Archives For Society

young people visit Berlin Wall memorial

A collection of audio clips on the construction of the Berlin Wall that became a short article.

Read the full article on The Local Germany, here.

two elderly women in a small elevator

Ingeborg Koske, 86, and Christa Kaes, 83 in the elevator at Hansa-Ufer 5 in Berlin, August 2014.

Some came with canes, some with walkers, but they all came ready for a fight.

On Monday afternoon, elderly residents of the apartment block at Hansa-Ufer 5 gathered for a tenants meeting in the modest common room on the ground floor of the building on the banks of the Spree River.

In Berlin, it’s a familiar story. The rent spikes and those who can’t afford it are forced to move out.

In this case, the landlord — Swedish property giant Akelius — wants to renovate the building and surrounding property and wanted to charge 40-65 percent more rent. But this group of old folks wasn’t about to go quietly.

Read the full article on The Local Germany, here.

dog rummages through garbage pile

Radio: Putting a leash on Santiago’s half-million stray dogs

People who live in Chile’s capital Santiago hardly notice them anymore. But as an outsider, you can’t miss the thousands of stray dogs all over the city.

I’ve visited my family there many times and the dogs are always there: on the corner, in the park, at the market rummaging through garbage, on the stoop in front of the shop. A shabby pack of strays has even made its home on the grounds of the presidential palace, La Moneda, downtown.

And no wonder. A recent survey found there are half-a-million stray dogs on the street in Santiago’s capital region.

Come along as I follow a team of veterinarians tasked with helping the government contain the exploding stray dog population and find out why the problem is so out of control.

This piece aired on CBC Radio’s As It Happens in July 2014.

Juan Guzman stands on a street corner wearing sunglasses

My afternoon with the judge who put Pinochet on trial

The morning had been eventful enough. I’d just finished double-ending an interview for CBC radio’s The Sunday Edition and then conducted my own with former judge Juan Guzmán, the Chilean judge who prosecuted Pinochet for crimes against humanity in Chile. As our interview wrapped up, I made an off-hand comment that set me up for an amazing afternoon.

Continue Reading…

a man prepares caramel corn on a street corner

Selling on Santiago’s Alameda

The narrow streets and even narrower sidewalks of downtown Santiago give way to the breadth of the city’s main avenue, La Alameda. Ten lanes across, split down the middle by wide pedestrian islands, the Alameda is constantly bustling with activity, people surging onto the broad walkways from the metro line beneath.

It’s the nexus of business, government and transit for Santiaguinos moving through the capital’s downtown core. It’s also the perfect place for street vendors.

Click below to see more photos of the Alameda by day and by night.

Continue Reading…

a screen grab of an article from cbc.ca

Behind the article: Chile on the 40th anniversary of the coup

The image above is of an article I wrote for the CBC News website while in Santiago, Chile for the 40th anniversary of the country’s military coup, on September 11.

What struck me while I was there was the feeling of being in the midst of a month-long period of national catharsis, both of the people and of the country’s media outlets, an opening of wounds that were never given a chance to heal and a telling of stories that had never before been heard. And they poured out.

Continue Reading…

“The current heatwave – in terms of its duration, its intensity and its extent – is unprecedented in our records. Clearly, the climate system is responding to the background warming trend. Everything that happens in the climate system now is taking place on a planet which is a degree hotter than it used to be.”

David Jones, Manager of climate monitoring and prediction at Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology

Pots and pans march silhouettes

Pots and pans echo through Toronto as ‘casserole’ protest takes hold

The clanging of pots and pans rang through Toronto’s west end Wednesday night as an estimated 2000 people of all ages came out to march in support of Quebec’s student movement and against the province’s Bill 78.

“We were both inspired by what was happening in Quebec and we’d both spent some time there in the last couple of weeks,” said Leila Pourtavaf, one of the event’s organizers. “Coming back to Toronto we wanted to both show solidarity, but also recognize that austerity is not affecting only Quebec.”

Wearing red t-shirts, hats, jackets, accessories and the now famous red squares of the Quebec protest movement, people gathered at Dufferin Grove, a west end park, and began the percussive protest at the appointed 8 p.m.

From the outset, the protest had the makings of a family affair. Claudio, a native Chilean, attended with his wife and four-month old daughter. He noted that pots and pans protests were originally used against the Allende government in Chile in the early 1970s, and were later renewed during resistance to the Pinochet dictatorship.

Read more: http://www.forgetthebox.net/pots-and-pans-echo-through-toronto-as-casserole-protest-takes-hold/

What to do when given a choice like that?  Any self-respecting non-masochist would readily choose option two: explain what is going on.  But here, as with most stories, context is everything.

Earlier that Monday (Nov. 22) I had been covering the preparations for État d’Urgence (State of Emergency), an annual event organized by the art and activism group Action Terroriste Socialement Acceptable (ATSA) or Socially Acceptable Terrorist Action.  The four-day event set up a 24-hour shelter for homeless people and provided the basics of food, shelter and medical attention.

The event’s theme was “Tout(s) Inclus,” playing on the fact that everyone was included, but also that the organizers were satirizing the idea of an all-inclusive resort.  A martini glass with a parasol was pictured on the cover of the event pamphlet and activities were to include concerts, workout sessions, haircuts and massages.

Promotional art for Etat d’Urgence

After finishing my live hit from the event site, I headed back to Concordia’s Loyola campus for a meeting and a few more hours of work.  I left for home after dark and got off the metro at around 8 p.m.  But my evening took a strange twist just as I arrived in front of my apartment.

