Monday, December 30, 2013

My sincere condolences to George Smitherman and his family at this tragic time...

It was startling late last night hearing the news that Christopher Peloso, husband of George Smitherman, was missing again, just a few short months after a similar incident that ended positively.  

George tweeted the following yesterday night: "Freedom from depression has been elusive for Christopher and once again he is missing and we fear for his safety."

And it was heart-breaking this morning getting the email from George Smitherman to his supporters and friends stating the following: 

December 30, 2013

Toronto Police just confirmed that my darling Christopher Peloso has been found dead.

We will celebrate his life and we will find comfort somehow in knowing that he has found peace from the depression that has wreaked havoc on his mind.

A son and brother, a husband and father of 3 he will always be remembered for his dedication to others.

We have been greatly aided by the compassion of the Toronto Police service and we will find strength going forward from the legions of people in our extended family who loved him so.
George Smitherman

You can read more about this sad story here.  My sincere condolences go out to George, their two adopted children as well as to Christopher's birth daughter, the Peloso family and to all of their extended family on this tragic loss.   

Saturday, December 28, 2013

My Top Films of 2013 (Updated Jan 26, 2014)

*** UPDATED Jan 26, 2014 (see ***new inclusion in top ten below)

As an avid cinema lover, it was a great year in film viewing.  I haven't shared a list of my favourites in a few years, so I thought I'd do so this year.  I saw dozens of films this year either in commercial theatres, at film festivals, or in the comfort of my home.  

Below is an exhaustive list starting with my Top Eleven favourites from the year (including a 2012 title that was released in Toronto in 2013), plus other awesome flicks not in my top ten, my list of films I very much want to see as soon as possible,  followed by okay films, disappointing films and just plain bad ones.  

As a very political gay man, you'll notice a large number of queer or politically-friendly titles near the top of the mix:  


1. 12 Years a Slave (Well on its way to Best Picture at the Oscars, this brutal gem paints a honest and unforgettable portrait of a part of North American history many try too hard to forget.  This is a brutal reminder just how awful humans can be, yet also how heroic and beautiful we can be as well.)  

2. Gravity (Astonishing technological filmmaking, it has to be seen on the big screen (and preferably in 3D), and is one hell of a ride.)

3. Quai d'Orsay (Hilarious French film is simply a must-see for all political staffers and junkies.) 

4. Concrete Night (Pictured above - A gorgeous, sexy, B&W art house film from Finland about a sexually confused teenage boy who takes to heart too much of what his selfish and clueless older brother, soon off to prison, has to say.  The queer flick of the year, in my opinion.)

**********5. Blue Jasmine (A perfect Woody Allen movie with probably what will be one of his most famous female anti-heroines, played by Cate Blanchett, well on her way to her second Oscar.) 

6. Fruitvale Station (Fleshes out the imperfect but beautiful life of a young black man and the tragedy of trigger-happy cops who rule over them with near impunity.  This paints a portrait of a life snuffed out too soon that might otherwise be just a statistic.)   

7. Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley can do no wrong, it seems.  She basically cut open her own veins and let the blood spill out onto the screen, detailing deep family histories most of us would choose to keep secret.)  

8. It's All So Quiet (Deliberately paced, highly emotional portrait from the Netherlands of a middle-aged, closeted farmer, living with his old and bedridden father, very haunting and completely satisfying.) 

9. Only Lovers Left Alive (Sexy Tom Hiddleston and the always wonderful Tilda Swinton play vampire husband and wife in this Jim Jarmusch tale, probably the most original and thoughtful vampire flick I've ever seen.) 

10. Strangers by the Lake (Sexy, simple murder thriller which acts as an extended metaphor for the questionable choices many gay men make in their sex lives and elsewhere.)

11.  No (Chilean film about the successful referendum PR campaign to depose dictator Augusto Pinochet, showing the power of smart messaging over the brute thuggery of a dictatorship.)  


American Hustle

Bad Hair 

Before Midnight

Beyond the Candelabra (TV Movie, but it was great so I'm listing it here.) 

