Originally published December 28, 2010 in Aux.tv
When friends Luke, Ben, Ian and Jord met as teenagers, they had a few things in common – music was one of them. Testing the waters as a band proved rough in the beginning – they even had to open for a Spice Girls cover band. But in the decade since, it has been clear sailing for The Coast. They’ve toured North America and Europe, released two albums and an EP and honed a beautiful, atmospheric indie-pop sound.
So, it came as a bit of shock to followers of the band when they announced their split earlier this month. The Toronto band will play their final show tomorrow, December 29, at the Garrison.
“Being in a band is like being in a marriage,” bassist Luke Melchiorre. “It’s not a surprise to any of us why we’re breaking up.”
The band cites financial, business, creative and personal differences as the crux for calling it a day.
“There’s a lot of stuff that goes on behind the scenes with bands,” explains guitarist Ian Fosbery. “Just touring in general can take a toll and unless you’re in a band, you don’t really know. It’s also an expensive endeavour, and being in a band can be a very unsustainable thing. If one member of the band is having doubts, it becomes hard to sustain the band.”
The band’s Facebook page sheds a bit more light on the reasons behind their demise. Fosbery has decided to spend more time in New York with his girlfriend, Luke Melchoirre is in the midst of a PhD program and lead singer/guitarist Ben Spurr is pursuing a writing career.
“Things have changed since the first record came out to this current one,” Spurr notes. “The same kind of energy is not behind us anymore.”
That said, the bandmates insist they’ve had a good ride, from start to finish, and are looking forward to their last hometown show.
Starting out in their native Etobicoke as The July 26th Movement, (the name was inspired by the revolutionary Cuban movement during the late 1950s), the band underwent a name change in 2006 and was reborn as The Coast.
“The old name was never an avant-garde statement. We just kind of thought The Coast sounded better,” Spurr explains, noting the band took their name from a Paul Simon tune. “It’s rare that young people don’t like music, and that was the case for all of us,” he says. “Growing up we were influenced by acts like New Order and Paul Simon.”
Spurr has always written the band’s lyrics. “It’s always a good feeling to finish a song,” he says. “Our lyrical content has changed a lot over the years. It’s jarring how confessional the first album is. But the second album is far less personal.
Throughout their musical career, The Coast has been supported by a devoted local fanbase that bought their CDs and packed their shows even before their debut LP was released in 2008.
“We have always been supported by a large group of friends who became fans,” Luke Melchoirre says. “And that support has rarely wavered in ten years.”
Known for their dynamic live show, the bandmates agree that performing live came easy to the band thanks to their confidence in their music. “If you’re a good enough band, you should be able to impress strangers,” Spurr quips.
One of the highlights of their career was getting to tour with Blue Rodeo. The bandmates recall a particularly infamous incident when drummer Jord Melchoirre head-butted Blue Rodeo frontman Jim Cuddy.
“It was more like a love tap,” Jord, Luke’s brother, says, laughing. “He had his guitar over his head, and I felt like giving him a hug, but we ended up kind of butting heads.”
Luckily, it all turned out okay in the end – Jord apologized, and Cuddy remarked that he “felt the love.”
The Coast say they’ve been pretty lucky to have the opportunity to tour with many different artists, but in hindsight, they would have loved to tour with fave likes Wilco or Wolf Parade.
One thing that has changed over the years, however, is their approach to hero worship. “If you had asked me that early on in our career, I would’ve had a list of twenty bands,” Luke Melchoirre says. “But now I would rather tour with bands I like.”
Another highlight for the band was getting to tour Germany. They played Hamburg and Berlin, and the experience included a hefty dose of parties and excitement. “Everything happens in Germany!” Fosbery enthuses. “I don’t really know how the country works, because the bars are open 24/7,” he quips.
Now that The Coast is coming to a close, Luke jokes he will sit in dark rooms by himself a lot, while Fosbery is working on a musical project called The Bellwoods, but the new act doesn’t have a record deal yet.
And what about a potential reunion down the road? It may not happen anytime soon, but the band’s response is a hopeful one for their devoted fans: “never say never.”
