The Week's Conversation: The Desmond Cole Media Storm, Cadence Weapon, New Guidelines for LGBTQ Refugee Claimants, Paula Simons, Dear White People, New Indie Music, And More.


Editor's Note on the BC Election

This newsletter was written before the final tallies and results were reported in the British Columbia general election, which, according to the polls, is far from certain. The BC Liberals and NDP are neck-in-neck, with the Greens poised to achieve a historic performance. From our vantage point, it’s hard to decipher how things will go, but it is our hope that readers of theread who are eligible to vote in British Columbia did.

The issues confronting British Columbians are enormous: housing affordability, the opioid crisis, economic development, environmental protection, reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, and so much more. Only your votes will drive action on these and other issues.

In the weeks to follow, we will provide commentary on the results, and what it means for British Columbia and the rest of Canada.


The Desmond Cole Media Storm

On April 20th, Desmond Cole, the 35-year-old, now former columnist at the Toronto Star, disrupted a Toronto Police Board meeting . Cole was protesting continued use by the police of personal information collected through carding, a technique that permits police officers to stop individuals without cause and record information. Carding is used disproportionately against Black and Indigenous Canadians, and has been called unconstitutional. In recent years, due in large part to the advocacy and writing of Cole and others, governments in Ontario have reigned in the practice, but police departments still have access to the information collected through these street checks.

This week, Cole announced on Twitter that he was leaving the Toronto Star, stating:  "I can't be a columnist and an activist at the same time, so I'm giving up my column." The decision came shortly after a meeting with Andrew Phillips, the Star’s editorial page editor, who told him that he'd “violated the Star’s rules on journalism and activism.”

Kathy English, Toronto Star’s public editor, came to the defense of the organization and its policies. She made clear that “Cole was not fired by the Star, as some have suggested, nor disciplined or threatened with any consequences.” English also brought to light  the complex relationship between activism in journalism:

I understand there is some debate in the Star’s newsroom and among others about whether the Star’s longstanding policies regarding journalists taking public stands as community activists are outdated and should be revisited, especially as it applies to columnists who are, after all, empowered to take public stands in their writing.

English’s response raised concerns about an apparent double standard at work within Canadian media — specifically, why aren't white journalists involved in activism treated the same way as Cole? 

Shortly after the controversy erupted, journalist/activist Naomi Klein decided to withdraw from a Canadian Journalism Foundation event in Toronto, citing a of lack of diversity on the panel (it was an all-white panel).

This is an important conversation for the Canadian media . The voices that an editorial board chooses to include or exclude has a real impact on the shaping the public discourse. Indeed, the Canadian media's ability to reflect the diversity of its readership was recently questioned by Mike Sholars, an editor with Huffington Post Canada:

Canadian media has a diversity problem in every sense of the phrase. It's not just limited to the Star -- gaze upon the relative homogeneity of the Globe, ostensibly Canada's leading newspaper -- and it clearly can't be fixed by simply hiring more people from minority groups, as Cole's situation has sadly proven.

Writing in Maclean's, Andray Domise suggests that the incident is an example of "benevolent liberal racism" in Canada: “What I’m left with is the impression that the Star believed Desmond Cole to be their negro,” he writes.

“White supremacy is like carbon monoxide: odourless and tasteless, one only truly understands its effects once they are being suffocated by it. Racism is merely white supremacy in weaponized form, inflicted by one person or group unto another, and often inflicted without malice or ill intent….

This is the reality of benevolent liberal racism as it affects Black Canada. We’ve long come to expect our peers, colleagues, and supposed allies to place order over justice, and even our lives. We have come to expect the hand offered in support may later be the one to slap us in the face.

Hopefully, Cole's departure and the subsequent discussion it sparked will inspire a broader discussion about race and representation acrosss Canada's media landscape. 


Furniture Shopping

Driving along the freeway, you can see the flags from nearly a mile away, tall rows of them waving solemnly. A great beckoning. It doesn’t matter which exit you take, they all lead to the same place. Half a million square feet of steel and concrete, it seems to have a gravitational force of its own.

I parked the car, looked at myself in the mirror, and took a long, deep breath.

