis “was a rather shocking experience for me, since I lived in one of the smallest towns in Nunavik,” says Aragutak, now president of the non-profit Qarjuit Youth Council. She enrolled at the English-speaking John Abbott College, a Montreal CEGEP with close to 600 students at the time, which was more people than Aragutak had ever seen.

Nunavik, the northernmost region of Quebec, is home to more than 12,000 people, the majority of them Inuit. Many young people like Aragutak, now 25, have never been away from home, let alone lived in residence at a college. But getting a post-secondary education, she explains, is expected. “I knew at that time my future would require some kind of education.”

Every year since the formation of the Kativik School Board (KSB) in 1975, Inuit students from all over Nunavik have travelled south to a CEGEP. More than half of the 100 students currently away from home for school ended up at John Abbott, which offers a two-week college preparatory program to help introduce young Inuit to life in the city. It also helps Inuit students form connections. “You get to know your classmates, but it’s not as close-knit as it is up north. So when you’re in the same environment as people who are going through the same changes as you, it’s comforting,” says Aragutak, who studied youth and adult correctional intervention. “And you feel like you’re not alone.”

Now, thanks to a $667,000 federal grant, the Kativik School Board is going a step further, introducing a one-year, general education pilot program in September 2017 called Nunavik Sivuniksavut.

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Written by Randy McDonald

November 30, 2016 at 6:30 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Montreal neighbourhood’s new-temple ban sparks debate about public space”

The Globe and Mail‘s Ingrid Peritz touches upon the tensions between Hasidim and non-Hasidim in the Montréal borough of Outremont regarding the management of public space. There are legitimate concerns on both sides, whether the concern of Hasidim that they are being squeezed out or the concern of non-Hasidim that their public space is being taken over. (The Montréal gym whose windows were frosted so as to obscure outsiders’ views of exercising women, at the request of Hasidim, is located here.)

A referendum vote in favour of banning new houses of worship on one of Montreal’s most upscale streets has inflamed tensions with the district’s community of Hasidic Jews, fuelling a divisive debate over religious minorities and the sharing of public space.

In a vote that coincides with heightened sensitivity across the continent about the treatment of minorities, residents in the borough of Outremont voted 56 per cent in favour on Sunday of upholding a zoning ban on new temples on Bernard Avenue, one of the well-to-do district’s main commercial arteries.

While the bylaw does not identify a specific religion, it coincides with the rapid expansion of the local Hasidic community, a largely insular, ultra-orthodox group that has grown to about 25 per cent of the population.

Some in the Hasidic community see the vote as push-back against its members. With zoning bans in place on residential streets and other commercial areas in Outremont, Bernard was the last place in the developed part of the borough available to open a synagogue.

[. . .]

The referendum vote is the latest iteration of long-standing strains between the Hasidic Jewish community and the majority in Outremont, home to some of the leading political and cultural figures of Quebec (the borough recently made waves when it renamed Vimy Park after the late premier Jacques Parizeau, a long-time resident). Below the surface, the debate is over the notion of belonging and the stresses of co-habitation in the central Montreal borough of 25,000, where black-garbed Hasidic men are a visible presence. The Hasidic community, bound by deep religious tenets, mostly avoids mixing with those outside its faith.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 30, 2016 at 6:00 pm

[ISL] “Hundreds rally for electoral reform on P.E.I.”

CBC News’ Natalia Goodwin notes a major protest in Charlottetown calling on the Island government to honour the results of the recent referendum on changing the electoral system to one based on proportional representation.

An estimated 300 people gathered in front of the Coles Building in Charlottetown Tuesday night to voice discontent over how the results of the recent plebiscite on electoral reform were handled.

There were chants of “Honour the vote” throughout the hour-long protest. People even brought pots and pans to bang on; they were loud and they were angry.

“This is bullying, and I don’t take well to bullying and I really will stand up to bullying,” said protestor Greg Bradley

“King Wade wants to keep things the way they are and people want change and we’re not allowed to have a voice it seems.”

The noise from the crowd got even louder as the MLAs began to return to the legislature for the evening sitting. Some stopped to hear what speakers were saying and engage in debate and questions with rally goers. There were many speakers including representation from all four parties on P.E.I.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 30, 2016 at 5:30 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Is Public Sex in Parks a Public Safety Concern?”

Spacing’s Marsha McLeod and Jen Roberton take a look at the campaign against public sex in Marie Curtis Park, placing it in a broader context of queer repression.

The presence of public sex in parks is a long standing tradition in urban centres. For some, having public sex is a fetish. For others, they may frequent parks for sex because they do not have access to an indoor space for sex, notably true for some homeless people and queer people. Cruising, the practice of seeking anonymous sex in parks or other public spaces, has a specific significance for men who have sex with men (MSM) who may not identify as part of queer or gay communities, and may not have other means of meeting other MSM.

Despite the fact that public sex occurs regularly in parks, few cities actively plan parks accommodating this reality. In response, some activists have taken guerrilla planning tactics to claim park space for sex. In 2011, activists posted signs in Copenhagen’s Ørstedsparken which read that sex is allowed in the park, but patrons must show respect to other park users by not having sex near the playground, in plain view, or loudly between 9am and 4pm. Patrons were also reminded to dispose of any waste they may produce, including used condoms and paper towels. The signs were removed by municipal officials.

The guidelines on public sex in parks put forth by Copenhagen activists include the needs of patrons using parks for sex, while also considering the needs of people using the space for other recreational activities that may seem to conflict with cruising. The Ørstedsparken guidelines also mirror the regulations that govern public sex in Amsterdam’s Vondelpark. Since 2008, public sex has been allowed in Vondelpark as long as patrons do not litter, do not engage in sexual activities near the playground, and limit public sex to evenings and nighttime. In an article in the Amsterdam Law Forum, Laura Morrison and Alba Izadó León Hernández write that the changes to the regulations in Vondelpark were done by the municipal government to protect all members of the local community, including gay men who were being targeted by ‘queer-bashers.’