The Coast play their final show at The Garrison in Toronto on Wednesday, December 29 ($10 or $7 with two non-perishable food items).
Originally published February 1, 2011 in Aux.tv
Montreal’s Young Galaxy are having a great start to their year, having been chosen as the X3 Artist of the Month (look for their new album, Shapeshifting, to be featured on AUX, CBC Radio 3, and Exclaim throughout the month).
“It’s a beautiful way to start the proceedings,” frontman Stephen Ramsay told AUX. “Because this happened so quickly, it was a way to motivate us. It feels like people are watching and people care. We have something to live up to, and we relish that position.”
The band began work on Shapeshifting soon after the release of their previous record, Invisible Republic, which was long-listed for last year’s Polaris Music Prize. Tired of labels like “indie-rock” or “dream-pop,” Ramsay and his bandmates—including his partner and co-vocalist Catherine McCandless and bassist Stephen Kamp—deliberately decided to craft a record that spans genres.
“The band didn’t want to be emotionally direct this time,” says Ramsay. “We wanted to be a lot more abstract and a little more interpretative. Even the title, Shapeshifting, was capturing something in mid-metamorphosis.”
Young Galaxy has seen a steady line-up change since Ramsay and McCandless first founded the group in 2005, something Ramsay embraces.
“On a fundamental level, the main parts of the puzzle are still in place,” he notes. “Catherine and I are the main song writers. The bassist has been the same. But everyone else has been through a revolving door.”
Ramsay points out that every new band member has a different feel and ends up taking a new approach to things, which brings a new perspective to the group.
“It’s a refreshing and terrifying feeling at the same time, and it also helps the band not becoming stale,” says Stephen.
Known for their ethereal lyrics and sonic imagery, Young Galaxy is mainly inspired by emotional states and small moments of beauty. Ramsay notes that as a songwriter, he gets a rush of inspiration by finding new ways to say things rather than falling back on old clichés.
“If the kernel of the idea is in place, the process just flows,” he notes. “There’s a lot of the mundane in peoples’ existence. I wait for the moment when something shows up in the peripheral and reminds you there’s more at work other than the machinations of daily existence.”
This sense of honesty comes across not only in the band’s song writing, but also in their interaction with fans and the media.
“The only way you can have success as a writer is to reveal yourself,” Ramsay says. “It’s hard to be disingenuous and get away with it. If people see that you’re just kind of pissing they would rather find something more genuine. So, you have to be engaged with the audience, be genuine and be willing to put yourself on the line.”
Shapeshifting was overseen by noted Swedish producer Dan Lissvik, who was given full creative control by the band. The record is likely to surprise listeners who might have pigeonholed Young Galaxy as a straightforward indie-rock act—Ramsay is quick to point out that the band takes inspiration from a wide spectrum of music, from hip-hop to Leonard Cohen and Duran Duran.
“That was one of our goals: to have a band that reflected our wide musical tastes,” says Ramsay. “I kind of want to mix everything together and come up with something entirely different and call it Young Galaxy.”
Audiences across the country will soon get a taste of that creatively restless sound, as Young Galaxy embark on a cross-Canada tour with Winter Gloves (labelmates You Say Party! Recently had to withdraw from the tour due to singer Becky Ninkovic’s nagging bronchitis).
“Touring can be double-edged sword,” Ramsay admits. “It’s alienating and exhausting, but the redeeming point is interaction with your fans.”
“The audience, whether, they know it or now, is as vital a component to a show as the band,” he insists. “Ultimately, it’s abstract because they add an invisible layer. A live show wouldn’t be complete without the audience’s energy.”
While he hopes audiences will take to the new album, Ramsay wants Young Galaxy to continue to grow and evolve far beyond simply their current release.
“I would love to be a band like Radiohead that can endure for their tenth album and people still get excited over them,” Ramsay says. “I would love to be that kind of band that can be relevant for so long.”
Read more about Young Galaxy on the X3 Artist of the Month microsite.
Originally published September 28, 2006 in The Varsity
If all goes well, my four-year stint at U of T will effectively come to an end in 2007. The past three years went by so quickly. But if someone were to ask me to summarize each year that I spent at this school, one point would stand out.