Upon entering the building, I was immediately overwhelmed by the dramatic sense of coherence and order. Clean lines, straight or softly bending. Yellows, blues, and greys of the purest hue. Heavy shopping carts sailed silently across concrete smooth and unadulterated, like a still lake at sunrise.

Sprawling and magnificent, god-like, the space is divided into several sections, each of which corresponds to a higher ideal, or theme — kitchen, dining room, office  — a divinely methodical model not unlike The Spindle of Necessity in Plato’s Myth of the Er:

Formally displayed within the bounds of each celestial sphere, or showroom, are carefully arranged objects, uniquely designated with monikers derived from some primeval language: DRÖMMAR. FJÄLLSTA. VÅRLJUNG. Though vast in both scope and variety, the objects, innumerable, are united by a radical utilitarianism, and a primacy of function.

A dish rack upon which to dry dishes. A decorative throw to hide the stains on your sofa. A chair to be sat upon, and nothing more.

The prices, noted on bright yellow stickers, seem not only fair, but just. A plastic cutlery divider costs 99 cents, as it ought to. A 50” TV stand made from wood costs $30.00 — the exact value of such an object.

Several kilometers later, there appeared a place of rest —  a small eatery! I entered the queue, which immediately extended behind me, blocking my exit. Like prisoners, we shuffled along, peering through the greasy, heavily fingerprinted display cases at trays of shapeless fish filets, piles of limp and colorless chicken ‘fingers’, and a mountain of tightly rolled balls of beige meat.

This was no eatery at all.

Spurned forth by a restless line of shoppers, I quickly consumed a plate of Swedish meatballs, served atop a liquidy smear of potatoes and a lurid pink dollop of ‘cranberries’.

Stomach churning, I continued my quest through the labyrinthine space, suddenly aware of the late hour and a mostly empty shopping cart. The crowds seemed to swell around me as I searched desperately for an exit. Disoriented, I pushed my way through the outdoor furniture department, only to wind up back in the dining room department. Beads of sweat formed suddenly on my brow and upper lip, my shirt clung tightly to my back.

At last, I emerged from the showroom inferno into a cavernous warehouse, lined with 100-foot high industrial shelving towers, each piled high with pre-fabricated objects, collapsed into drab cardboard boxes and stamped with barcodes. My vision began to blur and my knees felt weak.

I leaned heavily against an ÄLVÄNGEN, and closed my eyes. An endless horizon of cold rationalism stretched out before me, bereft of art or error or freedom.


New Guidelines for LGBTQ Refugee Claimants

Refugee claimants to Canada seeking protection on the basis of their sexual minority status have to prove their sexuality. This is difficult. How does one prove that they are gay or lesbian, or perhaps the most difficult sexuality for a claimant to prove, bisexual? Particularly when the claimant has spent his or her life hiding their sexuality in their country of origin for fear of violence and death. Or, if the claimant does not express their sexuality in a manner familiar to Western stereotypes of what it means to be a particular sexuality or gender — or express it all.

It took until 2017, but the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) has announced “revolutionary” changes to the way that LGBTQ claims are processed. Particularly, the IRB has introduced a special guideline for LGBTQ claimants that will help prevent stereotyping and other barriers to making such claims. This will have a real impact on refugee claims in Canada, ensuring that more LGBTQ persons deserving of protection receive it.

(The Globe and Mail’s coverage of the guideline includes profiles of four successful LGBTQ refugee claimants to Canada and reveals the uphill struggles that such claims face).


Let's Talk About Cadence Weapon

Cadence Weapon recently dropped a music video for his record, “My Crew (Woooo)”. The visual comes 3 months after the track was released in early February. Production by Kaytranada further cements Rollie Pemberton’s ability to tap into the underground of hip-hop.

Every Cadence Weapon release over the last decade elicits the same reaction: “New Cadence Weapon, look how revolutionary it is!” He has always found a way to utilize the most fringe form of avant-garde hip hop, combined with a tinge of melodic flow, to get the mainstream hip-hop consciousness to flock to the song.

