Category: Canadian Journalism

The Giant Summer Crossword

For the Canada Day weekend, the Globe and Mail published a full-page Giant Summer Crossword. Like its Giant Holiday Crossword published during the Christmas season, this challenge is intended to engage all the family, or at least to absorb crossword enthusiasts during some holiday downtime. I have always wanted to do the puzzle, but am not a crossword regular and never found the conditions right. Canada Day weekend 2018 was a first.

My husband and I were visiting relatives in Campbell River, on the east coast of Vancouver Island, a couple of hours up-island from Nanaimo. The relatives included my sister- and brother-in-law, two of their adult children, six grandchildren, and other friends, all together for a weekend of family activities. With so much action both inside and out, who would have thought that the conditions would be right to do a giant crossword?

My sister-in-law noticed the “giant crossword” in the paper edition of the Globe which I had bought on the ferry. Apparently, their family do the giant crossword every Christmas and they even had an appropriately sized board for it. Normally, they divide the puzzle into quadrants, make copies of the relevant clues, and everyone takes a section. We were not so well-organized but, with the crossword taped to the board, and the board on the dining table, we were all set to begin.

It helped that my sister-in-law was chief cook for the weekend and, happily preparing dishes at the kitchen counter beside the table, was delighted with a mental diversion. I did what I could do on the puzzle, and readily responded to her invitation to “read out the clues.” She does crosswords, is super literate, and has “a mind that accumulates useless trivia,” as she puts it. Much of what I did not know, she did.

Notwithstanding the demands of the children, the other adults in the crowd joined in to fill in the blanks. The thirty and forty-year-olds knew the pop music references, and the sports clues. My brother-in-law, a former teacher, knew many of the scientific terms and the French-Canadian hints. My husband, a professional historian, contributed his two cents’ worth.

Every bit helped. Each new set of eyes that surveyed the crossword found words (both long and short) that had been missing and should have been obvious. Focused quiet times produced great leaps forward. We eventually recognized that there were certain words we could never get and gave ourselves permission to look them up on the iPad.

By Monday evening, we had completed all but seven or eight words. Among others which I can’t remember, we were hung up on “meet and greet, eg,” “pumpkin shell?” and “b-ball.” My sister-in-law took a late night bath, cleared her head, and returned to the puzzle with a new mind-set.

Rather than looking for a noun that would describe the networking activity implicit in the clue, she recognized that “meet and greet” were examples of simple “rhymes.” Of course. “Pumpkin shell?” does not refer to the nursery rhyme or any artifact of Hallowe’en, but is potentially a “piecrust.” The cross-clues had already given us the first and last letters and we should have thought of that. We knew that “b-ball” refers to basketball. She saw instantly that we had failed to consider “hoops” because I had misspelled “Riyadh” in the cross-clue. Doesn’t everyone know the correct spelling of Riyadh?

Crossword novice that I am, I was somewhat surprised that a Giant Crossword published on the Canada Day weekend did not have more Canadian references. Doing the puzzle, I had expected to learn much more trivia about my country. But maybe my expectations were unrealistic. I had overlooked the fact that it was only billed as a “great summer” crossword. My sister-in-law tells me that there is a big community of crossword enthusiasts out there who will have opinions about the pros and cons of the puzzle. That conversation would be fun to follow.

The completed Crossword will find its way to the recycling bin. Doing the crossword together was great fun, a good brain exercise, and, for my sister-in-law, multi-tasking par excellence. What more could one want?

 

 

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First Televised Ontario Election Leaders Debate Monday Night

The writ will drop this week and the Ontario provincial election will officially be underway. Leaders’ debates are key events in any election campaign, perhaps no more so than this year in Ontario.

The “network consortium,” CBC, TVO, Global, CTV, CHCH, CPAC, will air their “official” consortium debate on May 27th. Coming as close as it does to election date on June 7th, it will undoubtedly attract widespread interest. Tomorrow evening, CityNews is offering a preview, beating the big boys to the punch.

MONDAY, MAY 7th, from 6 to 8 p.m., CityNews will host the first televised leaders debate between the three major candidates to become Ontario’s next premier. It will air commercial free on City TV, CityNews.ca, the CityNews Apps for iOS and Android, and the CityNews Facebook page. It will also feature on OMNI2 at 6 p.m. in Punjabi, and 10 p.m. in Mandarin.