Instead of living on campus, I commuted from Scarberia. I disliked that aspect very much.
To begin with, first year was a ho-hum and unstimulating affair. To put it bluntly, I despised it. I am a social animal, and coming straight out of high school I was, perhaps naively, expecting university to be a similar experience.
Boy, was I ever wrong. Classes were huge, professors were mean-with the exception of the stellar Nick Mount of ENG 140-and I was bored. Not only bored, but depressed and alone. Therefore, I remember first year, but definitely not fondly.
Second year started off in the same vein. Classes were somewhat smaller and more interesting, but the whole social aspect was lacking. How can one make lasting friends at this school? You go to class, take notes, and say hi to some different random person each time. Or sometimes you might even be blessed with a person sitting beside you who won’t even acknowledge your presence.
A few months into second year, thankfully, my desperate existence ended. I joined the Telefund Call Centre. I was low on cash and happened to run into a friend who worked there. Since starting work there, I’ve made many friends whom I’ve come to love. Because of my campus job, coming to school began to help instead of hinder my emotional and social well-being.
This article is a heads-up, especially for those of you who are just starting out here. University is supposed to an experience that should do more than challenge you intellectually. This experience should help you make friends with whom you hang out and engage in conversation. This is a really crucial aspect to commuters’ well-being, for I can testify to the fact that not interacting with another human being during a six-hour break, week after week, can make you go crazy.
Like elementary and high school, university should be a time when you can make meaningful friends. That did not happen to me immediately. Like thousands of other students enrolled at the university, I never lived on campus, and this distance definitely caused me to feel alienated.
But the difference between me and someone else who started off university in a similar way is that I seized an opportunity. Even though this came in a form of a job on campus, getting involved really helped me feel integrated in the whole-usually exclusive-U of T environment.
I would like to change that environment. I’ve learned that the onus lies on you to find ways to get involved, whether through joining clubs, playing intramural sports, working on campus, or whatever. By getting involved in things like these, I began to feel as though I belonged.
My college, Victoria, has an Off-Campusers Commuters’ Association, and I’m sure that other colleges have similar clubs that cater specifically to commuters. Joining such clubs is an excellent way for commuters to expand their social life and foster university friendships that will last.
So next time you go to class, take a few seconds and say hi to the person sitting next to you. Trust me: they will want to talk, especially if they happen to be a commuter. You’ll connect to another human, and you might just get a new friend out of it. After all, as the Beatles put it so eloquently, “All you need is love.”
Originally published October 5, 2006 in The Varsity
It has taken four months to accomplish, but it seems that the student union representing part-time students on St. George campus will soon be moving into a new home.
The Association of Part-time U of T Students (APUS) and U of T’s administration have come to an agreement to relocate APUS offices to what they hope to be their permanent home in the Margaret Fletcher building at 100 Devonshire Place, across from the Varsity stadium.
After lobbying since June, APUS and U of T agreed that the building would be a suitable location for its home because of its close proximity with Woodsworth College, the college for part-time students.
Margaret Fletcher was initially home to a daycare centre, but has been largely empty since 2003. And although the space in question is situated in a “central building,” the university is in the midst of renovating it in order to meet basic requirements, according to Farrar.
“APUS should be situated comfortably in the Margaret Fletcher building within approximately two weeks,” he said.
Since the summer, APUS members have been petitioning and lobbying in order to get support for their cause and also to avoid what they argued was an eviction from their current offices in Woodsworth College.
Farrar, however, did not see the APUS’s office situation as an eviction.
He said that “from the beginning we were going to give them an alternate location.
There was never to any intent to evict APUS from their previous location, nor did they ever receive any language from us that we would use that action.”
APUS executive director Oriel Varga, however, thought otherwise.
“Without telling us where to relocate, [the administration] came to us in March telling us that we had to leave our Woodsworth office by the end of the term. It was an eviction.”
This situation could have been solved more quickly according to Dave Farrar.
“Since this episode began about six months ago, the administration offered APUS two different locations, both of which APUS declined to accept.”
These locations were 91 St. George St. and 21 Sussex Avenue. Varga maintains that these locations were much smaller and APUS would have been “just another student group.”
