Category Archives: culture

Chasing Ambulances

Heather Pyrcz, from Nights on Prospect Street

It’s sad but not unexpected to see American news aggregators and marketing companies coming out of the woodwork to feed off the tragedy in Japan, perpetuating Facebook rumours and vitriol to generate advertising click-through revenue from a self-absorbed mob. The Japanese, who have other things on their minds right now besides the arrogant demands for a news scoop, must just be shaking their heads.

Please move on to the story of Knut or some cute You Tube video. You know who you are.


World of Dew

Haiku by Issa, composed on the death of his child.


Haiku: Basho
Image:  Great Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa, by Hokusai, a famous late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Japanese artist. Part of The Thirty-Six Views of Fuji series (1823-29).

The Dog Song

I’m just a walking my dog
Singing my song
Strolling along
Yeah it’s just me and my dog
Catching some sun
We can’t go wrong

Well just go right to the pound
And find yourself a hound
And make that doggie proud
‘Cause that’s what it’s all about

Nellie McKay Dog Song

Playful, quirky, hilarious, endearing: not attributes of your typical political agitator. But singer-songwriter-producer-activist Nellie McKay merits the description. Her music is whimsical, colorful, catchy and as engaging as it is restless. Toying with antique genres and yet undeniably contemporary, it flirts with multiple styles of delivery while maintaining a sharp social conscience.

For these and other eccentricities, McKay has gained a devoted fan following. On stage and off, she’s an outspoken advocate of animal rights, a friend and ally to any arch political quip and — lucky for us — artistically uncompromising.

Excerpted from TED dot com

Image: “Lost Girls”

Nellie McKay website

Lightfoot Illustrated

There are few songs that embody this country more than Gordon Lightfoot’s Canadian Railroad Trilogy, which was performed live for the first time on New Year’s Day, 1967, in honour of Canada’s centennial. Now, more than 40 years later, Lightfoot’s paean to the national railroad gets a second life, a remix of sorts, in the form of an illustrated book. The six-minute song has been transformed into a 56-page picture book, illustrated by award-winning Canadian artist Ian Wallace.

Canadian Railroad Trilogy

The idea to turn song into book actually belongs to Patsy Aldana, publisher of Groundwood Books, who called up Wallace a couple of years ago and pitched him the concept. Wallace was a teenager when the song debuted, and part of him was terrified at the prospect of adapting the lyrics of a songwriter he’d long admired.

“I’ve always believed that the illustrator is only as good as the words a writer lays down, and so in that sense, I was dealing with a master,” says Wallace, 60. That said, he also knew the song would make a perfect book: “The building of the railroad is one thrilling saga, full of fascinating characters: entrepreneurs and capitalists and politicians and ordinary men, navvies and ladies of the evening — a great cast of characters that an illustrator can certainly sink his teeth into and find visual stimulus.”

Wallace lovingly recreates the country from coast to coast. From sketches of the mountains to the Prairies to the Maritimes, the book could almost be used as a tourist brochure. He credits Lightfoot with making his job easy: “Lightfoot is such a masterful storyteller. The lyrics that he wrote were so succinct, so spare, so well chosen that it was in fact as if I was dealing with the text of a picture book. He really understood less is more.”

Canadian Railroad Trilogy

While Lightfoot wrote the original in a blistering three days, Wallace took a bit longer — 21 months in all — to complete his work, though some of that was for research, which included reading books such as Pierre Berton’s The Last Spike, and scouring the Canadian Pacific archives and the Toronto Reference Library. Additionally, Wallace had to master a medium he’d never worked in before.

“I’ve always believed in the uniqueness of the writer’s voice, and my responsibility as an illustrator is to hear that voice,” he says. “In this instance, I wanted to capture [Sir John A.] Macdonald’s dream and Gordon Lightfoot’s iconic song all at the same time. And the only medium I thought could do that was chalk pastels … In one moment it can look ethereal and dreamy and as soft as clouds and in the same stroke you can create concrete rock and reflective surfaces of steel. That’s the real beauty of it.”

Just as those who built the railroads worked under dangerous conditions, so too did Wallace (albeit to a much lesser extent). During the process, he discovered that the chalk was toxic — he had to avoid breathing in the dust, and couldn’t let it linger on his skin lest it seep into his bloodstream.
I was so intent that this medium was just the right one that it was worth the risk to my life and lungs.

Canadian Railroad Trilogy

While Wallace never worked directly with Lightfoot on the book, the singer was there in spirit. He’s unsure how many times he listened to the original song, but adds
it never ever let me down or became boring.

“It was inspirational,” he says. “It kept me on track.”

Canadian Railroad Trilogy by Gordon Lightfoot, art by Ian Wallace, is published by Groundwood Books.

Unabashedly sourced verbatim from: Mark Medley, National Post, October 8, 2010.

