On February 24th, I woke up to find an email from Section 98’s director Michael Wheeler, saying “have you been following my conversation with Omar Khadr?”. I’m sorry, what? Now, I think it says a lot about Mike that my first thought was, “if anyone’s going to find a way to have a conversation with Omar Khadr, it’s Mike”. Or maybe it says a lot about me. Then it dawned on me that a week earlier I had mentioned Omar Khadr in my Open Source entry “Checking for a Pulse“. I had dared to suggest that if one is going to support human rights and civil liberties, then one must do so in all cases, and, instead of quoting Margaret Chase this time, I’m going to quote Oscar winning actress Mo’nique: “sometimes you have to forego what’s popular in order to do what’s right”. I also said, based on this idea, that I’d like to know when we would be bringing Omar Khadr home. If I was going to find Mike’s conversation with “Omar Khadr” anywhere, I was betting it would be at the end of this post.
I headed to the comments section of the post, and there it was: ‘Everyone calm down! It’s me, Omar Khadr!‘… and it looked like Mike and Omar had stayed up “conversing” until the wee hours of the morning as well.
Don’t feed the trolls
If you spend a lot of time (angrily) reading reader comments on news sites like I do, you’ll often find the line, “don’t feed the trolls”. Can I go so far as to call this person a troll? Wikipedia defines an Internet Troll as “someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room or blog, with the primary intent of provoking other users into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.” Well, the posts were reasonably on-topic, but cue the inflammatory on his end, and the emotional on my end. Ultimately, I don’t want to call this person a troll as I think he truly believes in his point of view (and isn’t just engaging in order to be a nuisance), but at the same time, he isn’t posting to debate or discuss. He’s posting to say “how it is”.
I was surprised at first that Mike had taken on a somewhat similarly comedic tone with his responses. Good on him for not taking the bait I guess, but I was also frustrated at the amount of misinformation sitting there that was going undisputed (in the beginning). It’s so very easy to spout inflammatory statements like, ‘“The Young Offenders Act?!” Even I know that was replaced in 2003!‘ as thought that actually means something. In this case, it means nothing. While the YOA was replaced in 2003 with the Youth Criminal Justice Act, Omar was captured in 2002, and therefore still covered by the YOA. Regardless, the new Act still considers youth to be between the ages of 12 and 18, and Omar was 15 when captured. So what was his point, other than to say something in an authoritative manner, thereby casting doubt on Mike’s earlier assertions?
Same goes for such lines as ‘here’s the only law that DOES apply to me and my “situation”‘ (when in fact there ARE other international laws relating to child soldiers that apply to him and his situation), and ‘(unlike a lot of these bastards at Gitmo) I was actually charged WITH A CRIME‘… as were other Guantanamo Bay detainees who, regardless of their charges and/or convictions, were still released to the custody of their respective countries. I’ve always enjoyed people saying that Canada is unique, or special, but not when we’re unique because the only Western citizen remaining in Guantanamo Bay is Canadian.
Omar Khadr: Then & Now
… can we send it back?
The “debate” went on for a few days, with Mike and another valiant participant going head to head with this person… and I just sat back watching, wondering what to do, feeling a little bit useless, and a little bit overwhelmed. Oh, not by the level of debate, don’t get me wrong. In fact, when I first started reading his comments, I actually thought it might be satire. I thought, here is an ignorant, arrogant Colbert-like character playing up the ridiculousness of “the other side”… you know, that side that suggests the only reason anyone is interested in Omar’s rights in this case is ‘because they hate America, they hate what it stands for‘. It would almost be funny if he weren’t actually being utterly serious… in a quasi-funny, (mis)appropriated, and conveniently anonymous voice. So the level of debate wasn’t what was overwhelming me.
No, it was more about the fact that I knew engaging him further was useless. Consider, for a moment, his insistence that Omar is guilty (though he has yet to be tried), and his complete dismissal of the evidence to the contrary provided by Mike. In fact, any good point in the real Omar’s favour was simply met with something like ‘just which side are you on? Because it sounds like you’re on mine! This is fantastic, I need another “useful idiot”‘. So t. schwellnus gets called an idiot… not by the writer of course, but by “Omar”… so he gets away with it.
And then there’s the issue of my being a woman. Fake Omar’s first comment said (in reference to me), ‘what’s with the lady that hates “Borat” and why is she even allowed to view such Western filth?’. After that, I (wrongly or rightly) assumed that any comment I made would be met with a similar ‘joke’ about my place as a woman. He would be ‘in character’ of course, and I would be expected to be able to take a joke of course… otherwise I’m just another one of those humourless shrews we see portrayed on the television every day. I didn’t say any of this to anyone, yet I was asked by a female friend if this was one of the reasons I wasn’t responding to the discussion. And let me tell you now, I’m not proud of the fact that I stayed away.