Part-time students comprise about 40 per cent of the student body at U of T, according to Varga, and they should feel comfortable in the community.
Varga said that during the disagreement, APUS received tremendous support from the U of T student body and the community-at-large.
“We have won this battle. Had it not been for their support, we would have been forced to operate from our very tiny office at Sidney Smith.”
However, Dave Farrar also believes that the part-time students should feel like belong at the U of T.
“We do not distinguish between part-time and full-time students,” said Farrar.
Although APUS representatives have still not received the keys to their new home at the Margaret Fletcher building, Varga said that they have made progress on the issue.
“Until now, we have been getting mixed messages from the administration. We want some sort of assurance that this will remain APUS’s permanent home for the long run.”
Originally published April 2, 2007 in The Varsity
Climbing three flights of stairs in the Burroughes Building at Queen and Bathurst St. last Friday to get to U of T’s student art show Three Stories Up, the significance of the title was not lost on me. Put on by the visual studies class of 2007 and featuring three separate works by each of the 17 art students, the show is the culmination of months of hard work.
Entering the large space, the impressively packed room was charged with excitement. The class toured several spaces and art galleries before choosing the old building for their exhibit. Going with the third-floor space meant harsh manual labour for the artists, who had to renovate the gallery for their show.
“We had a limited budget, so we had to work with what we had,” explained Sana Shiraz.
Their hard work shows: the space thrummed with a raw quality, its high ceilings and atmospheric lighting giving it a warehouse feel. The students were pleased as well.
“Our teamwork paid off and all the work we did was definitely worth it,” exclaimed student Carmine Rotundo.
From installations to paintings to video montages, Three Stories Up featured a wide range of media. For example, Nadia D’Agnone displayed a piece featuring pictures of street scenes with all the human figures blacked out, and then projected the images on screen.
“I want to show how hard it is for people to communicate with one another,” she said. “My work tries to deconstruct encounters in everyday life.”
Initially, a piece called Observer and Observed seemed to be just photographs of people’s faces. In fact, they were handmade sketches. Artist Miranda Blazey explained that, “whenever we talk to one another, we are always judgmental because we observe and scrutinize each other’s faces.” Blazey explained that she focused on her subjects’ eyes in her sketches, hoping to make the pieces confrontational.
Azza Abbaro’s painting managed to incite some laughs from attendees. She had painted a classical reclining nude female, with the caption, “Post-modern enough for you?” scrawled across it.
“Although my professors weren’t too fond of the work, the painting’s meant to be aggressive and ironic,” Abbaro contended.
Also interesting was Shiraz’s East meets West. Fashioning a skimpy thong out of traditional Eastern fabrics with intricate embroidery, Shiraz commented on the tensions between Western style and cultures from elsewhere.
“I’m interested in exploring dichotomies between the traditional and modern, male and female,” Shiraz said.
Definitely a labour of love, Three Stories Up is best summarized in its exhibit catalogue: “The show is a testimony to the potential of both raw space and young talent.” Be on the lookout for what raw artists these serve up next.
Three Stories Up runs until April 5 between the hours of 12:00-5:00 p.m. at the Burroughes Building, third Floor, 639-647 Queen St. W. Admission is free.
Participating artists: Azza Abbaro, Miranda Blazey, Kat Boake, Nadia
D’Agnone, Melissa DiMatteo, Magdalene Garda, Enya Hou, Jinju, Donna Lee, Petrina Ng, Shannon Phair, Megan Rooney, Carmine Rotundo, Sana Shiraz, Kaitlin Till-Landry, Lindsay Ulrich, Zane Ziemele.
Originally published November 6, 2006 in The Varisty
There are days when I literally curse myself for missing a bus or subway by a few seconds. The sight of wheels heading towards my destination while I stand still is achingly painful, to say the least.