The Calgary Model

In North America we do not have a problem with pet overpopulation, stray animals, nuisance or vicious animals – we have a problem with responsible pet ownership. Virtually every animal that ends up in a shelter or on the street is there because a human relationship failed them…It’s always the animal that pays in the end.

Bill BruceBill Bruce, Director of Calgary Animal and Bylaw Services attacks the problem head-on with a three-pronged approach to responsible pet ownership, incorporating licensing, public education and enforcement, with supporting agencies all working together to achieve the same goals.

As long as owners license their pets, have them spayed or neutered, take proper care of them and ensure they don’t show signs of aggression, such as charging or excessive barking, they won’t have to deal with Bill.

His mission is “To encourage a safe, healthy, vibrant community for people and pets through the development, education, and compliance of bylaws that reflect community values”.

When Bill took over the Calgary program, it was struggling. Calgary was not always so pet-friendly or safe from dog bites. The city had 621 dog bites a year in the mid-1980s, even though its population was then much smaller at just over 600,000 people. The city also was euthanizing many more dogs at the time and had a policy against adopting out “pit bulls.”

It is clear that Calgarians are now strongly behind Bill’s fair treatment and service value as the community is engaged and funding is in place. The citizen satisfaction rate is 91%, second only to the Fire Department.

Calgary, when it comes to animal control, is the envy of the continent.
~ Calgary Sun

The keys to Calgary’s success:

  • no mandatory spay/neuter
  • no breed specific legislation
  • no pet limit laws
  • providing valued services rather than simply punishing citizens into compliance
  • buy in and cooperation among community stakeholders through mediation
  • extensive education and PR campaign to emphasize responsible pet ownership
  • low license fees and modest fee differential for intact pets

Tough LoveAll dogs and cats 3 months or older require a license. Fees are reasonable but there is a fine for unlicensed animals. A free 6-month license is provided for all adopted dogs and cats. Media campaigns have sent the message that “My license is my ticket home”. The program allows Animal Services to identify that a lost animal has a caregiver and that animal is just one phone call away from going home.

If a pet is picked up at-large and is licensed, it is not dropped off at the shelter to await discovery by its owner. The Animal Services Officer has a laptop in the truck with a direct link to the licensing database, a cell phone & a GPS, allowing the owner to be contacted and the animal to be taken directly home without ever setting foot in the shelter. The pet that goes directly home does not cost Animal Services in time or resources. It is an animal that does not bring disease to or catch disease within the facility. Only if an owner cannot be located is the animal taken to Animal Services.

The city now boasts a licensing compliance rate for dogs of 92% as of June 2009, a return to owner rate of 85% and a euthanasia rate of only 6%. A newly implemented licensing program for cats already has a licensing compliance rate of 54%, a return to owner rate of 56% and an 18% euthanasia rate. A majority of those animals being euthanized are for behavioural issues and poor health or injuries. Had these cats been microchipped, tattooed, or licensed, they could have been returned to their owners. Calgary has the highest return-to-owner and lowest pet euthanasia rates on the continent.

Licensing goes hand in hand with the I Heart My Pet rewards program, launched in March 2010. The rewards card provides a means for pet owners to recoup the cost of their licensing fees through savings on products and services offered by 40 partner merchants

Aggressive animal incidents are almost non-existent. Over the past 18 years, the city of Calgary has cut their number of dog bites and chases by more than 50% (all the while, the human and dog population of Calgary has doubled).

“You, as a pet owner are 100 percent responsible.”

Freedom City
Education is another key component of Bill’s approach. It raises awareness, removes misconceptions, changes behaviour and helps prevent problems before they happen. Calgarians have become voluntary partners in compliance. Educational programs revolve around responsible citizenship and pet ownership including licensing and spaying/neutering. No-cost interactive education starts in schools as early as Grade 1, with a “Dogs in Our Society” program which focuses on pet ownership and safety. Other programs include “PAWS Dog Bite Prevention”, “Urban Coyotes”, “Freedom City” (about bylaws and safety), “Junior Bylaw Project” and “Think Responsibly” (a general safety program).

Calgary also supports off-leash areas for dogs, recognizing that they are important for socialization. In off-leash areas, dogs must be licensed and under control at all times. Owners must pick up after their dog, and dogs must not threaten people, other animals or wildlife.

In addition, Calgary has no limit laws, no breed specific laws, no mandatory spay/neuter ordinances and no interference from animals rights groups.

“If you’ve got a ‘pit bull’ and it’s properly licensed and it’s not bothering anybody and it’s well cared for – it’s none of the government’s business.”

Calgary’s bylaw officers have taken a stand against breed banning, and responded to dog bite concerns with a tougher licensing program and stronger enforcement. The City of Calgary also spends considerable funds on dog safety public awareness and education campaigns. Research shows that just 1 hour of dog safety training in grades 2 and 3 can reduce these attacks by 80%.