Blue is the Warmest Color

Captain Phillips
Catching Fire: Hungers Games 2

Dallas Buyers Club

Don Jon


Five Dances

Frances Ha

Getting Go: The Go Doc Project


Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug

Inside Llewyn Davis

Interior Leather Bar

Iron Man 3

Kill Your Darlings


Pacific Rim



The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Room 237


Saving Mr Banks

Star Trek Into Darkness

This is the End

The Way Way Back
Wolf of Wall Street

World War Z

HIGH ON MY MUST-SEE LIST FOR 2014, in order of my desire to see them: 

The Butler 

All Is Lost

Out in the Dark



A Touch of Sin

Reaching for the Moon

Geography Club

Short Term 12

Enough Said


Museum Hours

The Hunt

The Conjuring

The Act of Killing


Fast and the Furious 6


August: Osage County

Beneath the Harvest Sky

Eastern Boys

The F Word

Free Fall

Kick Ass 2

Now You See Me


Salvation Army



Bruno and Earlene Go To Vegas  

Gerontophilia (Bruce Labruce can do better than this.)

Man of Steel (Incoherent, dizzying action, I was literally looking at the clock waiting for it to end.)


Paranoia (You can find Liam Hemsworth shirtless in far better films than this rubbish.) 



The Host 

Only God Forgives


Monday, December 2, 2013

Hurray!: U.K. diving star Tom Daley says he's dating a "guy"

U.K. diving star and Olympic bronze medallist Tom Daley has confirmed what many gay men around the world had hoped.

In a frank, five-minute YouTube video he posted today to his YouTube channel, which has racked up more than a half-million views in its first few hours online, Daley said, "I still fancy girls," but revealed that he’s recently started dating a man.

This is wonderful, wonderful news! Daley is obviously an articulate and amazingly beautiful human being, both inside and out.

This decision to come out so publicly couldn't have been easy. It's great that he's done it at his young age, and in such a public way.

Congrats to him!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Toronto LGBT theatre's Rhubarb Festival inexplicably loses funding from the Harper government

After many years of support from the federal Department of Canadian Heritage for the annual Rhubarb Festival, which will celebrate its 35th year in February, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (which puts on the festival) received some bad news last month from the feds.

Buddies' application to the department's Building Communities through Arts and Heritage program had been rejected. No explanation was given, despite the fact the Rhubarb Festival has been approved in the past.

Buddies explains the situation further on its website:

"When we contacted the department to get some more information about why we suddenly did not fit the funding criteria, we were told in very generalized terms that we no longer meet the objectives of the Canadian Heritage program Building Communities through Arts and Heritage. The stated objective of this program is: “to engage citizens in their local communities through performing and visual arts, as well as through the expression, celebration, and preservation of local historical heritage.”

"This is not the first time that Canadian Heritage has withheld support from us. It happened once before. However, when this occurred, we received specific indications from the department on where our application fell short. What is troubling this time is that we have not been given any clear indication as to why we no longer meet their criteria. This has left us surprised and confused. Why do we no longer meet the program’s objective? We did not propose any significant shifts to the festival in our application. There has been no announced change in policy or priorities. The only source of new priorities that we can see at Canadian Heritage is the appointment of the new Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, the Honourable Shelly Glover.

"Unfortunately, there is no appeal process. We have been encouraged to reapply in the future and we will. We hope that we will have the opportunity to work with Canadian Heritage again.

"However, we also believe that it is important for the arts community and the public to know when there are shifts in government policy affecting the arts in Canada. As a queer organization that promotes freedom of expression for communities and perspectives that are often silenced, it is our duty to inform them. It becomes even more important for us to speak out when these shifts occur without any explanation. We believe that it is reasonable for citizens to expect a level of transparency from the Department of Canadian Heritage."

"...Rest assured, the Rhubarb Festival will still happen this upcoming February and we remain committed to providing space for communities to engage with boundary-pushing performance and ideas."

I am a supporter of Buddies in Bad Times theatre and a regular patron. I've also attended the Rhubarb Festival in the past and fully support its work at "building communities through arts". The festival has met the "needs of Canadians" in our community.

Why, Minister Glover, have you treated our important local theatre so poorly and without explanation?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Chrystia Freeland: The Best Candidate for MP of Toronto Centre

Monday's by-election day in Toronto Centre, and three other federal ridings in Canada. I'll be out pulling the vote all day in Toronto Centre, where I live.