However, missing a bus or subway is probably a secondary concern compared to the multitude of other complaints that I have with the TTC. Before I start bemoaning the state of our transit system, let me get something straight. I like some aspects of the TTC. Like thousands of people, I commute downtown from the ‘burbs every day. If not for the TTC, therefore, I would be unable to function on a daily basis. The TTC is most definitely an essential commodity. Huge metropolitan cities rely on transit systems like I rely on my backbone-in order to function physically. The London Underground and the Delhi Metro Rail, for example, enable people to stay active, earn a living, and at least attempt to protect the environment. But given the necessity of efficient transit systems in urban centres, is the TTC living up to its potential? This article will not suffice to address my frustration with fare hikes. At times though, I feel that the TTC manipulates commuters’ helplessness in this matter. Not everyone who takes transit can afford commuting and paying for parking every day. But I also understand that the TTC is in a financial bind of its own, and that amidst the many other issues Miller and McGuinty have to worry about, the TTC just ends up on the backburner sometimes. However, such neglect can be dangerous. For example, the labour problems that prompted the wildcat strike this past summer have not really been solved, and there is no guarantee such strikes will not happen again. Friends of mine who frequent London and New Delhi’s subways tell me that they are much better than the TTC, aesthetically and service-wise. The transit systems in these cities are much faster, cleaner, and, at least in New Delhi, cheaper. Apparently in London one can easily get around the city, suburbs and all, using only the subways-without hopping on buses and streetcars or taking a cab. Such an option is not available here. The last time the TTC attempted a subway expansion, it took an unreasonably long time-almost ten years-to complete, and the new Sheppard line shamefully consists of only four stops! It would be simply unacceptable for future expansion to take that long. After all, we live in Toronto, a supposedly thriving, “world-class” city. Enacting any proper change within the TTC-expansion, fares and the like-requires extravagant sums of money that the system simply does not have. So who will provide the TTC with the support it needs? Will Stephen Harper’s Conservative government save this essential service by re-allocating some funds currently marked for their freedom-spreading efforts overseas? More importantly, since transit funding is largely a provincial concern, it is about time that Queen’s Park realizes that Toronto would be slower than a tortoise in a hypothetical marathon of transit systems, at least according to my friends in London and New Delhi. I would love to see the TTC on par with the other major transit systems of the world. And I long for the day when I actually feel like I am riding a rocket while on TTC conveyance. Otherwise, I will just continue feeling like a character from Charlie Chaplin’s cinematic commentary Modern Times, especially when heading up the stairs at busy stops during rush hour.
However, missing a bus or subway is probably a secondary concern compared to the multitude of other complaints that I have with the TTC.
Before I start bemoaning the state of our transit system, let me get something straight. I like some aspects of the TTC. Like thousands of people, I commute downtown from the ‘burbs every day. If not for the TTC, therefore, I would be unable to function on a daily basis.
The TTC is most definitely an essential commodity. Huge metropolitan cities rely on transit systems like I rely on my backbone-in order to function physically. The London Underground and the Delhi Metro Rail, for example, enable people to stay active, earn a living, and at least attempt to protect the environment.
But given the necessity of efficient transit systems in urban centres, is the TTC living up to its potential?
This article will not suffice to address my frustration with fare hikes. At times though, I feel that the TTC manipulates commuters’ helplessness in this matter. Not everyone who takes transit can afford commuting and paying for parking every day.
But I also understand that the TTC is in a financial bind of its own, and that amidst the many other issues Miller and McGuinty have to worry about, the TTC just ends up on the backburner sometimes.
However, such neglect can be dangerous. For example, the labour problems that prompted the wildcat strike this past summer have not really been solved, and there is no guarantee such strikes will not happen again.
Friends of mine who frequent London and New Delhi’s subways tell me that they are much better than the TTC, aesthetically and service-wise. The transit systems in these cities are much faster, cleaner, and, at least in New Delhi, cheaper.
Apparently in London one can easily get around the city, suburbs and all, using only the subways-without hopping on buses and streetcars or taking a cab. Such an option is not available here.
The last time the TTC attempted a subway expansion, it took an unreasonably long time-almost ten years-to complete, and the new Sheppard line shamefully consists of only four stops! It would be simply unacceptable for future expansion to take that long. After all, we live in Toronto, a supposedly thriving, “world-class” city.