“We don’t punish breeds, we punish behavior. The bottom line is, we believe all dogs are capable of biting.”

Bill measures the success of these programs by looking at intake numbers, return-to-owner rates, aggressive animal incidents, euthanasia rates (and a breakdown of causes), percent of animals licensed, number of bylaw infractions charged, and financial performance. Overall, he reports a decrease intake, aggressive animal numbers, bylaw infractions and euthanasia. The other measures enjoy positive increase.

Bill’s objective, to have no more homeless pets in Calgary within five years, also hinges on new initiatives like subsidized spay/neuter (funded by cat licensing), increased licensing including a possible lifetime license with microchip program, and an increase in the Drive Home program.

More on the Calgary model:

Calgary Animal and Bylaw Services website
KC Dog Blog
The Bill Bruce California Tour
Tough Love
Calgary Dog Attacks Fall to Lowest Levels in 25 Years
Canadian City Changes Tack to Cut Dog Deaths
Calgary Creates a Model for Dealing with Dangerous Dogs
It’s About Human Responsibility

No Country for Animals

pigKevin Newman’s latest documentary, No Country for Animals opens with a question about human rights and animal welfare: “In Canada, we pride ourselves on racial and sexual equality, but what about the rights of other species?”

How Canada holds up to the rest of the world is a worthwhile comparison. Canada is well behind international standards that regulate housing and transportation for animals used in industry. Canada is the namesake of the documentary.

The latest installment of the ‘Revealed’ documentary series. No Country for Animals, directed by Karen Pinker,  examines Canada’s deplorable record on animal welfare and looks at the people who are fighting to bring about much-needed change. It was  telecast tonight on Global.

Without being unnecessarily graphic, No Country for Animals exposes Quebec’s notorious puppy mills and examines the mistreatment of animals raised for food. We see the gestation crates where animals spend their entire lives confined in standing positions, and overcrowded abattoir-bound trucks where livestock can go for days without food or water.

It all happens because Canada has very outdated, ineffectual laws protecting animals and when cruelty charges are made, they are often dismissed. “In Canada, animals are property,” explains one activist. Our legal standards protecting animals lag far behind the European Union or California, for example, where major steps have been taken to protect animals and enhance their lives.

This documentary introduces viewers to some of the people who are fighting to bring about change in this country. There’s Nicole Joncas challenging the Quebec courts to close their horrific puppy mills, or Twyla Francois, armed with an undercover camera, campaigning vigorously to bring attention to the mistreatment of farm animals. We meet Canada’s first lawyer to specialize in animal law, and a new, young generation dedicated to the fight to improve the lives of animals through legal and educational means.

The documentary opens with Twyla Francois, a filmmaker and investigator. Many of her informants are  investigators for provincial authorities. After a shot of the Woofstock festival in Toronto, she says that we spend $4.5 billion every year to pamper our pets, while permitting legal abuse to other animals.

Leslie Bisgould, the first Canadian animal lawyer informs us that the penalty for smashing someone’s SUV  is far greater than for beating their dog.

Alanna Devine, Director of Animal Welfare for the Montreal SPCA says that less than one-quarter of one percent of those accused of animal cruelty are ever convicted. You have to prove intentional neglect. The Criminal Code provisions, crafted in 1892, talks about preventing “unnecessary suffering”, but the implication is that anything we deem “necessary” goes unpunished.

Nicole Joncas runs an animal rescue in Quebec. We see scenes in a  puppy mill. All the dogs are screaming; the noise is unbearable. They are terrified. Some are sick or badly injured. Quebec has the dubious distinction of being the puppy mill capital of Canada, with over 2,000 mass breeding operations.

Nicole is frustrated. She reported the mill to everyone but no one was listening. She spoke to Anima Quebec who have four inspectors for the entire province. They looked into it, but ended up just telling the owners to clean things up.

In addition to federal legislation from the 19th century, each province has its own laws. A 2009 study by the Animal Legal Defence Fund ranks Quebec’s laws as the worst.

Cut to shots of a pig farm, where institutionalized violence takes place on private property. Twyla says that these animals are considered to be nothing because they were born for this purpose, but there is no difference between them and a dog or cat, in terms of what they feel.

She grew up on a farm in Manitoba. Her father was a  butcher. When she was a 13-year-old member of 4-H,  grooming her pet calf, she realized what happened to farm animals and became vegan. Twyla is now a chief inspector for CETFA (Canadians for the Ethical Treatment of Food Animals).

She shows us shots of a transport trailer, with no enrichment or protection from the elements. She tells us that pigs freeze to the metal in winter. Cattle and sheep travel for up to 52 hours with no food, water or a break. This is in line with CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) guidelines. CFIA will  not discuss changes.

So Twyla takes matters into her own hands. She goes to cattle auctions to enforce regulations.