If you're a voter in Toronto Centre and haven't made up your mind, or want to remind yourself how great a candidate the Liberals have in Chrystia Freeland, please check out her TED Talk from earlier this year linked above.

If elected tomorrow, Freeland will be an awesome MP who will work tirelessly to improve the economic lives of the middle class in Canada. I don't want my MP arguing in Ottawa for tax increases. I want my MP to work closely with her leader to form a viable alternative to the current Conservatives and policies that will push Canada forward. Freeland will most certainly be able to do that.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Xenophobic NDP by-election tactics in Toronto Centre remind me of 2001 Beaches by-election

It sucks when lefties so desperately want to win that they toss out their basic principles or judgment in order to try to do it. Such is the case with NDP candidate Linda McQuaig in the Toronto Centre byelection.

We've seen innumerable sleazy attacks coming from the NDP during this campaign all trying to assassinate the character of Liberal candidate Chrystia Freeland. These have included mischaracterizing Freeland’s work and her positions on income equality and globalization and even calling LGBT people supporting Freeland "self-loathing." See the image below of a tweet from a paid NDP staffer.

These attacks of course follow attempts earlier this year by New Democrats to meet with Freeland to discuss her important work, including an invitation to address the Broadbent Institute. So the attacks are not fair or even honest.

Last night on the TVO debate of Toronto Centre's main candidates, McQuaig went over the line and headed into xenophobic territory. Yes the NDP is now sounding xenophobic in order to win votes.

After the host raised the issue, Freeland questioned the NDP position on making it easier to break up the country by quashing the 13-year-old Clarity Act and replacing it with a 50+1 simple majority rule.

In response, McQuaig shot back at Freeland: "I'm not going to take lectures on this from somebody who hasn't even been in the country..."

Even Tory candidate Geoff Pollock called McQuaig out for her xenophobic comment.

"I would've expected more from somebody who's representing the party of Jack Layton,” said Pollock.

Freeland also responded:

"Who is allowed to be part of the debate? It is disqualifying for people... What about someone who just became a Canadian citizen yesterday. Do you say actually you're not allowed to have an opinion on Quebec?...Or allowed to have an opinion in discussion with Linda."

You can view the TVO debate here.

These over-the-top attacks by McQuaig remind me of another byelection in which the NDP played dirty in order to win at all costs.

It was 2001 in the provincial riding of Beaches-East York where the NDP campaign attacked the artistic freedom of the Liberal candidate, Bob Hunter, who had written a piece of satirical fiction called 'On The Sky' with characters that offended then-NDP MPP Marilyn Churley. The book was a fictional travelogue, written in the same style as Jack Kerouac's 'On The Road', and it detailed using a first-person narrative a trip to Asia in which the characters engage in underage prostitution.

Troubling stuff, but fictional. Yet the NDP rushed to judgment without doing any research and, with only days to go before the by-election, Churley and the NDP campaign held a news conference to declare Bob Hunter "unfit for office".

Because of his fictional book.

"It says something about [Bob Hunter's] character he could write such nasty, disgusting stuff about young girls in Thailand," said Churley.

Until then, I had thought the NDP were unwilling to toss out all of their principles in order to win. Surely, things like artistic freedom were more important than electoral advantage. But I was wrong.

Hunter lost the byelection to Michael Prue, but launched a libel suit against the Ontario NDP for insinuating he was a pedophile for writing his work of fiction. "I'm personally offended, first of all as a writer, that they can't tell the distinction between fiction and non-fiction, and otherwise as a family man," said Hunter at the time, who has since passed away.

Later, a contrite Ms. Churley said: "I do regret saying that...I don't think he's unfit for office. I was very disturbed by the book. I am a feminist ... I found it very revolting."

Perhaps one day McQuaig, running to represent a riding in which the majority of citizens have moved here from other countries, many of whom would like to think they can take part in debates and discussions about Quebec and other Canadian issues, may come to regret the xenophobic tone of her current campaign.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Fighting for truth through Xtra's biased political coverage

In January 2013, Xtra Toronto had hoped to get more videographers accredited to attend the Ontario Liberal leadership convention, but unfortunately the party wasn't able to accommodate them and many other media in their demands.