Finally, it is overwhelming to know that there are so many people out there like this person. As Mike said in one of his responses, ‘it is valuable for the production to acknowledge that the reason Omar Khadr is in Guantanamo Bay is because there are many, many people, just like you out there.’. I don’t mind that people have differing opinions than my own, not at all. I just want to be able to have discussions with those people where we can share what we think and what we know, and actually drive the discussion forward. I love to learn, and I therefore love it when someone proves me wrong… but that can only happen if I actually listen to what the other person is saying.
t. schwellnus may have said it to fake Omar best: ‘I don’t know what your intentions are, ultimately, but this shit just kinda makes me crazy‘.
So, as the keeper of Section 98‘s Open Source Theatre project, here’s what I want to know: what the hell do you do in this scenario? Do you take the bait and engage in the name of accuracy and/or principle? Do you ignore the “troll”? Do you delete his posts (as he accused us of doing)? Or, like Mike, do you try to find a way to incorporate this “voice” into the show, without taking the voice “out of context” (which is what concerns fake Omar). Though, I don’t see how we can take a voice that doesn’t actually belong to this person out of context, but we’ll certainly do our best.
Now I want to leave you with a question… and feel free to tell answer in the comments section below: what were you doing when you were 15? What was I doing when I was 15? I was going to Catholic school, and campaigning for Perrin Beatty? Why? Well, I was raised by my parents as both a Catholic and a Conservative. And, while I hate to admit it, I was pretty much one of those kids that did as their parents told them. It wasn’t until a little later in life that I realised I wasn’t a believer, and I certainly wasn’t a Conservative (of the big or small c variety). Luckily, when I was 15, I didn’t have parents that sent me to Afghanistan to fight in a war, as I probably would have gone. You?
Come see Praxis Theatre’s Section 98 interactive work-in-progress presentation on Saturday, March 13th at the Harbourfront Centre Studio Theatre. Click here for more information.
Vancouver Poet Laureate Brad Cran on the Canadian Women’s hockey team’s post-game celebration.
by Aislinn Rose
The Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games are over, and although there was some protesting and censoring, it seems to have come off as a relatively controversy free affair. For this creative process we’ve been keeping an eye on things ever since we first heard about “free speech zones“, and rights activists being detained on bothsides of our border. We are, after all, building a show about civil liberties in Canada, which leaves room in each iteration for pressing civil rights issues at the time of each production to be addressed within the context of similarly difficult moments in the history of our country.
We became interested in these stories about activists being detained at the Canadian/US border, and then I came across a piece by Vancouver Poet Laureate, Brad Cran who, incidentally, declined to participate in the Cultural Olympiad due to rules he believed muzzled free speech. In his piece entitled “2010 Handbook for Entering Canada”, Cran takes a look at these border crossings from the perspective of the border guard. Sort of.
In an effort to stay true to this concept of “Open Source”, I am reaching out to you for contributions to the “source code” of Section 98. That’s right. I want you to read Brad Cran’s piece below, and then send us what you think we should do with it. It can be in script format, or just in the form of a completed idea or concept. You can email all of this to the “info” address at the top right of the website if you’re the shy type or leave it as a comment below!
Our creative process has evolved a lot at Praxis Theatre – evolving from working exclusively with text-based tools to create new work, to also incorporating and experimenting with ideas and using the workshop process to develop them into theatre. You’ll see the results of those recent efforts on March 13th at our work in progress HATCH presentation. (Did I mention tickets are on sale now? No? Tickets are on sale now.)
Please take the time to read the Handbook below, and then send us whatever comes to you. How might you put this story, this issue on stage? How would you make it theatrical? Have you considered how it might fit into a show that is also covering civil rights issues of the 1930s and 1970s? In keeping with things open source, we may incorporate your contribution into our presentation (so be forwarned), we may save it for a later iteration, or we may determine that it doesn’t fit into what we’re developing. Either way, you’ll be acknowledged, credited, and thanked appropriately.
Are you bringing any fruits or vegetables into Canada?
Have you visited a farm in the last 30 days?
Are you now or have you ever been a member of a group that disagreed with government?
Do you intend to ride the zip line?
Do you approve of product placement in movies?
Do you like my uniform?
Are you bringing into Canada any currency and/or monetary instruments of a value totalling CAN$10,000 or more per person?
Have you ever assaulted a police officer with a stapler?
In describing my uniform, would you say that it a) inspires respect or b) breeds contempt?