The focus of this debate will be on issues of particular concern to the city of Toronto: policing, drugs, transit, education and real estate. The leaders have already chosen the order in which they will respond to six questions posed from the audience on these issues. Each will be able to ask one other question themselves.

Although organized with apparently little advance public notice, this first debate between the key leaders is a high stakes affair. The sponsor may be a minor player in the Canadian media scene but the computer and social media exposure means that the images created in this early debate will be readily available to a wider audience in the month ahead. And the focus on non-English-speaking voters is a healthy reminder of the changing nature of the Ontario electorate.

Several weeks ago, the Toronto Black Community organized a leaders’ debate in the city. Kathleen Wynne, Andrea Horwath and Green Party leader Mike Schreiner participated. Doug Ford did not; he said he was already occupied touring Ontario’s north country.

This time, Doug Ford will be debating, in the open, unprotected by his handlers, in a format where he has not shone in the past. The pressure will be on him to show if he has any real interest in, or knowledge about, policy issues and, equally important, whether he has the capacity to be “premiersorial” (as opposed to “presidential,” in the American context). Kathleen Wynne is an experienced debater who used the consortium leaders’ debate in the last provincial election to skewer Tim Hudak’s higher polls. Can she do it again? Can she reverse the prevailing polls, which presently predict a Tory majority? Andrea Horwath will be attempting to prove herself as an “alternative agent for change.”

Already, the nature of this debate, and that projected by the “consortium network” on May 27th, has come in for criticism. Martin Regg Cohn wrote a column in the Toronto Star on Thursday entitled “Green snub shows TV in the past,” which I highly recommend. His complaint? That Mike Schreiner, leader of the Ontario Green party, has been excluded from participation.

He writes: “To their credit, the Liberals and the New Democrats have previously agreed to invite the Greens into the studio. They also issued challenges to hold several televised debates. But Ontario’s TV networks are trapped in time… running their own shows without public accountability. This isn’t the first time they have conspired to exclude the Greens, but this time the exclusion is more egregious than ever.…. Today with Ford’s Tories vowing to dismantle cap and trade, and block any form of carbon pricing to reduce global warning, excluding the Greens from the discussion will deprive voters of an important voice.”

Cohn goes on to rebut the networks’ arguments against including the Greens: that they don’t yet have a seat, that they have no prospect of winning power, that adding a fourth leader will render the debate unwieldy. He quite rightly asks: “How is a political movement supposed to make headway without having a way to be heard?” He also points out that, in earlier federal elections, “the networks… invited the Western-based Reform party and the Bloc Québecois to participate, despite their narrow regional power bases,” and that these five-person debates were not particularly unwieldy.

He writes that “the Greens have consistently run candidates in every riding in Ontario, and attracted significant voter support in past elections, ranging as high as 8 per cent. That’s far more than any fringe party.” He adds that “there is one new factor that changes the calculation. Like the three biggest parties, the Greens receive a per-vote public subsidy, as part of the campaign finance reforms brought in before the election to curb the influence of corporate and union donors… it is manifestly unfair to deprive [the Greens] of the chance to attract voter support—and the financing that follows—during a debate. It is also anti-democratic to deny voters the chance to scrutinize the performance of any publicly subsidized party.”

I agree totally. Leadership debates are important. A well-functioning democracy (a rising concern in this age) depends on an informed electorate. Excluding the Greens is a betrayal of the professional responsibility and the trust that the media owes the public. To CityNews and the “network consortium,” I say: “Get with the times.”

I also want to know: Is it the networks who are responsible for excluding the Greens? Or have the PCs made it a condition of their participation? If so, that would be consistent with Doug Ford’s position that he will abolish the public subsidy for political parties. Whatever else one might say about the Ontario Liberals, they brought in Canada’s toughest political financing regulation, with the political party subsidy as the quid pro quo for curbing corporate and union donations. This will be the first Ontario election run under the new rules.

***** ADDENDUM: The second televised leaders’ debate will be on northern issues.  It will be live streamed at CBC.ca/Toronto at 11:00 am today, Friday May 11th.  Short notice but probably well worth watching. 