In response, Xtra Toronto published an article entitled "Access Denied" that insinuated that Xtra had been shut out completely of the convention, when in fact its reporter Andrea Houston had been given accreditation to attend.

The article even quoted Gerald Hannon, never a friend of the Liberal Party, as saying, “You would think they would want Xtra to be there,” he says. “Do you detect a whiff of homophobia in there?”

The insinuation of homophobia was immediately made ridiculous as the convention went on to elect Kathleen Wynne as Ontario's new premier.

Fast forward to Xtra's coverage of the ongoing Toronto Centre by-election and again we're seeing some anti-Liberal bias rear its ugly head.

The recent fawning coverage afforded to NDP candidate Linda McQuaig was matched with less-than-flattering coverage given to Liberal candidate Chrystia Freeland.

The Xtra web page featuring Freeland's interview contains a direct link to McQuaig's interview, but no such link back to Freeland's interview exists on McQuaig's page. (Watch out to see if Xtra rectifies this after I post this.)

Xtra writes: "The Liberal candidate in the Toronto Centre federal by-election says she is a strong LGBT ally who, if elected, will continue to fight for the rights of queer people in Canada and abroad. However, in an interview with Xtra about where she stands on key LGBT issues, Chrystia Freeland left many questions unanswered...Xtra was only able to chat with Freeland for 27 minutes."

The problem here is the questions were never posed due to time running out, so how can unasked questions be unanswered? It's also odd because until today, Xtra had published, "Xtra was only able to chat with Freeland for 20 minutes." We've seen numerous NDP twitterers refer to those "20 minutes" often since the article was published. Now it's 27 minutes.

Perhaps the slight alteration in the interview time was due to this clarification posted on Freeland's website today:

"The Daily Xtra, an online news source for the LGBTTQ community, published an interview with Chrystia earlier this week. Even though Chrystia ended up speaking to the interviewer for longer than the agreed-to 20 minutes that were scheduled, the interviewer was unable to ask all the questions that she had hoped could be answered during the (plus an additional 9 minutes of run-over time). Here is Chrystia’s stance on those issues that were not covered in the interview..."

I'm glad that Freeland has put on the record her stands on those important issues.

Today, Xtra also published an online video interview with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, which he handled very well with reporter Andrea Houston earlier this week.

But again, in the write-up accompanying the video, Houston focuses almost exclusively on alleged Liberal shortcomings on certain issues.

All politicians should be made to account for their actions and performance. The media should be able to toss whatever questions they deem fit at those politicians.

I do have a great deal of respect for Houston and for the work that Xtra does in the community. Their coverage of issues important to LGBT people is usually pretty stellar.

But as we've seen, their political coverage tends to have a pro-NDP bias. Liberals who dare not to give Xtra everything it demands (such as a video crew at the Ontario Liberal leadership convention) or unlimited extra time to ask questions during interviews already running over the agreed-to time, seem to get poorer coverage from them as a result.

Most people in the LGBT community are smart. We know that Xtra, like most media outlets, is not without its biases. Attacking certain media for such biases can seem often pointless. It's a fact of life. But calling it out is also fair and necessary.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Federal Liberals have proud record supporting LGBTTQ equality.

All political parties have checkered histories when it comes to supporting LGBTTQ rights. Some individuals in all parties have shown great leadership in promoting equality.

Yes there has been some dissent by Liberal MPs when issues of LGBT equality have come up, one or two of whom are still in the federal Liberal caucus. But they are massively outnumbered by LGBT allies these days.

But Liberals have also shown leadership too. It was an Ontario Liberal government that banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in 1986 (with the help of Bob Rae's NDP). It was a federal Liberal government that voted to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the Canadian Human Rights Act in 1996. It was a federal Liberal government that exercised leadership and passed same sex marriage across the country in 2005 (after not fighting its victory in the courts earlier that decade.)

I'll be fair and say that the NDP has mostly had a great record promoting equality rights and LGBT rights generally. But it hasn't always been that way.

There have also been some NDP MPs who refused to vote for equality too. If we look back to 1994 in Ontario, 12 MPPs in the Ontario NDP caucus voted against equal benefits for same sex couples, ensuring their government bill's demise. It was a sad chapter when even most Ontario Liberals and virtually all Conservatives voted against equality for same sex couples.