Have you ever dreamed of shooting a fascist dictator off a Spanish balcony?
Do you approve of John Furlong?
Can you give me an example of the words in your head and how they might be used while in Canada?
Do you vote?
Are you now or have you ever been a person who carries MasterCard?
Were you aware of the Oka uprising, and if so, whose side were you on?
Remind me again about the zip line.
Do you read poetry?
Do you believe in homelessness as a right of the people?
If you were Canadian, and if it were possible to do so, would you vote for John Furlong?
Does the colour of your socks match the colour of your pants?
Do your children own an effigy, stuffed or otherwise, of the Olympic mascot?
Our premier rode the zip line. Did you see that? It looks awesome.
Please arrange the following terms in order of preference, starting with the least important: Health Care, Education, the Environment, Homelessness, Logo Placement at Sporting Events.
Do you now or have you ever owned a copy of Raffi’s Baby Beluga?
Do you own a cell phone?
Are you carrying any printed matter that illustrates same-sex love?
Are you bringing into Canada any firearms or other weapons?
Did you know that each year, more Canadians trust RBC Royal Bank® for their mortgage solutions than any other provider?
What is the total monetary value of the goods you will be leaving in Canada?
Let’s go back to my uniform for a minute, you gotta admit it’s pretty fucking awesome.
Do you or have you ever listened to Democracy Now?
Can you finish the following sentence? Baby beluga in the deep blue ______________.
What colour is your heart?
Do you believe in global warming?
Have you ever purchased No Name brand products? You know, the ugly yellow ones?
If while in Canada you were tasered, would you be upset or go into cardiac arrest?
Do you support an international unelected and roaming fourth tier of government as set out by a non-existent charter of the
If your government acted against the principles of democracy, would you be compelled to action or would you just tell your
friends you are miffed?
Do you ever experience emotions stronger than miffment?
If someone you knew spoke up against your government, would you a) listen or b) think that was a little weird?
Which of the following does not fit? Osama bin Laden, Louis Riel, Chris Shaw, Gordon Campbell.
When asked, will you keep the flow of traffic moving smoothly?
How long will you be staying?
* * *
I should tell you there’s a lot of interesting stuff to read on Cran’s Poet Laureate site, including his take on Shane Koyczan, the slam poet featured in Vancouver’s Opening Ceremonies. Here’s Koyczan performing “We Are More” in 2007.
Amnesty International launched this multi-platform human rights awareness campaign in Belgium.
by Aislinn Rose
Ever since our most recent workshop in January, my research has been focussed on ways in which we can incorporate wireless and cellular technology into our HATCH work-in-progress. In particular, we’re trying to find out the best way to allow our audience members to send us text messages throughout the show so that we can project them on screens and/or televisions. (We have some ideas, but if you’ve got any advice, please feel free to share it in the comments). When it comes to figuring out the solution, we have to keep asking ourselves, “What do we need it for?” – a great question both logistically and theatrically.
As mentioned previously, we want to engage all of you in the debate about civil rights, and we want to do that before, during, and after our presentations. So we’re using all of the resources we have available to us, including the theatre, our website, Facebook, Twitter, and whatever hand-held gadget you’re currently addicted to (it’s the iPhone for me). As theatre artists we’re looking at political content and attempting to agitate you and bring awareness by employing some of the techniques typically employed by activists, and there are all kinds of activists who inspire us… and some who are even turning around and using theatrical techniques to get their points across.
The campaign by Amnesty International asked the humans of Belgium to wake up, and what I particularly like about it is that it’s asking a progressive society to stop taking their human rights for granted, reminding them that they must remain forever vigilant. So are we awake in Canada? A few of us (across the political spectrum) seemed to be on January 23rd. But what about when it comes to stickier, less black and white issues? It seems too easy to want to defend human rights when it’s a child being denied entrance to a school, or a couple being refused a marriage ceremony in a church.
It appears to become more of a challenge to remain awake and engaged when we’re talking about the rights of someone who has (allegedly) fought against us, who has engaged in illegal activities, who has been deemed an enemy or a traitor. But when does a human being stop deserving basic human rights? Surely if human rights are something worth fighting for, then we should be willing to fight for them in every situation.
I’ve been searching for a quote for the last several weeks in relation to our Section 98 project and to the issue of civil rights in general, and I think I finally found it. It is attributed to Margaret Chase Smith a former Republican Senator from Maine, and she said, “the right way is not always the popular and easy way. Standing for right when it is unpopular is a true test of moral character”. So while it may be unpopular, I’d like to know when we’re bringing Omar Khadr home.