 

 

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Trudeau’s India Trip and the Convicted Attempt Murderer

The Liberal Government fraternizing in India this week with a high-profile Indo-Canadian convicted years ago of attempt murder has stirred up a hornet’s nest. Rightly so. It is shocking that Jaspal Atwal, a businessman from Surrey, B.C. who was once an extremist for Sikh separatism who was convicted of attempt murder, appears in a photograph taken in Mumbai with Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi. Worse still, Atwal was invited to an official dinner at the Canadian High Commissioner’s Residence in Delhi, and then, when the story broke, un-invited. Appropriately so.

I agree with the domestic and international press that both were serious diplomatic gaffes which the Trudeau government should have avoided. Canada, of all countries, should not be seen, or perceived to be seen, as supporting separatist aspirations anywhere abroad. 

Smelling fresh blood, The National Post ran several background stories Friday and Saturday on Jaspal Atwal. Christie Blatchford and John Ivison provide alarming details of his early membership in the International Sikh Youth Federation, which Canada banned as a terrorist group in 2003. The federation’s objective was separatism for Khalistan which John Ivison says is “the would-be Sikh homeland in the Indian state of Punjab.”

Atwal has a very serious record of criminal activity in Canada, promoting separatism in his homeland. In 1985, Atwal was charged with a vicious near-fatal attack on prominent B.C. politician Ujjal Dosanjh, who publicly opposed Khalistan separatism. Although Atwal was later acquitted in court, Dosanjh remains convinced that Atwal was his attacker.

In 1987, a B.C. court convicted Atwal and three others of attempting to assassinate a visiting Indian state cabinet minister who was attending a family wedding on Vancouver Island. Atwal was sentenced to twenty years in jail, a sentence upheld by the B.C. Court of Appeal in 1990. He actually served five years in prison before he was paroled. All this was in the context of the extreme Sikh terrorism, which included the worst mass murder in Canadian history, the 1985 Air India Flight 182 bombing which killed 329 people over Ireland. Sikh terrorists based in British Columbia planted the bomb which took down the airplane.

Atwal’s assertion that he has been rehabilitated from his youthful lawlessness is belied by his recent criminal record. In 2010, while working as a car salesman, Atwal was convicted of an elaborate automobile fraud against the B.C. Insurance Corporation. Two years later, his appeal against that conviction was denied. Under the current rule for pardons (ten years) imposed by the Harper government, he may not yet be eligible for a “pardon.”

In the face of his criminal record, his close ties with the Liberal party are cause for concern. Maura Forrest in The Post catalogued Atwal’s relationship with both the provincial and federal party. He was an executive member of a federal Liberal riding association in Surrey from at least 2011. He was invited to watch the budget speech in the B.C. legislature in 2012. He attended many fundraisers for the Liberals. He has been photographed with Michael Ignatieff, Justin Trudeau, Public Services Minister Carla Qualtrough, and Brampton Liberal MP Sonia Sidhu. B.C. Liberal MP Randeep Sarai admitted that he facilitated Atwal’s request to attend the High Commissioner’s event, actions which Trudeau has now said he will investigate further. Apparently, Atwal had been on a list of extremists banned from entry into India. Yet here he was, admitted to India and intimately interacting with the Canadian delegation.

How embarrassing for Trudeau, the government and our country. It is almost as chilling as the picture of the Queen in the company of Colonel Russell Williams, a photo taken before Williams later pleaded guilty to multiple counts of first degree murder. At least, Williams’ crimes were not yet known; the Liberals have no such excuse about Atwal’s history.

The incident raises all sorts of very serious questions. Why was Atwal not vetted by officials at Global Affairs, ISIS, CSIS, or other Canadian intelligence and security? How is it that India lifted the ban against his admission to the country? How is it that the Liberals have been so close to him in recent years?

Maybe this will be a lesson for all Canada’s political parties. They cozy up to anyone for political purposes at their peril. If sexual misconduct is a no-no, surely an existing criminal record and a history of extremism and fraud should also raise a red flag. The pursuit of votes must not come by compromising Canadian values nor, more importantly, safety and security.

This incident is also a useful reminder to all Canadians, and particularly to newcomers to the country who may not know the details of our history, that violent extremism in Canada did not start with the Islamofacist jihadists we fear today.

When I was growing up in British Columbia in the 1950s, the radical Sons of Freedom Doukhobors, a religious sect from Russia who settled in the B.C. interior, bombed electricity power lines in the province and their women demonstrated in public places in the nude, against compulsory public education among other things. The B.C. government responded by arresting the bombers and rounding up their children to make them attend school. I don’t know if they had residential schools for Doukhobor kids; the topic would be worth some research.

