‘Pirate’ activists to storm Canada Place Saturday

Picture by Flickr user andrewasmith// BY-SA

The “Pirates of Justice” — a costumed crew of activists — are raising a literal warning flag against cruise ships on which they say workers are overworked, underpaid and sometimes abused.

The group will converge tomorrow at 12 p.m. to stage a flash mob at Vancouver’s Canada Place, using theatrical tactics to increase attention.

“Although this is a very serious issue, we’ve still got a sense of humour and it’s a good way to connect with people who might not normally be involved in this sort of thing,” said spokesperson Craig “Blackbeard” Greenfield. He said last year’s event attracted about 100 people.

This year, the pirates are focusing on Carnival Cruise Line vessels hosting Olympic security personnel.

The activists say that Canadian forces and the RCMP have commissioned three ships — the MS Statendem, the MS Oosterdam and the Carnival Elation — at a cost of $76 million from Carnival Cruise Line, a company that activists accuse of maintaining exploitative working conditions.

Cruise ship worker Jessie Campbell, who worked on the MS Stantendam, claimed that some staff members work 12-hour shifts, seven days a week but don’t complain for fear of losing their jobs.

“I’ve been really burdened lately with the unfair treatment of the Indonesian and Filipino workers onboard,” said Campbell in a release. “The dining room staff are only paid $50 per month because they are not getting a cut from the gratuity.”

Research by the International Transport Workers’ Federation, a cruise-industry watchdog, highlights, among other things, the prevalence of insecure, short-term contracts; illegal agent fees; low wages; poor management practices, including gender and racial discrimination; and resistance to unionization.

But Carnival spokesperson Jennifer de la Cruz painted a different picture of her company, highlighting employee access to unpaid accommodation, medical and dental care, and retirement plans.

“We have more than 100 different nationalities represented among our crew who have gravitated to cruise ship jobs because in most instances they represent superior earnings opportunities versus what they can make in their home countries,” Cruz told the Globe and Mail, adding that the activist’s cause is not legitimate.

Greenfield wasn’t surprised: “They basically wrote us off as a stunt but didn’t deny our allegations,” he said. “They could have easily said ‘that’s wrong, they’re not paid $50 a month,’ but they didn’t do that.”

Organizers have set up a Facebook event page, where there are 63 confirmed attendees at time of writing. The flash mob is being advertised as a family friendly event.

Original story here.

Robertson wants citizens to lead way with city’s open data

Mayor Robertson wants to be more open-handed with city data || Photo by Flickr user kk+ //BY-NC-SA

Vancouver’s mayor says he doesn’t know where his city’s open-data policy will lead. He expects you and your fellow citizens to help show the way.

“The overall frame here is that we don’t really know exactly where this is going and we shouldn’t pretend to,” said Gregor Robertson as part of a panel discussion today during Open Data + Culture Day at W2, the independent social media hub located in Vancouver’s lower eastside. “We want to open it up, we want to make it possible for people to develop these next steps and encourage that.”

The panel — which included Coun. Andrea Reimer, techno-anthropologist Jon Husband and David Eaves, a technology blogger and mayoral advisor on open government — was held to swap ideas on citizen engagement, digital media and remix culture.

Reimer proposed the city’s open-data policy, approved in May, which among other things allows people access to certain city-collected data and city-created software.

Reimer added: “The number one business of the city of Vancouver is collecting, analyzing and responding to data… If the tremendous collection of data, paid for by tax dollars, is inaccessible, expensive or unusable, “there is no way that you can run a representative democracy.”

When citizens make use of information, the results may be minute, like setting up email reminders of garbage day, or momentous, like modelling sea level rise in Vancouver.

Eaves said it “isn’t just about applications, it’s also about citizens analyzing what their city is doing.”

All the panelists agreed that ordinary people can and should be involved in crafting solutions for the future. Mayor Robertson added that politicians must keep in mind the platforms on which citizens voted, striking an appropriate balance between elected leadership and community contribution.

This morning’s panel discussion, however, was not opened up to the ordinary people in the audience, though some attendees did have questions.

“Who’s collecting the data?” asked Gillian Young, who has been sleeping in the Olympic tent city nearby. She also wanted to know who and what was being counted, emphasizing the importance of collecting stories that inform hard numbers.

The Open Data + Culture Day began at 10 a.m. and caps off with an open-source-sensory mash-up party tonight.

The Tyee recently described W2 as “a red-hot node of influence and information, providing a space for non-accredited journalists, writers, tweeters and bloggers to expand the Olympics overview past the corporate hype.”