“We know the regulations better than the CFIA,” she says.

At one particularly problematic auction, she finds a badly injured calf and convinces a government veterinarian that it needs to be euthanized. She counts this day as a success because the suffering ended for one animal.

Cut to shots of poultry being thrown into the back of a truck like sacks of potatoes. This is completely legal, says Twyla. The workers consider it standard practice. Cruelty has been institutionalized.

We return to the pig farm. 95% of sows in Canada are confined for their short and unhappy lives in gestation crates which are 2 feet by 7 feet. They go crazy.

Paul Shapiro (HSUS) is shown speaking to an audience of Manitoba agricultural students. He mentions Proposition 2, passed in California to eliminate gestation crates. The victory was a landslide. We see some videos asking voters to say Yes to Prop 2. Twyla would like that  to happen here.

Across the pond to Amsterdam where we follow a discussion about animal rights, which are debated much more vigorously in Europe. Lesli Bisgould, the lawyer, reminds us that, in Canada, animals are property and can be used in any way by their owners.

However, the founding document of the European Union, the Treaty of Amsterdam, recognizes animals as sentient beings. The people filmed in Amsterdam don’t understand why Canadians don’t seem to care. Canadians, after all, helped save Europe during World War II.

We cut to a Dutch farmer nicknamed the “Pig Whisperer”. He tells us pigs are funny, nice, social animals. The Dutch government has passed protection laws stating that pigs must not live in crates. But Canada has no proposal on the books to get rid of them. His farm used to be a factory farm, but now the pens are always open, there’s straw on the floor, and pigs roam. Toys are mandated in every pen.

In other European countries such as Sweden and the U.K., confinement pens have likewise been banned. The Swiss constitution actually recognizes the dignity of all creatures.

We cut to an Italian border crossing, where the Italian police do routine inspections of livestock trucks. This never happens in Canada. Dr. Mario Sapino, the chief veterinarian, is there. Animal activists are too, working alongside the police and inspectors. The truck has ventilation and food, but Dr. Sapino says that the animals are packed in too closely and are touching each other. The driver is fined the equivalent of $5,000.

European cattle get a break every 14 hours, compared to our 52. Dr. Sapino says that no one in Europe would ever consider transporting animals that long.

In Canada, we blame our geography. Most animals are raised in the prairies and slaughtered in Ontario and Quebec.

European eyes are now on Canada. They worry that their own standards are not  high enough. Then they see ours.

Nicole has tried to sue the Government of Quebec for failing to enforce its animal cruelty laws. She tells us that her case was thrown out, so she moved to a court of appeal. Things have become complicated by the fact that the puppy mill in question has gone bankrupt. That’s what they do; shut down then move to another town.

The court of appeal told her that this was a political question, not a legal one, therefore not under their jurisdiction.

“This has been the hardest four years of my life,” she says.

Lesli Bisgould tells us that law students believe that animal rights is the next legal frontier. Animal law courses are springing up in universities and a new breed of lawyers is graduating.

Alanna Devine tells us that, 25 years ago, environmental law was considered unusual; now it’s very common. Animal law is gaining acceptance as a career.

We see two McGill law students chatting over Skype with a lawyer in Zurich, who was the very first prosecutor in the world to take on animal cruelty cases.

Nicole is now considering a consumer-based campaign against puppy mills – a class-action suit. She says she’s seeing a glimmer of movement from the Quebec Government, who are now providing more money for inspectors.

But what about Canadian consumers? How ready are we to change?

We see a field full of happy black boards crunching on walnuts at Perth Pork Products. The farmer used to use indoor methods to keep prices low. Now he raises heritage breeds for boutique butchers such as Mario Fiorucci of The Healthy Butcher in Toronto.

Mario visits every farm he buys from to ensure that the animals are raised humanely. He sees a business opportunity as customers become aware of more humane options. Price is always an issue, of course, and consumers can pay 25 – 50% more at the butcher shop for humanely raised animals. But North Americans have become addicted to cheap food.

Arthur Schafer, Ethicist at the University of Manitoba, tells us that most people don’t want to eat meat raised inhumanely. He says the public needs to be informed, and that there’s evidence that Canadians want to know where their meat comes from.

Meanwhile, Mario offers hands-on classes to aspiring chefs. He says that, with higher prices, people try to eat less or no meat, and they  focus on higher quality.

This is our choice.

Twyla visits The Healthy Butcher and talks with Mario. She questions just how humane “humane meat” is. Animals are still commodified. They are still transported and slaughtered.

The small animals in the butcher case, like the chickens, do her in. She is looking at the whole animal, not just anonymous parts.

Alanna Devine says that changes will not be fast; they will be incremental. She lives for the small victories.

Twyla does it because she dreams of the day that Canadians will finally get it, and start to make humane choices.

If you missed it, you can watch it here.