Enacting any proper change within the TTC-expansion, fares and the like-requires extravagant sums of money that the system simply does not have. So who will provide the TTC with the support it needs? Will Stephen Harper’s Conservative government save this essential service by re-allocating some funds currently marked for their freedom-spreading efforts overseas?
More importantly, since transit funding is largely a provincial concern, it is about time that Queen’s Park realizes that Toronto would be slower than a tortoise in a hypothetical marathon of transit systems, at least according to my friends in London and New Delhi.
I would love to see the TTC on par with the other major transit systems of the world. And I long for the day when I actually feel like I am riding a rocket while on TTC conveyance.
Otherwise, I will just continue feeling like a character from Charlie Chaplin’s cinematic commentary Modern Times, especially when heading up the stairs at busy stops during rush hour.
Originally published on November 6, 2006 in The Varisty
How can the Canadian government carry out its ambitious mission in the streets of Kandahar effectively when it is apparent that our country has not been able to solve the problem of homelessness at home? Mayoral candidate Jane Pitfield has adopted a tough stance on Toronto’s homeless population, and if she is successful in passing legislation that kicks them off the streets, that day will indeed be a sad one. Pitfield’s plan is reminiscent of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani’s, which attempted to make New York City a more alluring destination for tourists but turned a blind eye to the problem of homelessness. As homelessness is the fate of many in Toronto, not a choice, it should not be declared illegal. Instead, our governments should consider the causes behind homelessness and devise long-lasting solutions. Such efforts take time, money, and dedication. Why is it that we are spending millions of dollars fighting wars overseas, but not dealing with pressing social and economic problems at home? Given that Canada is one of the richest and most developed nations in the world, how can we neglect the most vulnerable segment of our society? Rather than seeking permanent legislation that would work towards solving homelessness by providing things like more work opportunities, Pitfield seems interested in proposing a quick-fix solution. Her plan will only result in cosmetic changes to Toronto’s landscape, and lead to the further gentrification of our city.
How can the Canadian government carry out its ambitious mission in the streets of Kandahar effectively when it is apparent that our country has not been able to solve the problem of homelessness at home? Mayoral candidate Jane Pitfield has adopted a tough stance on Toronto’s homeless population, and if she is successful in passing legislation that kicks them off the streets, that day will indeed be a sad one. Pitfield’s plan is reminiscent of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani’s, which attempted to make New York City a more alluring destination for tourists but turned a blind eye to the problem of homelessness.
As homelessness is the fate of many in Toronto, not a choice, it should not be declared illegal. Instead, our governments should consider the causes behind homelessness and devise long-lasting solutions. Such efforts take time, money, and dedication. Why is it that we are spending millions of dollars fighting wars overseas, but not dealing with pressing social and economic problems at home?
Given that Canada is one of the richest and most developed nations in the world, how can we neglect the most vulnerable segment of our society? Rather than seeking permanent legislation that would work towards solving homelessness by providing things like more work opportunities, Pitfield seems interested in proposing a quick-fix solution. Her plan will only result in cosmetic changes to Toronto’s landscape, and lead to the further gentrification of our city.
Originally published February 5, 2007 in The Varsity
My family moved to Toronto from Karachi, Pakistan in 1989. But that was a tentative move because it was not until 1996, when I turned twelve, at which point we settled here for good.
As a result, I spent part of my childhood in Karachi, but reached adulthood in Toronto. This immigrant background helped me garner a unique perspective on both seemingly different worlds. Besides contrasts between each world’s values and cultures, I have developed a keen, albeit critical, sense on how education systems operate in both countries.
Pakistan’s education system had its obvious setbacks. Besides some elements of regiment and state-control, it also had definite religious and nationalist undertones.
More importantly, though, students (and teachers) had an inability to critically examine issues – from the important to the mundane. The environment was just ill-suited to debate or challenging my teachers.
People from Pakistan also have a tendency to harbour rigid opinions about the partition of the subcontinent, especially due to their short-sightedness in critically examining their national history.
During the time when I studied in Karachi, I never recall questioning Mohamad Ali Jinnah, the ‘politician’ who founded Pakistan. Instead, history books indoctrinated students by presenting him as a saintly ‘father of the nation,’ as they failed to be more critical of politicians’ actions.