I present these two quotes from the late 1960s to remind everyone of this, in light of NDP arrogance today on Twitter that their party has a perfect record with regard to supporting LGBT rights.

NDP icon Tommy Douglas was addressing the issue of decriminalizing homosexuality in the 1968 federal leaders' debate when he said: "(Homosexuality) is a mental illness, it's a psychiatric condition, which ought to be treated sympathetically by psychiatrists and social workers.”

This followed the 1967 comments by former Liberal Attorney General and future Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau: "There's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation," stated to defend his intention to decriminalize homosexuality in Canada. His government would go on to do so in 1969.

So the NDP hasn't always been perfect over the years in its support for equality. I readily admit that the Liberals have been far from perfect either. I briefly parted ways with the Ontario Liberals in the 1990s over the same sex benefits issue described above.

But today, the federal Liberals have a proud record of supporting equality for LGBT people. Toronto Centre Liberal candidate Chrystia Freeland is a big supporter of equality rights for LGBT people. She has told me she hopes to also be an advocate for LGBT youth across the country, many of whom find themselves in Toronto, frequently under housed or homeless. She also wants to be an advocate for LGBT refugees who find themselves cut off from health care in Canada due to changes brought in by the Harper government. Freeland also hopes to use her voice (including her ability to speak Russian, after spending a couple years as bureau chief in Moscow) to strongly communicate our outrage against Russia's anti-gay legislation.

Freeland is a friend of the LGBTTQ community and will be a powerful advocate for our issues in Ottawa. That's why I'm proud to support her in this Toronto Centre by-election.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Desperate Dippers getting nasty in Toronto Centre

With less than two weeks to go until by-election day on November 25th in Toronto Centre, federal New Democrats supporting candidate Linda McQuaig are ramping up their nasty sides, shamefully trying to throw dirt at their main opponent, Liberal candidate Chrystia Freeland.

Logging onto Twitter and searching the hashtag #TorCen reveals many snarky, fact-challenged Dippers looking to roll around in the muck. It's not good enough, I guess, to simply talk up their own candidate or leader. Instead, they're engaging in dubious attacks, trying desperately to tear down their opponents. McQuaig, herself, seems to shrug at her campaign's nastiness, only acknowledging that "things are heating up."

If you were to believe the Dippers on Twitter, you'd think that Chrystia Freeland is American, she thinks poverty and income inequality are great, she callously planned the laying off of some Thomson-Reuters employees in 2010, she loves Sarah Palin, etc. etc.

Those attacks are either total fabrications, or deeply misleading. This is the ugly side of politics. The disgusting side that continues to turn off so many regular Canadians from politics. The kind of politics that extremists in the NDP and the Tories sadly often turn to in order to play to their "base" and discourage voter turnout. It's gross.

For the record: Chrystia Freeland is Canadian, born in Alberta. She worked in Toronto as an editor at the Globe & Mail in the early 2000s, and her eldest daughter was born in Toronto Centre. She has worked abroad as well, finding much success as a journalist, bureau chief and manager, including stints in London, Moscow and New York City. She has done extensive research into the issue of income inequality, globalization and the ongoing technology revolution, and wrote an award-winning book on these issues called "Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else." Her concerns about the inherent injustices of these economic forces, as well as her desire to work with Justin Trudeau to come up with some meaningful and effective policies that promote growth but also fairness and justice for the middle class, are what have led her to make this run to become an MP. She now owns a home in Toronto Centre and she plans to raise her family here, win or lose.

As for the recent attack that Freeland somehow "oversaw" the laying off of employees, it's clear in this CP article (which either the Dippers attacking Freeland failed to fully read, or just decided to ignore and mischaracterize) that those decisions were not Freeland's, they were corporate decisions that she, as a manager, had to implement. As for the criticism by the mostly anonymous, disgruntled ex-staffers who said Freeland didn't defend their positions, I can only ask: "How would they know Freeland didn't defend their jobs or fight for them before the final decision to cut positions was made?" "Were they in the room when those decisions were being made and the order was given to Freeland?" Obviously not. But that doesn't stop them from lashing out anonymously, mostly worried about their job prospects in a "shrinking media industry."