By the way, did you know that music by a number of popular western bands (including R.E.M., Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine) has also been used to torture detainees in Guantanamo Bay and Iraq? I’ll leave you with this little number from Rage Against the Machine… but I will say this, it would be a pretty good torture device for me as well. And also: Keanu Reeves’ movies.
More than 5000 people greeted him upon arrival at Union Station. Men shouted his name, women swooned, and some even reached out to touch the hem of his coat as he walked past. Later he greeted a capacity audience at Maple Leaf Gardens (after 3000 others were turned away at the gate). Who are we talking about? Why, Tim Buck of course… Canada’s most celebrated Communist! (And avowed Stalinist.)
This past summer, Praxis Theatre presented the first phase of its current project (Section 98) at the Toronto Fringe Festival with a work-in-progress called Tim Buck 2. So I now present to you a little ditty we affectionately called “Tim Buck, The Musical”. Unfortunately it hasn’t made the cut for this 2nd phase of development in the lead up to HATCH as the work has veered away from the story of Tim Buck, but it was certainly useful to us in imparting a lot of important information about our subject in a relatively short period of time. Without further ado…
Tim Buck, The Musical!
Oh, the year was 1932,
EIGHT MEN WERE GAOLED IN KINGSTONPEN!
Among them was a man named Buck,
A commie leader short on luck
God damn the law!
I was told, we’d a right to a trial and ideas to hold
We used no force- committed no crime, Section 98 had us all confined
Locked in the PEN and doing time.
Tim Buck was a leader in his day,
EIGHT MEN WERE GAOLED IN KINGSTON PEN!
He organized the poor, and the workers relief,
In a time of Depression, hunger and grief.
The government wasn’t so keen on Buck,
EIGHT MEN WERE GAOLED IN KINGSTON PEN!
They fixed the law, terms rearranged
So we couldn’t belong to a group for change
Volume 1 of The Progressive Arts Club’s Journal, Masses
Oh, Democracy is a funny thing,
EIGHT MEN WERE GAOLED IN KINGSTON PEN! Dissent was viewed as mighty grim
So off to the slammer for little Red Tim
But the Government still wasn’t satisfied,
EIGHT MEN WERE GAOLED IN KINGSTON PEN!
So a riot was staged by the prison chief
To frame Tim Buck for his beliefs
On a final note, Praxis Theatre is taking part in the launch of the HATCH Season at Harbourfront Centre tonight. Click here for the Facebook event page, and here for further information on the Harbourfront website. We hope to see you there, where we’ll be demonstrating our Open Source Theatre Project, and answering questions! (There is also a cash bar and a whole bunch of Harbourfront visual art stuff.
“I have this game I like to call ‘let’s find out how ignorant we are.‘” And with those words from Melissa we set out to complete the task she had prepared for us.
If you read our first Open Source Theatre entry, you’ll remember that our mapping exercise left us with a lot of questions that we felt needed answers for the next stage of our research. In effect, we chose the elements of greatest interest to us and doled out the homework assignments to our collaborators. There was one stipulation: the research presentations to be delivered the following week should be interactive and/or performative in some way.
Since the mapping exercise, we’ve had presentations on The FLQ Manifesto, public opinion and media coverage of the Progressive Arts Club and the FLQ, the connection between culture and politics, and many others. However, the prize for “most interactive” went to Melissa for her presentation on the FLQ and the October Crisis. Well, if there had been a prize it would have gone to Melissa.
Enter The Peeps the Perps, the Parties and the Mugshots.
That’s one hell of a comb over. Can you name this man?
Showing great form with the scissors and glue, Melissa handed us a stack of colour-coordinated photos, names, political parties, and pertinent paragraphs detailing the events surrounding the October Crisis of 1970. To begin, we had to lay out the names according to groups: the politicians in one group, the “perps” in another grouping and so on. As a true test to our ignorance, we were to complete these tasks using our own knowledge of the events in questions. No Wikipedia for iPhone allowed.
From there we had to try to match the “mugshots” to the names, the bios to the mugshots, and the descriptions to the appropriate political party and/or organization. The interactive nature of the presentation certainly led to spirited discussion, and a greater urge to get to know these people and understand their involvement. Once the items were laid out on the floor (and Melissa had corrected our mistakes), we took turns covering the various sections and presenting the material to the whole group. It represented a fairly significant amount of information.
A commenter on my first post, Margaret, asked the excellent questions, “what will you do to communicate these messages to an audience who today may be as ignorant as you were when your process began? Will we need to know as much as you in order to live this play’s story?” As I responded, this is absolutely an issue we are concerned about, and have been considering since the first iteration of this project.