Challenging Pakistan’s state structure or partition-related aspects, was limited, especially in the school setting.
By contrast, Canadian schools, at first, seemed like cheerful breaths of fresh air. Teachers encouraged me to ask questions and be myself. I genuinely liked going to school, something which showed in my marks.
However, soon I realized that the Canadian education system was also guilty of self-aggrandizing. We were told to herald our ‘multicultural’ identity – even if all that meant was eating samosas and celebrating ‘ethnic’ clothes.
My English and accent were immediately deemed “not Canadian enough.” And the instinctive reaction was to place me in E.S.L. classes. Although E.S.L. did not faze me so much at the time, I now realize how secluded it made me feel, especially at that young age.
Now, that seems trivially beside the point because I got over the emotional trauma that E.S.L. may have caused. Instead, I have become attuned to other, more important issues.
For example, I am shocked at the realization myself, but it was not until my second year university, when I first learned about the other group that ‘settled’ Canada. Besides of course being a witness to those almost-laughable Canadian Heritage Moments on TV.
Like was the case in Pakistani textbooks, Canadian textbooks too glossed over or hugely minimized important ‘Canadian’ issues, such as the treatment of ‘Native’ Canadians. Thus, I became violently exposed to years of suffering on behalf of Aboriginal Canadians, as a result of Canada’s ‘settlement.’
University has definitely been an eye-opener because things which I could not grasp or understand at a younger age – both in Karachi and Toronto – have suddenly started to make sense.
Can I owe it all to a university education?
I have had the luxury of both Karachi and Toronto’s education into fine tuning my abilities to reason and question. Accordingly, I can recognize the differences and similarities in Karachi and Toronto’s education systems better due to my exposure to both.
Minds evolve – into hopefully more intelligent entities. Obviously, I am no different, as my past has also shaped me into the multi-faceted being I am today.
But that development cannot be attributed to one particular static phase in my life, even if its crystallization may have occurred at a university in Toronto.
But rest assured I can sleep peacefully at night knowing what I know: just how botched politicians’ minds were at India’s partition, or Canada’s implausible stance as peacekeeper, given the context of how the Americas were ‘settled.’
Originally published July 18, 2006 in Young Peoples Press
Recently, I read an interesting article published in the UK daily newspaper, The Guardian. The headline was “At times I feel like a plastic Paki.”
In it, author Anvar Khan examines the relationship between multiculturalism and race politics in the British media. As one of the few people of colour seen on television, Khan explores the constant dilemmas that she undergoes based on her skin colour. The article articulates the fact that she sees not only herself, but all individuals from visible minorities in the media, as stand-in figures of over-representation of certain groups, ethnicities and cultures.
After reading her article, I wondered whether her critique of media representation of multiculturalism could be applied to the Canadian case. After a bit of thought, I have concluded my queries on the matter with a resounding yes. Although her article’s context is situated in the UK, the themes that Khan explores can certainly be extended to a broader or more specifically, a Canadian or even Torontonian framework. Khan’s British example is the preferred method of approach in most Western media outlets.
Issues as diverse as the “Islamic treatment of women” or “whether Asian youth are truly proud to be British,” often end up being represented by Khan. Why would someone like Khan be the spokesperson for such topics? This particular approach seems really absurd to me.
Does inviting these so-called experts legitimize the platform of debate on a particular issue? When they portray such images and relay such opinions on-air, organizations do not realize that their actions do not strengthen a particular community. In fact, by choosing to project the sometimes-incorrect point of view of the few leads to strengthening stereotypes about whole communities and cultures.
What is more is that not only is the western viewer left with even more questions about that community, but she or he ends up expecting a certain kind of behaviour from the members of the group projected by the ‘representative.’
The multicultural setting of Toronto is continually juxtaposed with images and ‘experts’ belonging to particular ethnic groups, which often relay the same stereotypical story. Inadvertently, these experts and images end up representing whole chunks of groups in ways that are different from the status quo. Therefore, a notion such as multiculturalism, which is equated with tolerance and equality, and upheld as a way of living, becomes intertwined with a view that stresses the ‘otherness’ of the immigrant or member of an ethnic minority.