Check out corresponding video by Justin Langille, embedded in original post

Museum of Anthropology: crowd-free, must-see

In the great hall of the museum

As published by the Tyee, the Museum of Anthropology wins my vote as the best crowd-free must-see during the Olympics. Many of Vancouver’s top museums have seen a spike in visitors. The Vancouver Art Gallery, for instance, has had about 61,000 visitors since the games began. But the Museum of Anthropology on the UBC campus has not done as well, despite great reviews.

“The artifacts that this museum possesses in its collection are truly astounding,” wrote Khamis H. of Phoenix, AZ on one forum. “I felt extremely lucky to make it across town after wasting time trying to see some silly Olympic venue.”

During the Cultural Olympiad, the museum unveiled $55.5 million dollars in renovations, some of which began before the Olympic bid was won. The reopening attracted thousands of visitors when full access to the building began on Jan. 23. Some expected a similar surge during the Olympics. Instead, says gift shop worker Eleanor Dean, “all of a sudden it’s gone quiet.”

Donald Sutherland, Queen Sonja from Norway, and President Horst Köhler of Germany are among those who have visited the museum. And an official told The Tyee that visits are up six per cent over last February.

But Wednesday Paul Marsh stood before a glass display case filled with Kwakwaka’wakw mourning masks, savoured the uncrowded quiet.

“I like the fact that there are fewer people,” said Marsh, who was leisurely taking photographs and reading about the artifacts. He thinks the lower traffic levels are “strictly a question of location.”

Dean agreed, saying that a visit to the museum is a good way to “get away from the madness of downtown.”

For more Olympic reviews, visit the original article in the Tyee.

A different angle on Bill Reid's "Raven and the First Men"

Low-income B.C. seniors lose homes to Saturday fire

Their homes went down in flames on Vancouver Island on Saturday, just outside the international media spotlight.

Residents of Kiwanis Village, a housing complex for seniors, were forced to evacuate their homes after a devastating late-night fire in Duncan, B.C. The flames affected one building, or 28 of 90 units, in the four-building complex, leaving many low-income seniors without homes and most of their possessions.

“[The fire] was under control at about 2:30 in the morning,” said Deputy Fire Chief Rob Laver, who received the emergency call at 11:53 p.m. Saturday evening. Forty-five firefighters in four engines promptly arrived on the scene; two sustained minor injuries. Although all the seniors escaped unharmed, they still face uncertainty in the long run.

“We have 27 residents out of the apartment complex long term,” said Dan Derby, general manager of public safety for the Cowichan Region, “We’re trying to develop, with B.C. housing and the Kiwanis Club, a long-term strategy for housing.”

The seniors are currently being housed at two local hotels by the provincial emergency program.

“They were forced out with just the clothes on their back, and some didn’t have any shoes or slippers, so we’re dealing with even the most basic [items] — right down to the toothbrush,” said Dave Clark, president of the Duncan Kiwanis Club, to the CBC. Derby said that the fire department was back at the scene on Sunday, and were able to retrieve a few items, such as walkers and special medical equipment, from the lesser-damaged units.

The investigation to determine the cause of the fire begins today.

“I suspect that at the end of the week we’ll have a definite answer,” said Laver. “At this point if anybody wants to help they can contact the [Duncan] Kiwanis club.” He added that what they really need are “27 rooms for the long term.”


Searchlight artist calls own project ‘obscene’

Click above to watch the video at thetyee.ca

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, the artist behind the prominent searchlight art installation that is currently illuminating the Vancouver skyline, has called his own project “obscene” given the projected cuts to provincial arts funding.

“As I do this project and I learn more about the dire situation of the arts in B.C., I’m outraged by the complete lack of vision that has been expressed for after the Olympics,” said Lozano-Hemmer.

Lozano-Hemmer’s installation, on display from Feb. 4 to Feb. 28, was commissioned by the 2010 Cultural Olympiad and the City of Vancouver.

The B.C. Liberals are expected to slash core provincial arts funding by more than 88 per cent over two years, to $2.25 million in 2010-’11 from $19.5 million in 2008-’09.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Lozano-Hemmer of the cuts. “This is important not just economically, because culture brings in a net worth, but also in terms of quality of life.”

Yesterday Stop BC Arts Cuts posted footage of Lozano-Hemmer in which the artist makes several critical statements.