Recent police stings targeting men cruising in Toronto’s Marie Curtis Park reflect what happens when parks are not seen as spaces that community members utilize for a variety of activities, including public sex. The police operation, entitled ‘Project Marie’, involved plain-clothed male officers frequenting specific cruising spots to wait for men to solicit them for sexual activities. The operation led to ticketing 72 people一95 percent of whom are men一with a total of 89 charges. Most people were ticketed for non-criminal offenses, including trying to solicit sex from an undercover officer and for being in a parking lot after hours (under the assumption that they were there to engage in public sex). The Toronto Police Service stated that the 22 Division undertook the operation so that parents and children who frequent Marie Curtis Park could “take back” the space.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 30, 2016 at 5:00 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Scarbexit? Scarborough resident calls for de-amalgamation”

The Toronto Star‘s Alicja Siekierska describes the activities of one man who hopes to restore Scarborough as a city separate from Toronto. I share in the general skepticism that there’s a chance of this happening, but who knows? 2016 has been such a year, and a partial demerger did occur last decade in Montréal.

A disgruntled Scarborough resident is fed up with Toronto’s city council and is hoping a petition will help start the process of de-amalgamation.

Robert McDermott, a real estate agent in Scarborough, said he launched the “Free Scarborough Campaign” because amalgamation has been “a dismal failure” that has led to tax increases and declines in service. McDermott is calling for Scarborough to de-amalgamate from the city “to restore accessible, local government.”

Scarborough and surrounding Toronto municipalities merged to form the modern City of Toronto in 1998 after then-premier Mike Harris passed amalgamation legislation that was proposed as a way to save the province money. The controversial bill was heavily opposed at the time, and calls for de-amalgamation have resurfaced over the years since it was enacted.

“Property taxes in Scarborough have been continually going up and services have been declining,” McDermott said, adding the amalgamated council has fuelled division between downtown Toronto and the suburbs surrounding it.

“We’ve lost the ability to manage our own affairs, really. We’re being dictated by a centralized government in downtown Toronto.”

Online, McDermott’s campaign has failed to receive much traction, with just over 90 signatures on the online petition as of Tuesday afternoon. However, he said he has received about 3,200 signatures from going door-to-door in Scarborough. McDermott hopes to gather enough signatures by the end of 2017 to compel municipal and provincial officials to launch a referendum on de-amalgamation.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 30, 2016 at 4:30 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “An immigrant security guard’s triumphant homecoming”

The Toronto Star‘s Nicholas Keung tells the story of an Indian immigrant whose experiences as a security guard at a downtown condo inspired his first novel, one he ended up promoting at that very same condo.

The last time Mayank Bhatt was in this Forest Hill condo building he wore a navy blue uniform and worked as a security guard.

It was one of the new immigrant’s first jobs in Canada, a position the Mumbai native landed just weeks after arriving at Pearson International Airport with his wife, Mahrukh, and son, Che.

Seven years after he left that job, Bhatt, 54, recently returned to the warm embrace of the tenants he used to serve at 260 Heath St. W., but this time as a published author invited for a reading of his debut novel, Belief — the story of a new immigrant family’s struggles in Canada. The book will be officially launched at the Gladstone Hotel on Tuesday evening.

“I wanted to read at this condo building. I came to Canada not knowing anyone. I was a complete stranger and they welcomed me. My new life started here. The residents in this building were the first set of people who made life possible for me and my family,” said Bhatt, his voice choked with emotion.

“My idea was not to come to Canada to become a security guard. I wanted to come back to show what I have become today, that I’ve lived up to that expectation. This is a bit of a homecoming for me.”

The Heath St. condo was also an apt venue for the occasion because this is where Bhatt first conceived of the idea for his book and started crafting the story while working the graveyard shift guarding the building and protecting its residents.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 30, 2016 at 4:00 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Hamilton: The benefits of living on the outskirts of cool”

Spacing’s Alanna Stuart writes about Hamilton’s position on the edge gives it a chance to innovate. Gerschenkron’s argument from backwardness?

Despite its new reputation as a real estate hotbed, Hamilton has yet to be branded as an internationally renowned cultural hub, though the annual Supercrawl arts festival is threatening to change that. The steel town still has more boarded up storefronts than venues and cafes, yet it’s also managed to birth a Grammy-winning electronic music scene that’s been celebrated worldwide since the ’90s.

I made a documentary about this community, and, in the process, came to realize that Hamilton’s cultural impact didn’t happen in spite of its perceived weaknesses, it happened because of them.

Looking at other geographic musical movements revealed this phenomenon isn’t unique to Hamilton. Take Virginia Beach, VA, for example. The mid-sized, tourism-driven military town gave birth to Timbaland, Missy Elliott, Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo (The Neptunes), and The Clipse, who together, planted the seeds for the rap and “future R&B” revolution of the’90s and 2000s.

Meanwhile in the UK, musicians growing up in the airplane manufacturing centre of Bristol, two and a half hours west of London, fused hip hop production, singer-songwriter craftsmanship, and reggae music to form its signature trip hop sound and more. Influential bands like Massive Attack, Portishead, and Roni Size Reprazent all emerged from this sonic mish-mash.

Though their music lends these places an air of avant-garde now, when their scenes’ champions were growing up, none of these cities were anybody’s idea of cool. And I think that was part of their advantage.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 30, 2016 at 3:00 pm