During the 1960s, the Quiet Revolution in Quebec prompted the growth of the FLQ (Front de libération du Québec), a Marxist, paramilitary separatist group which used violence to promote its aims. In 1969, the FLQ bombed the Montreal Stock Exchange causing massive destruction and seriously injuring 27 people. The group set off a further series of bombs over the summer which culminated in their bombing the home of Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau. In October 1970, they kidnapped Quebec Deputy Leader and Minister of Labour, Pierre Laporte, whose body was later found in the trunk of his car. This began the October Crisis, when Prime Minister Trudeau the elder invoked the War Measures Act, to the horror of civil libertarians across the country.

When I was a judge sitting in Scarborough from 1995-1999, Tamil gangs, who brought their civil war from back home with them when they immigrated to Canada, plagued the community. Rival gangs were before the courts on many charges. I remember the day when one gang leader, charged with many crimes of violence, attended court with a can of gasoline under his arm. He apparently intended to immolate himself in the court room. When he was stopped by the strict airport-like security set up at the courthouse door, he threw the can of gasoline across the corridor, causing the building to be evacuated. He later received nine months in custody for charges arising out of that incident. This violence ended only after vigorous prosecutions and the intense involvement of the law-abiding Tamil community.

If Sikh separatist extremism is on the rise (who knew?), then it behooves all of us to make sure that we are not seen to be soft on violent extremism, either at home or elsewhere in the world. All politicians should take note.

 

 

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Afghan Migration Goes Personal

I met Mujeeb at Costco before Christmas. He was pushing a dolly which held a half-dozen deep grey plastic bins, some more full than others. When I asked him what he was doing, he explained that he was filling orders for an on-line computer shopping site. He was using an iPad to keep track of the orders. Apparently, people choose what they want to buy on the website. He is their personal shopper who fills the orders and later delivers them. He told me the name of his company but I have lost the note on which I wrote it down. (I should have used my iPhone “notes,” as I normally do to record such information. Perhaps I was so excited about meeting Mujeeb that I forgot.)

Sensing that he might be new to Canada, I asked where he was from. He replied that he was from Afghanistan, and that he had come to Canada with his parents and his siblings. I told him about my son and daughter-in-law in the Canadian army who had deployed several times to Kabul and/or Kandahar. He told me that all his family were now working in Canada and that his sister was a student at the University of Toronto. He also told me that there was a book written about his family.

No kidding? I had vaguely heard of a book written by CBC journalist, Carol Off, about an Afghan family whom she befriended and had helped come to Canada. Apparently, four months post-9/11, Off was in Afghanistan gathering information for what later became a very successful CBC documentary. Among her most significant sources at the time was Mujeeb’s father, Asad Aryubwal, who provided her with information about war crimes by Afghan warlords. His forthright cooperation with a western journalist however came at a cost. After numerous threats to his life, he had no choice but to flee to Pakistan which, as the political circumstances continued to change at home, he did four times before he was forty. In the fall of 2007, Off learned that Asad needed her help. Contrary to customary professional journalistic practice, she felt she had no choice but to become involved.

Needless to say, I rushed off right away to find Carol Off’s book, All We Leave Behind: A Reporter’s Journey Into the Lives of Others (Random House Canada, 2017). Reading it was a revelation, a totally compelling view of how a single family dealt with the turmoil in their homeland and their seemingly-interminable seven-year wait for permission to immigrate to Canada. Off’s description of their travails will break your heart.

This book is an absolute must for everyone who wants to understand what it means to be a refugee from a society such as Afghanistan.

Carol Off now co-hosts the CBC Radio current affairs program, “As It Happens.” Several weeks ago, this book won the prestigious $40,000. British Columbia National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction. Jury members praised it as “a timely memoir that offers both context to, and a closeup of, uncomfortable truths: the failures of the West’s involvement in Afghanistan, the hurdles confronting refugees who seek safety in Canada, and the dilemma of a combat journalist expected to maintain professional distance from her sources.”

It’s a wonderful book. The Timeline of Major Events and the Cast of Characters at the back of the book are in themselves an invaluable thumbnail guide to Afghanistan’s history. I am thankful that my chance meeting with Mujeeb brought his family’s story and this book to my attention.  I wish them all the best.