He has rooted himself in this pattern for the past decade. Some artists are able to maintain this type of presence over the course of an album release, and some are able to maintain it over the course of the season (see: summer songs) or even further. For the 2 latter categories, this is typically reserved for artists who have backings from major labels, which are heavily invested in their artists. Rollie has managed to skirt this convention to maintain independence, credibility with his avant-garde persona, or for some other extraneous reason. Either way, Rollie’s career has treaded a weird path over the past decade.

Is this just the path of Cadence Weapon, or is this somehow the destined path for every other successful rapper in Canada whose first name is not Aubrey? While it is daft to compare the rappers on success alone, a more plausible comparison may be someone like Shad, who, prior to hosting q, was another alternative edge hip-hop artist from Canada.

The challenge faced by the “Canadian Hip Hop Artist,” it seems, is finding a way to be relevant, while also creating a sound that is distinctly Canadian.

Hip-hop is a fleeting genre where careers flash in an instant. For Canadian Hip-Hop artists, it's even trickier considering the reduced number of ears and eyes to take up the product. There’s also the oversized influence of the American hip-hop behemoth dominating our radio waves, so when new releases do find their way to the surface it’s important to stop and take note.

-Aaron Samuel


Without Paula Simons, We Wouldn’t Know About Serenity 

Omar Mouallem steps in for Jesse Brown on Canadaland for the next month, promising to turn the podcast into “Albertaland”’ while Brown is away. Mouallem’s first episode profiles Paula Simons’ decade long coverage of the human tragedy that is Alberta’s child welfare system.

Simons recently won honourable mentions from the National Newspaper Awards and the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom for her writing on baby Serenity for the Edmonton Journal.

Simons is a reporter-columnist, whose pieces are known for being authoritative and pointed, particularly in relation to public interest issues such as child welfare reform. However, Simons writes for a Postmedia publication that is slowly dying. The inevitable demise of Postmedia will likely shutter publications like the Edmonton Journal, depriving the likes of Simons a platform to hold the powerful accountable. And when that happens, we will all be worse off.


Dear White People

There are so many reasons to watch the new Netflix original Dear White People, a show inspired by the film of the same name created by Justin Simien. You may be drawn to it due to the rave critical reviews. Or, you may be curious about the controversy and backlash it received before and after its full release. Ultimately, what matters is that you watch it. Period.

Dear White People takes on issues such as racism, colorism, interracial relationships, sexual orientation, and campus politics, but it manages to do so in an intelligent and entertaining fashion. Perhaps most importantly, the show goes into territory that most creators are otherwise reluctant to address simply because it makes people uncomfortable.

Questions in point:

  1. Are you a sellout as a woke woman of color if you are dating a white man?

  2. Are people more likely to listen to your point of view because of your light-skinned privilege?

  3. Is it wrong to work toward self-preservation and survival rather than to clap back against all the wrongs around you?

  4. What makes a person “not woke”?

  5. Why should a white guy singing along to a rap song not say the N-word?

  6. And, do we do anything other than complain? (The answer is no — we can all agree that breakfast food for dinner is THE BEST).

The show’s depiction of campus and student life will resonate strongly with you if you were also a student activist type — organizing events, getting incensed at the injustices in the world, and striving to find solutions to systemic problems. Watching the student groups struggle with similar issues on their campus will make you nostalgic, but it also reinforces the idea that every generation of young people seems to have the drive and willpower to do something about the injustices around them, rather than to simply accept the status quo.

One of the many things that Dear White People gets right is that it captures the many different identities within the black student community and what it means to be a young black man or woman in America today. Each episode or chapter is told from the point of view of a different character. Not everyone’s political views are the same and not everyone has the same way of addressing the racism on their campus.

Beyond that, however, the show also highlights the constant bewilderment that white people seem to have when asked to address how their privilege and ignorance has real effects on people of color. This past week gave us a couple of important examples of why a show that addresses issues of race head on is so crucial and timely.

We heard of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards who was leaving a party and was murdered by a Texas police officer. The incident is reminiscent of one of the episodes of DWP, which explores how easily a young black person can become the victim of a senseless crime at the hands of the state simply because of the colour of their skin.

Here in Canada, we read about Toronto Star columnist and freelance journalist Desmond Cole, who was warned by an editor that his activism violated the Star’s policies — that he could not be both a journalist and activist at the same time. Quite aptly, Cole wrote “I choose activism in the service of black liberation.”