In truth, news media has taken huge hits since 2008. All newsrooms have shrunk due to declining ad revenue caused by the recession that year. To blame Freeland for the cuts at Thomson-Reuters is heavy-handed at best.

Such facts probably mean little to partisan Dippers, though, who are probably deeply worried that they're going to lose all four by-elections taking place on November 25th. Hence, the desperate ad hominem attacks on Freeland.

Freeland, to her great credit, isn't taking the nasty bait. Despite the huge amount of dirt that could be thrown at Linda McQuaig, Freeland has limited her responses to simply clarifying the truth and her own positions, which have been mischaracterized since the summer by the NDP. Freeland isn't interested in tearing anyone else down; her approach has been to focus on her considerable strengths, including her vast experience abroad, to show Toronto Centre voters what she can bring to the job as their MP. She focused on the issues such as fighting for better federal support for public transit, better economic policies that serve the middle class, the engine of the economy, and other issues. She was a class act in last night's debate on Rogers TV, where she effectively countered the attacks from McQuaig and gave clear answers to the actual questions asked, unlike the other candidates.

As a Liberal volunteer, I also want to try to mimic the class shown by Freeland and not engage the New Democrats on the dirty, nasty level to which they've fallen in this race.

I'll merely say that I think McQuaig is far too extreme for this riding. Her far-left views on increasing taxes on individuals (which apparently contradict positions taken by her own leader, Thomas Mulcair) would address income inequality simply by taking away income from people at the top. It's typical NDP bunk. As is McQuaig's call to stop new development in Alberta's oil sands. Such irresponsible moves make no sense in the real world and would only undermine the anemic economic growth that we are currently experiencing in Canada.

I'm a moderate progressive and not massively partisan. I want to defeat the Conservatives in Ottawa. But as recent history has continued to show us, the New Democrats are not the party to defeat the Conservatives and form a consistently strong challenge to them. No, the NDP sadly has a history of blowing elections, or governing poorly where they do rarely happen to win (except perhaps in Manitoba where they govern like Liberals) and getting knocked out of power rather quickly. Look at the recent British Columbia election. Look at the recent Nova Scotia election. NDP administrations tend to cause massive conservative backlashes in the populace, frequently leading to far-right conservative governments, such as Mike Harris in Ontario in 1995 or Rob Ford in Toronto in 2010. This is not a party that will ever form a consistent, credible challenge to Conservative power. If Tom Mulcair gets his way and his party becomes the only "official alternative" to the Conservatives, sadly the Conservatives are going to become Canada's new natural governing party.

Such a nightmare scenario should scare progressives. It does me. That's why I'm choosing to support the federal Liberals under Justin Trudeau, who's not perfect, but continues to show amazing promise as a leader who connects to Canadians on an emotional level in ways Stephen Harper and Tom Mulcair could only dream. I'm glad that he recruited someone as amazing as Chrystia Freeland to run here in order to bring new blood and brains to the Liberal caucus and help prepare a policy agenda for moving the country forward. It's exciting to be on her team.

Yes, I've made a pragmatic decision to support the Liberals as they are the party that continues to have the best ability to challenge Conservative rule and allow moderately progressive policies to see the light of day in government. What good are lofty, progressive principles if they never get implemented? Not much.

If you're a progressive or a centrist or even a red Tory living in Toronto Centre, on November 25th, vote for Chrystia Freeland, the best candidate on the ballot.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Indiegogo campaign to fund new Leon Le film - DONATE

Dear Friends & Readers --

Please allow me to put aside politics for today and instead write about a new short film project being undertaken by my friend, director Leon Le.

I'm proud to say that Leon's launched an Indiegogo campaign to help raise funds to produce the film, tentatively titled 'Talk To Her.' The film is about love, acceptance, and missed opportunities and it explores the complicated relationships between Michael, a second generation Chinese-American man, his mother, and his girlfriend of two years to whom he plans to propose.

Leon Le is an extremely talented director and artist who produced/directed/wrote/edited another short film in 2012 called "Dawn," which I worked on as associate producer. It was a gritty, realistic and moving film about a young black man who detects what he considers to be a racist glance from another passenger on a subway, whom he follows off the train to try to teach him a lesson, to shocking results. Here's the great trailer below:

"Dawn" has already played at over 20 film festivals and continues to find audiences and win awards.