 

 

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Response to Globe and Mail “Dear Reader” Letter

Dear Mr. Crawley, Publisher and CEO of the Globe and Mail

Thank you for your “Dear Reader” letter in today’s Globe and Mail (Saturday, December 9, 2017).

I appreciate your explaining the extraordinary circumstances which afflicted your première edition of the new GM. You and your staff must have been horribly disappointed. That the edition which so attracted my ire was a “one of” is good to know.  I am also interested to learn of the efforts made to improve the journalistic standards of the GM, and the design goals you seek to achieve. 

Two caveats. I would have more impressed if you had not printed your “Dear Reader” piece in such a light type face. I found it very hard to read. Is your relationship with your readers at this very important time of your transition not as important as the key news stories you choose to report using darker type?

You indicated that you have “bumped up the size of the type in your sports scores and stock listings.” I find your choices for immediate action very telling. Am I wrong to assume, in the reality of our contemporary world, that sports scores and stock listings are still of interest primarily to men? And that Bay Street is your most important lobbyist?

It’s not the justified lines that matter. For my demographic, it’s the fainter typeface. Implicit in your choice of a lighter or darker type is your assumption about what is important and what is not. When I have to strain to read what you publish, my reaction is that you consider that particular item less important to your readers. Your assumptions may not coincide with mine.

I look forward to continuing my “feedback, interest and support” in the future.  Just don’t make it so difficult that I don’t enjoy it. At my age, if it’s not fun, I don’t do it. As Robyn Doolittle’s front-page story on “The Unfounded Effect” is in a darker type, I should have no problem  reading and analyzing that for a future post.  

Thank you.

The Effervescent Bubble

 

 

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The Globe and Mail Blew It

For several days they led us on. They promised a “new Globe and Mail,” presumably with new content, format and style that would befit Canada’s national newspaper. When they began to put out the promos, I was intrigued. Other news media are whining the blues. What was the Globe and Mail going to do to meet the current “crisis in journalism” and keep us reading from coast to coast?

When the first of “the new” publication arrived last week, I was horrified. What have they done? Who do they think they are publishing for? I am 73 years old, read three newspapers every day, and consider myself relatively well-informed about Canadian politics and public life. Most of the young people I know no longer read newspapers in hard copy. If they read any newspaper at all, it’s on the internet.

We pre-baby boomers, and baby boomers, too, are accustomed to our old habits, welcome the arrival of the newspaper on our doorstep (or outside our hotel room) each morning, and enjoy the luxury of being able to read it through with our coffee, at leisure. We may not represent the far distant future but, for the moment, and perhaps because of inertia, we may well be the primary demographic which continues to have all-week newspaper subscriptions in hard copy.

Now I can’t even read the Globe and Mail. Literally, I can’t read it. And I am not the only one. My husband and several friends have had the same reaction.

In the interests of what I assume is saving money, they have made the newspaper smaller in size, and apparently changed the font and/or lightened the type. The smaller size I can live with; it’s easier to fold into my purse or briefcase to take on public transit. The new font and/or typeface, however, is positively illegible. It gives me a headache to look at it, and more of a headache to read.

In an age when everyone (and I mean most everyone, including us old duffers) is using mobile devices and iPads with multiple fonts and expandable print capacities, it is positively counter-intuitive that a major newspaper seeking to expand its readership would go to print with what can only be considered a “reader-adverse” font and/or typeface. Who chose it? Someone under 60, I bet.

Since I started writing my blog, I mine the Globe and Mail, National Post and the Toronto Star (when in Toronto), and the Vancouver Sun (when in Vancouver) for potential topics of interest for a post. It takes up time, but I try to go through each newspaper daily. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. And apart from different perspectives, I like to pick up on quirky articles which alert me to something that I knew nothing about before.

In the past, I always went to the Globe and Mail first. Why? Because it’s “the national newspaper,” because I know people who write for it, and, although I do not always agree with its editorial perspective, at least I can expect competent coverage of major issues.

Now, it is too painful to read. As of last week, I now start with the National Post, or the Toronto Star, skim their coverage, and then pick up the Globe. But it’s so difficult to read beyond the headlines that I tend not to read it in detail. I make no comment on the new organization and content of the “new Globe and Mail” because the new font and/or typeface have deterred me from reading it further.

It has occurred to me that perhaps the powers that be at the Globe and Mail really do want to drive us all onto the internet. Make your hard copy inaccessible and subscribers will give up.

 

 

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