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Archive for the ‘News’ Category

The other night we had a small “casserole protest” wander under our window and as we walked home from dinner tonight we ourselves wandered into a mostly naked student march on St-Laurent. While the May 16th event was “nearly naked,” I have to report that more than a few of the marchers tonight were completely naked, and others sported merely strategically placed red tape and socks. One or two were completely covered from head to toe in red scarves, in defiance of the controversial Bill 78, but the theme tonight seemed to be “less is more.” One of the nearly naked came right up to us gawkers with a friendly smile and outstretched hand – bewildered, I accepted and murmured “bonne chance” – as what else should one say when a nearly naked stranger wants to shake your hand? I guess he was just saying hello to us for being there for the public display. To my surprise, they did not march through St-Catherine into the Francofolies festival, but continued on up St-Laurent, split in half by a flashing squad of Intervention police (these are the police who manage demonstrations – they were often at the MUNACA protests last fall).

Quebec students have been “on strike” since February 13, 2012, which is…112 days today? In addition to the above two encounters, my personal experience with the protests have included:

  • marching with them during the 2011 MUNACA strike as quid pro quo for their support of our strike
  • being stuck in traffic on McGill College Avenue as students marched against traffic, making gestures intended to encourage drivers to honk their support (I didn’t honk; I had just driven back from Burlington, VT, I was hungry, and they were delaying my dinner)
  • scurrying through a pack of at least forty shield-beating riot police on my way to work at the Peel and Sherbrooke intersection as they prepared to intercept a student march there (the police presence was definitely overkill that morning, and they seemed to match the protesters one-to-one)
  • having to walk to work (takes 40 minutes uphill) because a smoke bomb had closed the metro that morning
  • viewing a masquerade-themed march under my window (I was home sick that day)
  • many days at work distracted by loud news helicopters hovering over McGill and the downtown area – even on days without protest events
  • many nights at home distracted by the loud sound of hovering news helicopters by the Palais de Justice and Old Port, covering students protesting there

It’s all entertaining, frustrating, engaging, comical, absurd, and stressful. As an American expat, I keep thinking, “this would never happen in New Jersey.” In April, the US Consulate issued a travel advisory about student protests in Montreal. Last week, we had visiting family members from NJ and NY who were concerned about about news reports about student violence (one couple experienced a casserole protest first-hand during their stay in the Plateau). I haven’t witnessed violence myself, from either protesters or police. Just inconvenience, distraction, amusement, and stress. As an experienced marcher from the MUNACA strike, I know that marching through Montreal means basically hanging out, but moving. Moving slowly. And lots of pausing so the stragglers can catch up and maintain appearances that the marchers are one solid mass and not a disjointed trickle. It’s repetitive and sometimes dull. It’s cold and wet if it rains, or hot and sticky when it’s sunny in the summer. I’m fairly sure that 99% of the protesters are nonviolent, and that only a small minority are extremists.

Do I support them? I looked up the current in-state tuition fees for Rutgers (a state university in NJ and my alma mater) and compared it to the equivalent Quebec resident fees at McGill. The Quebec fees were almost a third of the price of the Rutgers fees. So a part of me who scraped together money for extra summer classes and books thinks that the Quebec students are just entitled brats who should just fork over the extra $300+ increase.

Then a part of me thinks that well, maybe if students had revolted in NJ, I wouldn’t have had to scrape quite as hard to muster up funds for part of my education. Maybe the funds my parents had saved for my education would have stretched farther. Perhaps I’m just jealous of their verve.

I can’t say definitively if I support them or don’t support them, since it changes from day to day, depending on how their actions affect me. When I had to walk to work, I wasn’t feeling especially supportive. When I saw the videos of the 100-day march, I was duly impressed by the magnitude of the demonstration and thought that perhaps they had something going for them after all. I have a feeling that the naked-themed protests will continue as the summer progresses. Will they sway my support for the cause? I don’t know…it might depend on whether I have to touch another nearly naked guy in the future.

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MUNACA strike at McGill

I haven’t been updating this blog because I’ve been on strike since September 1, 2011 and I have had other things on my mind. Rest assured – I am still eating, cooking, and hunting for restos in the city! Wish us luck. If you’d like to follow what’s going on, I suggest getting your information from a combination of the union blog (http://munacastrike.wordpress.com/), McGill administration site (http://www.mcgill.ca/channels/announcements/?channels=labour_relations), and Google News. None of the stories are quite the same, so it will be up to you to decide what you believe to be true and accurate.

Hot coffee and cookies would be most welcome!

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I decided to take advantage of living by a distinctly Chinese ethnic population, and attended the “Soaring Dragon and Leaping Tiger” performance last night at the Pierre-Peladeau de la UQAM (fortunately just half a block from the tea shop we visited just before). The event, coordinated by the Montreal Chinese Cultural Community Center (MCCCC) was a worthwhile song and dance variety show, featuring requisites like a red lantern dance, martial arts performance, and drum dance, but also included some exotic items like a Mongolian horse head violinist from mainland China and an unfortunately out of tune erhu and zheng pairing. Each performance was preceded or followed by a polished Mandarin and French and/or English explanation (initially, I thought there would be Cantonese translation as well, but I guess that would have been overkill). The loud, pre-recorded accompaniments to musical instruments were sometimes jarring, but the performances shone through and towards the end I found myself fixated on the lone Caucasian dancer in one of the dance troupes, who was easy to pick out, despite being of similar height and build to the other dancers, and having dark hair. She must have quite a story to tell.