Such comments from contracted artists are infrequent, likely due to a contentious clause in their VANOC contract: “The artist shall at all times refrain from making any negative or derogatory remarks respecting VANOC, the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Olympic movement generally, Bell and/or other sponsors associated with VANOC.”

But the artist’s public comments are no slip-up.

Lindsay Brown, a representative with Stop BC Arts Cuts, said Lozano-Hemmer was enthusiastic about putting the footage online. “He definitely meant to make these statements,” she said.

“I don’t know why Rafael decided to speak out, except that I guess he may have felt that his international stature gives him the security to do so,” said Brown, who explained that Lozano-Hemmer made the comments without prompting.

And the artist didn’t mince words: “It’s very romantic, I know, but I hope the Olympics will reactivate the dull minds that are running this province into giving money to the arts,” he said.

The footage of Lozano-Hemmer was shot after his speech at the CODE: Dialogue conference at Emily Carr University, during which he addressed several public arts students.

Lozano-Hemmer’s reference to 9-11 in the video is in response to a criticism that his project is “an environmental 9-11” because it uses so much energy, a point he contests in the full transcript, available here.

Closing ceremonies should reflect multiculturalism: critics

Adapted from photo by Flickr user rosswebsdale //BY-NC-SA

The opening ceremonies happened a week ago, and the closing ceremonies are just over a week away — but a contentious question connects the two.

In a city where “visible minorities” have become the majority, some are asking whether VANOC failed to showcase Canadian multiculturalism.

Alden Habacon is the founder of Schema Magazine, an online publication for “cultural navigators.” He described the Feb. 12 kick-off as “the whitest-looking opening ceremonies.”

“Vancouver won their bid on the argument that Vancouver is the most diverse place on earth,” wrote Habacon. “The ceremony was hardly representative of Canada’s (and especially Vancouver’s) multicultural diversity.”

The comments section below Habacon’s editorial reflects the diversity of opinion on the matter. Although some comments were predictably incendiary, a few readers attempted to composedly express their views.

“There certainly was a lack of cultural representation and though I don’t think the producers intentionally organized a predominantly “white” ceremony, they probably could have made it a LOT more interesting by putting together a more diverse and/or multi-ethnic production. And why not?” wrote a user named Claudia.

She referenced poet Shane Koyczan, who performed at the opening ceremony, “We are cultures strung together \ then woven into a tapestry \ and the design \ is what makes us more \ than the sum total of our history.”

Full story here

Stephen Colbert tapes TV show in Vancouver, Canadians meet their mocker

Cam Smith's homemade homage to Comedian Stephen Colbert

He may not be “America’s Ballsiest Pundit,” but he plays one on television.

Comedian Stephen Colbert has called Canadians “syrup suckers” and “iceholes,” has threatened to punch beavers in the face, and has encouraged his fans to come up with lewd definitions of “Canada’s history.”

But thousands of Canadians welcomed the American satirist with cheers and applause today.

At around 10:30 a.m., Colbert appeared on stage to tape the first of two Vancouver-based episodes of his popular show, The Colbert Report. The shows are being filmed in Creekside Park next to Science World (or “Sochi World” for the Olympic period) and fans are once again invited to form the live audience at the 10 a.m. taping tomorrow.

Spectators began gathering before sunrise for today’s show, though some wondered why they were lining up to enter an open field.

“We thought it was Colbert making a joke,” said Michael MacKenzie, who described latecomers racing alongside early birds when all were allowed onto the grass.

When Colbert appeared on stage, he poked fun at the large turnout.

“Isn’t there anything else to do in Vancouver?” he asked. Colbert also joked with the crowd between takes, asking them to enjoy his lines more than once. “I find the comedy gets so much fresher… Remember, this is TV y’all.”

“I think we could have filled a stadium,” said Ian Granville, another fan who explained that the advertising for the event had been relatively low-key and largely organized on Facebook and through word-of-mouth.

Some audience members brought their own props. Brian Verch placed a plastic penguin in the middle of a sectioned-off security zone; Cam Smith made a sign that read “These Iceholes love Colbert;” two huskies attended with their owners; and a few tents from Pivot Legal’s red tent campaign were set up on the hills.

Colbert wasn’t the only person to fuse comedy with current events. The Dogwood Initiative, an NGO focused on sustainability, responded to the comedian’s instruction to “bring your own snow” by pushing in a wheelbarrow full of ice — what they called a delivery from “Col-bear” nation. They also brought along a two-person polar bear mascot made entirely of recycled material.

Others had quirkier goals…

Full story here