Art imitates life, and if there is anything I can suggest you make time for in the week ahead, make sure it is binge-watching Dear White People. You will not regret it.

Stay woke, people.


This Week’s New Indie Music (And a Bread Recipe)

In the fall of 2006 I started my first year of university and it was immediately a struggle to cope with the comparatively structureless and lonely days. At some point very early in the semester I decided the solution to my empty Fridays would be to learn to bake bread. Week after week I attempted different recipes, striving towards the elusive combination of a crisp crust and good crumb structure. Most of it was not very good (I still have a perfect smell-memory of over-fermented yeast). Mid-way through the second semester, I abandoned the project with relief.

2006 was also the peak of my music blog obsession. I was reading dozens of them, mostly out of NYC. Through their concert reviews, and the photography of sites like The Cobrasnake, I imagined a life as a bold, partying hipster. (Years later, when I moved to NYC, I recognized this personality would not suddenly manifest, but it was still a thrill to go to venues like Webster Hall after dreaming about them for so long.) While the majority of my favourite blogs are now dead, I still have dozens of old playlists featuring the likes of Hot Chip, Beirut, Arcade Fire, The National, Feist, LCD Soundsystem and Grizzly Bear. It’s embarrassing to realize how little my musical taste has advanced since then.

Anyways, on Friday, LCD Soundsystem and Grizzly Bear both released new songs. So, for that matter, did Perfume Genius and TLC (yes, you read that correctly, and yes, it is terrible). Of the lot, Grizzly Bear’s 'Three Rings' was the only one to make it into immediate and continuous rotation.* I listened to it while making bread for the first time in a decade. I used this recipe, and as the title suggests, it does make an excellent white bread.


This Week's Links

An exhibit of Rei Kawakubo’s work opened recently at the Metropolitan Museum. Here she is on failure: “Maybe the fact that it’s such hard work to do what I do and so much torture and living in hell and getting so tired working dawn to midnight every day for the last 40 years — maybe that would be called a failure in some sense.” And on her creative process: “THERE IS NO MEANING. I AM JUST TRYING TO MAKE A BUSINESS OUT OF CREATING THINGS THAT DIDN’T EXIST BEFORE. IT’S A VERY SIMPLE IDEA.”

Kumail Nanjiani, the comedian who plays the character Danesh with a perfect deadpan in “Silicon Valley”, has a new movie, based loosely on his life, titled “The Big Sick”. Co-written by Nanjiani’s wife and produced by Judd Apatow, the movie was purchased for a record $12 million by Amazon following its Sundance Premiere. The film, which comes out in June, is “part comedy about comedy, part drama about families, part medical mystery, and also, incidentally, a Muslim American rom-com.”

Pepe the Frog was created by illustrator and children’s author Matt Furie back in 2005. Initially envisioned as a “chill frog-duge”, Pepe was quickly co-opted by the alt-right and transformed into a hate symbol. Back in November, Furie started a campaign to rescue Pepe from the forces of hatred. This week, Furie conceded defeat, and symbolically killed of Pepe in a recent comic strip: “It showed Pepe laid to rest in an open casket, being mourned by his fellow characters from Boy’s Club.” RIP.

Xan Rice returns to the places and people of his childhood to find a different South Africa. The piece appears in Granta: 138 Journeys, which tackles travel writing and its contemporary relevance. Rice’s piece, more than any in the collection, highlights that the distances we travel within are more profound than the number of kilometers traversed.

Jia Tolentino’s scathing review of Ivanka Trump’s much-maligned, Toni Morrison-quoting, new book, Women Who Work, is pretty damn entertaining.

“What happened to Justin Trudeau’s all-star Cabinet?” Maclean’s Ottawa bureau chief breaks down a rocky few months for Canada’s Ministers, and hashes out what a successful spring might look like.

“Macron and the Revival of Europe” — the always dramatic Roger Cohen is extremely relieved by the results of France’s presidential election.

The only strawberry rhubarb crumble recipe you need (except, wait, in the topping I do replace some of the flour with oats). After much taste-testing, I can report that rhubarb crumble is always better than rhubarb cake, even this nicely spiced upsidedown one.

Richie Assaly