The most bizarre performance of the night came on behalf of the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper. After getting our programs, we were handed small red envelops, a traditional Chinese New Year custom, personalized from the office of PM Harper including a chocolate lunie and a postcard with a smiling photo of the PM’s family wishing us a happy Chinese New Year. During the opening statements of the concert, a representative from the Conservative Party stepped onto the stage to read a statement from PM Harper, first in French, and then in painfully laboured (yet determined) English. The symbolic shuffling of the two paperclipped folders, as the event organizers and the audience waited politely for her to finish, was an authentic touch to the spectacle.

Were there identical paperclipped folders being read at Chinese New Year concerts throughout Canada? Such a phenomenon would be rather like President Obama issuing statements to every Christmas parade gathering in the US and giving every attendee a candy cane. I’m not yet familiar with Canadian politics, but I suppose the attention to detail by the PM was endearing if lugubrious. At least they didn’t try to stuff francophone fortune cookies into the envelops.

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My husband and I were in Durham, NC when an inept fledgling terrorist was tackled by a quick-acting Dutch film director aboard an international flight around Detroit. As we followed the emerging details of the story, we watched with growing dread the new safety measures that would be taken for US-bound flights. Would we be subjected to these rules if we were leaving the US? Surely terrorists had better things to do than pick a fight with Canada – after all, the crown prince and duchess had left months ago.

As we trudged through the standard safety checks at Raleigh-Durham, I eyed the x-ray machine to the side furtively, as if a prolonged look would increase my chance of being herded towards it. Please, I kept thinking, I’ll take off my shoes and unsheath my laptop…just don’t image me naked carrying holiday flab. Or better yet, don’t image me naked at all.

A while back, I had seen an article mocking the TSA polices on laptop transportation, and suggesting an open paper bag as the ideal laptop carrying device, according to policy. Well, I propose that instead of using an x-ray machine for some passengers and not all, there should be an airport-wide policy of stripping everyone down and giving them clear plastic poncho/bodysuit-type clothing to wear for the duration of their time at the airport, onboard the plane, and prior to collecting their luggage at their final destination. Clothing could be packed into carry-ons or checked into luggage. There would no longer be a scrambling to unlace shoes and rebelt pants – there would be no more shoes, belts, or pants. New policies prohibit using the lavatories an hour prior to landing? Fine. Just add a set of Depends to the ensemble, and we’d all be set.

My in-laws mentioned something about horses and locking the barn, but it’s all true. I don’t feel safer having to take my shoes, coat, and belt off and then having to hastily throw them back on several seconds later because the person behind me needs space to tie their shoe laces, too. I don’t enjoy having my papers checked every few yards at the airport, fumbling to make sure that yes, I have my luggage receipts and making sure that my passport is open to the photo and that I’m clutching the actual boarding pass and not the ticket receipt which looks strikingly similar. I especially hate ineffectively long check lines (ahem, Dulles) which make even US passport holders arriving in the US feel like Italian immigrants coming to Ellis Island à la fin de siècle – complete with mini replica of Lady Liberty herself (again, Dulles). But please, please don’t make me hate getting x-rayed at airports, too. I don’t care if they claim there are no videotapes made or that the person observing naked passengers can’t see what they look like with their clothes on. Pat me down every time (by a female officer, please), run me through metal detectors or past bomb-sniffing dogs. But please let me keep my clothes and what little dignity I have left at the airport intact.

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I was awakened at the crack of dawn…er, 11:15am…to the high-pitched sound of whistles. At first, I figured it was a bunch of school kids on a field trip post-gift shop, or perhaps a troupe of screaming little girls testing the acoustics of the stone sector. I wondered if the police would do anything to halt their joyous vocalizations, though they do nothing about the obnoxious tourists who grace us with their booming laughs and loud molestation of the whispering women statue at night, and would probably just nod the little demons along. Then the chanting started, and I realized that the sound was in fact whistles, and that there was some sort of political rally happening on Rue St. Paul O..

Unfortunately, it was all en français, but I managed to snap a few pictures, so perhaps someone could tell me what the fuss was all about. It seemed more like a rally rather than a protest – all of the roughly 40 participants had smiles on their faces (including most of the 9-10 SVPM officers keeping watch over the proud chanters), and it seemed like some locals saw the commotion and then ran out of their apartments with Quebec flags waving to join in the party. I’ve been trying to Google the event, but in actual it was rather small as rallies go and there was only one relatively official-looking camera crew present. My best guess is that it’s a Quebecois separatist rally, but who knows. One woman pointed out Justin Trudeau, so perhaps it was more of an electoral stunt.

Update: 4:20pm

I googled the web address on one of the many stickers littered across the old stone building facades and pavement, and found that it was a rally regarding the recent English language law 104 being thrown out by the court: http://resistancequebecoise.org/ . Unfortunately, the website is (of course) in French, but I’m guessing that they’re pro 104 and 101 (the law that requires businesses to franglais their names).

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