We used a variation on chalk drawings (an aesthetic of the period we were exploring in Tim Buck 2) to explain the history of Section 98 of the Canadian Criminal Code “in 2 minutes or less”. Is there a similar aesthetic of the 1970’s that we can use to quickly fill in the blanks? What might we use for the modern era? The success of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show certainly makes a strong argument for there being no need to talk down to our audiences.
On this topic of aesthetics, we’ve been looking into the the artistic responses to the events of these eras, and I want to share with you a song that Melissa remembers singing while traveling with a couple of French Canadians in BC.
The song is Réjean Pesant by Paul Piché. Researching it more recently, Melissa was surprised to find that she had been singing a separatist line: “We are not masters in our own home, because you are here”. You can find the lyrics in both French and English here.
The more we have come to understand the human side of the FLQ and the events surrounding the October Crisis, the harder it has become for us to define “what is a terrorist?”. I guess we shouldn’t feel too badly about this, as the UN doesn’t yet have an agreed upon definition either. As the aphorism goes, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Even the United States Government used to refer to the Taliban as “Freedom Fighters“. Further discussions on the role and ethics of using violence to bring about political change has certainly forced us to abandon any clear-cut distinctions on the topic.
Welcome to Praxis Theatre’s “Open Source Theatre Project”, that will lead you through our development process for Section 98 from January, through to our workshop presentation at HATCH in March, and onto the next phase of development after that. True to the spirit of all things “Open Source”, we want to show you our material as it is created, and we want to hear back from you. What are we missing? What haven’t we thought of? Is there a youtube video or a CBC archive that you think would be really helpful? Here, you will find the “source code” of Section 98.
I have been charged with the responsibility of preparing and maintaining these posts, and I’m hoping that you’ll use this site to engage and interact with us in our exploration of some very complicated and layered issues. I started working with Praxis in 2009 during the development of the first iteration of this project for the Toronto Fringe Festival, called Tim Buck 2 and it has been incredible working with a group of peers to create theatrical materials out of court transcripts, newspaper articles, history textbooks, and thin air. I want to share that process with you.
The HATCH development stage of Praxis Theatre’s Section 98 addresses the complex history of civil rights in Canada by exploring unionists and socialists in the 1930s, the FLQ and the October Crisis in the 1970s, as well reserving a portion of the production to consider contemporary events that relate to civil rights in Canada.
To aid in this creation process, our dramaturg Alex Fallis has been leading us through a process that began with a mapping exercise. For each major topic we began to plot out the related subtopics that would require further research, and that were of particular interest to us. Laying out the individual eras visually made it immediately apparent, what we didn’t know.
Starting with the era of the Progressive Arts Club in the 1930s, we established the various issues that we felt were important to consider:
Place of theatre in society
The relationship between individual rights and public safety
Then item by item we asked ourselves, “what don’t we know?”
The topic of aesthetics brought up the question, “why, in 2009, do we hate Agitprop?”. Politics raised questions of the public perception of government tactics of the time, and so on.
From there we moved on to our 2nd era, the FLQ in the 1970s. We were interested in looking at:
War Measures Act
Quebec culture and artists
The general consensus amongst our anglo and bilingual creative team was that we were widely ignorant of anything more that the bare facts and events surrounding this era.. Luckily Alex has been encouraging us to warmly embrace the concept of “how ignorant are we?” when tackling these big topics. So here are some of the things we decided we need to know more about:
What alternatives did the government have to the War Measures Act?
What is a nation?
What was the economic condition of Quebec?
What was the attitude of the rest of the country at that time?
How did the RCMP determine who to arrest?
What is a political prisoner?
From there, we set the two maps side by side to look for the issues and/or questions that connected them… similar questions/character types/the role of the Prime Minister, etc. Then it was a matter of picking out the elements that interested us to research and present at the next research session in a presentation that was interactive and/or performative in some way.
As a bit of group research, we also got together recently for a movie night. Pizza, beer, brownies, and a copy of Les Ordres, a 1974 Cinema Verite piece that won Michel Brault a Best Director prize at Cannes, and tells the story of the incarcerated civilians while the War Measures Act was in place during the October Crisis.
Near the end of the film as prisoners are being released, one of them shouts out “next time there’ll be a trial in the streets!”. So I’ve been thinking, given this situation, and people like Omar Khadr sitting in Guantanamo Bay for 7 years from the age of 15, at what point do systems or Governments create the very movements they are trying to suppress?
“After the years and years of weaker and waterier imitations, we now find ourselves rejecting the very notion of a holy stage. It is not the fault of the holy that it has become a middle-class weapon to keep the children good.”