In this regard, the white Britisher or Canadian digesting such representations of the immigrant begins to view him or her as different. Therefore, this immigrant is deemed unsuitable to gel in his or her newly adopted home.
I agree with Khan’s point of view that this trend will continue as long as media outlets are predominantly white.
In providing the immigrant a voice, they will not address the contentious issue of race for fear of being called racist, but will conveniently allocate this talk to privileged individuals such as Khan–or in the Toronto case, Irshad Manji or Tarek Fatah.
The wider implications of such a situation are that not only is a whole community’s voice severed because a ‘native informant’ is chosen to speak on their behalf, but the voice of the white mainstream is also silenced as it too engages in self-censorship. The information that the media presents comes though the filter of the ethnic expert on whom the media relies to provide authentic accounts.
This type of attitude breeds culture as a distinctive force and relegates ethnic communities to nothing more than statistics and skin colour. Therefore, this misinformed approach manifests itself in the form of a patronising attitude by the white mainstream culture of the ethnic other.
Although such a strategy may be well intentioned inasmuch as it is meant to provide minorities a platform to speak from, its overarching result is a negative one throughout the Western world, especially in multicultural spheres such as Toronto or London.
Khan is not wrong in labelling figures like herself as bad authority figures, because these individuals do not always provide intelligent or correct insight on issues pertaining to their cultural group. The fact that only Black or Asian representatives are called upon to comment on issues affecting these minority groups, merely emphasizes their otherness and difference.
Consequently, such a widely accepted and state-sanctioned position of the ethnic other is undoubtedly problematic. Instead of engaging various ethnic groups in dialogue, the current nature of media outlets leads them to shy away from this approach by presenting only certain privileged Black or South Asian and at times, Eurocentric views of a minority group who are often unaware about grassroots issues from a particular community.
This not only contributes to a unitary and stereotypical perspective about a group, but also ends up silencing the voice of many other individuals from that group as well as the dominant white community. In actuality, debate is necessary for various cultures to exist together. Groups should be able to question things such as the rise of youth and gang violence in ethnic minority communities and its root causes.
The politics of race and multiculturalism can certainly be discouraging. However, with regard to multiculturalism, positive change is possible and depends on the manner in which policies are enacted by the powers-that-be.
Viewers should be not only more vocal, but more critical of what they see on television screens and read in newspapers.
In order to make media outlets equal and racially diverse, proper procedures should be implemented to tackle these issues, instead of othering the ethnic voice or just fuelling stereotypes. If multiculturalism is an official policy, then the state and powerful media outlets should take responsibility and make the immigrant experience an integrating force via proper representation.
Sana Ahmed is 22 and is a fourth-year student at the University of Toronto. She is studying history, political science and English.
Originally published on August 24 2010, in Snap North York
Mike Feldman has announced his retirement as councillor from York Centre Ward. In public life since the early 60’s, Feldman became councillor of Ward 10 in 1992.
The son of a Jewish immigrant, Feldman was schooled at an early age about the importance of volunteerism and the spirit of giving back to community. He describes himself as a Tory with a social conscience. “I was sixteen the first time I volunteered. I have always wanted to give back to social programs,” says Feldman.
Having worked all his life, Feldman feels that 82 is a good age to step down. He would like to be remembered by the community as someone who has integrity and believes in the power of philanthropy. “For me, politics is a continuation of volunteer work,” he says.
Feldman knows the importance of providing housing for the underprivileged since he has been a board of director for social housing projects. “When I drive by a building I have contributed to, I feel like it’s a good reward,” says Feldman. He jokingly adds that if he wasn’t a politician, the building would’ve been named after him.
Even though Feldman has called for an official retirement, he intends to continue working in some capacity. “In all likelihood, I’m going to sit on some government boards that have a more global perspective and also explore business opportunities,” says Feldman.
He extends his best wishes for Ward 10 in the years to come. “Ward 10 is diverse with Russian, Jewish, Italian and Filipino populations,” explains Feldman. “We have to strive towards a society that respects all sectors of the population in the ward and if we do that we will have a great ward.”