Under the stairs that led up to the entrance of my place stood a man smoking the tail end of a cigarette, just next to the door of the ground floor apartment.  My assumption was that this was someone my neighbours knew and who was about to ring their door bell.  But as I got closer, I realized that the man had been looking through the garbage that was due to be picked up the next day.

Tall, with wavy light brown hair parted in the middle and a full complement of facial hair, the man in his late 20s or early 30s glared at me.

“You’re all smiles aren’t you.”

I hadn’t even noticed I was smiling, but after realizing it wasn’t my neighbour’s friend staring me down, the grin no doubt evaporated.  The man stepped towards me.

“I’ll give you two choices: either I smash your face in,” he said, as I tried to imagine what the next choice could possibly be.  “Or you tell me what’s going on here.”  That’s precisely what I wanted to know.

I wasn’t given time to respond.  The Heath Ledger lookalike with sandy brown hair came at me.  Exasperated, I told him I didn’t know and that I was sorry as I raised my arms to brace for a blow.  He pushed me back and swung at me, hitting my arms which I’d brought up to block my face.  I retreated as the man began yelling obscenities and charging after me.

I live on St. Hubert street, very near the corner of Ontario in the border zone between the Plateau, Montreal’s popular and trendy borough, and Ville-Marie, the downtown borough.  Around the corner from my apartment the Cheval Blanc bar and microbrewery buzzes at most hours of the day.  Trying to escape my bizarre persecution, I stumbled towards the bar, knowing that there are never fewer than two or three people smoking outside.

By this time I’d also flipped open my phone to call my girlfriend and explain why I was later than expected.  Thinking the jarring experience was over, I let my guard down.  But an instant later the man came around the corner towards me and yelling at me for calling the cops.  I quickly told my girlfriend that I was coming home, loudly enough so that my attacker would hear and know it wasn’t the police.

Instinctively I tried to ally myself with the two men smoking as the man approached. He was not deterred.  He bounded towards me, pushing and swinging fists, and I found myself calling out for help in French and English and yelling that I didn’t know the person who pursued me.  The smokers glanced sideways, didn’t move and didn’t say a word.  I can only assume fear compelled them to stay silent and do nothing.  I backed away as the man yelled at me to go home calling me a few more names for good measure.

By now, I thought I was home free and I dashed around the corner and over to the alley that led me back to the front of my building.  Halfway up the steps to my door he came around the corner and up St. Hubert.  “So that’s where you live!” he called out as he headed in my direction.  I didn’t wait.  I flew back down my steps and up the street towards Sherbrooke.

I began to feel I was in a nightmare, for only in a cruel dream had I ever been chased like this.  I walked quickly up the hill and glanced backwards.  The man was running after me.  I couldn’t believe it and I was suddenly gripped by a terrible survival instinct.  I ran.  I ran up the hill and turned sharply on Sherbrooke.  I ran to the next street and turned sharply again, being sure to look behind me as I did.  I ran wildly and broke into sweat, taking a lesser-known route back to my apartment.

I was frantic.  I called my girlfriend, explained quickly and told her I’d take the back door.  I ran into the yard, shut the gate and leaped up the metallic spiral staircase.  She had the door open as I hurtled in.  She closed it and locked it behind me.  Drenched in sweat and heart racing, I peeled off my clothes and began to explain.  With some perspective and some time between me and the incident, I’m able to write about it.

What happened was shocking, an attack with unclear motivations, but more than anything a bizarre coincidence involving a person in a socially vulnerable position.  I can only guess that mental illness played a part in the attack, but perhaps also the misinterpretation of a smile by a person who rarely receives such an expression from strangers.

This brings me back to État d’Urgence (State of Emergency).  The event is meant to bring, “street people and non-street people,” together, according to co-founder Pierre Allard, and has been doing so since 1998.  This year, however, is likely to be the last État d’Urgence because Heritage Canada has removed $40,000 of funding that is crucial to the mainly volunteer-run event.

a homeless man pictured in promotional material for the Etat d'Urgence event

Come on down…it’s a party?

Held at Place Émilie Gamelin, across the street from the Montreal bus terminal, the event gives homeless people, “a break,” as Allard put it, from not knowing where the next night will be spent or if a hot meal is in the cards.  Such living conditions are fertile ground for the development of depression and other types of mental illness.

And faced with societal pressures like high unemployment rates, a push for higher tuition fees and a drop in funding for events like État d’Urgence, there may be no choice but to fall into a life like that of the man whose path crashed into mine that November night.

Listen to Pierre Allard, co-founder of État d’Urgence, talk about what the event means and its goals:

The Sound of Silence

June 11, 2010

On April 2nd, Malika and I returned from northern Chile and our sightseeing vacation.  In planning, the highlight was to be our time in San Pedro de Atacama, a small town in the Atacama desert sustained by subterranean waters fed by the nearby Andes mountains.  In recent years, it’s become a tourist magnet whose number of visitors per capita could likely put many European hot spots to shame (so much so that legal limits had to be put on the schedule of alcohol sales and on alcohol-related public disturbance).

Overrun by tour agencies, restaurants, hostels, inns, hotels, shops and cafes set up to serve the transient tourist, one can laugh about the amount of North Americans and Europeans on every street.  At the same time, one must also feel for the local Atacameño people whose fortune it’s not clear has worked out for the better as a result of the infusion of tourists pesos.

Continue Reading…