This is the next film project by Leon Le and I'm happy to say I'm also working at Associate Producer on it as well.

If you would like to invest in the project and help make it happen, please consider giving to the Indiegogo campaign. Every little bit helps!


And speaking of helping out friends, another good friend of mine, Jefferson Darrell, is growing a moustache for Movember. If you want to help him out, here is the Movember Canada link to his campaign.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Message to Ford Nation enablers: It's time to give your own children some crack cocaine!

What a day! I was supposed to get some creative writing work done, but instead the circus that is Toronto Mayor Rob Ford overwhelmed me. Ford's lunch hour confession that he has smoked crack cocaine "probably" during one of his "drunken stupors", followed by his late afternoon refusal to accept any real responsibility for this admission tipped me over the edge into full-blown fury.

Kudos once again to the Toronto Star for nailing to a tee in this editorial the situation in which our great city finds itself tonight:

"A filthy tapestry of deception, bullying, character assassination, and false allegations of conspiracy unraveled Tuesday with a six-word confession from Mayor Rob Ford: “Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine.” That’s just as the Star reported in May."

"Exposed as a fraud, and struggling with debilitating substance abuse, anyone with an ounce of civic duty would have stepped down — to seek professional help, if nothing else. Instead, Ford vowed to stay on for the sake of taxpayers and because “I love being your mayor.”

"No responsible Torontonian shares that feeling. In a display of overweening egotism, as the rest of the world laughs at Toronto’s “crack head mayor,” Ford insists this city can’t do without him. He couldn’t be more wrong. He is grossly unfit to lead Toronto."

"After all his deceit and misrepresentations on the issue of substance use, Ford now insists that’s all behind him. He won’t ever, ever do it again. Honest. This time he really means it. Who could possibly trust this man?"

It's nice to be able to freely quote the Toronto Star on the fiasco that is Rob Ford again after so many months of hateful, lie-filled attacks against the paper's integrity, now proven to be nothing more than bullshit desperation by Ford, his cronies, and his enablers in Ford Nation. The professional and quality journalism this fearless news organization has exhibited continues to be vindicated by this past week's turn of events.

But as for those enablers who continue to support Ford and may even react to today's confession with a shrug, I have only animosity. Ford is clearly exhibiting the signs of an addict and man-child no longer in control of his impulses (qualities he exhibited for years before his election in 2010, mind you). This is a man who needs help with his demons and clearly doesn't even know it.

To continue to support Ford is to enable an addict and a very troubled man. If you would do that to the man leading your own city, why would you also not do that to someone even closer to you? Ford is a family man, after all. His own siblings have had drug addictions, as we know. The biggest Rob Ford enabler in all this is his own brother, Doug Ford.

If you can shrug and turn a blind eye to Rob Ford's addictions (by saying perhaps, "Well I don't care what he smokes or how much he drinks as long as he cuts my taxes,") then isn't it hypocritical if you don't also shrug if such addictions affect people in your own family? If the mayor of this city can abuse crack cocaine and still earn your support, why not take this indifference to its extreme and offer crack cocaine to your own kids?

If you can forgive Rob Ford, certainly you could forgive your own kids for smoking crack cocaine too? If anyone who claims to be a member Ford Nation says otherwise, then you are complete hypocrites.

Today's events simply reinforce an extremely depressing trend of non-accountability by high profile conservatives in Canada. Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed three high-spending Senators who went on to abuse taxpayers' trust. Harper appointed his own Chief of Staff Nigel Wright who allegedly covered up that expense scandal and illegally paid off one of those senator's expenses. For this, Harper replies that he "couldn’t care less" what the critics think and he blames everyone else for the situation that he himself created.

Such is the state of accountability in Canada these days. Sad indeed. It's like we are experiencing a complete breakdown in values. Our leaders are acting like man-boys who bully opponents, lie, cheat, steal, cover up crimes and do anything and everything to stay in power. What kind of message are we sending to our kids by keeping these types of leaders in power?

Indeed, offering children crack cocaine seems the next logical step in this tragic farce that has become modern Canadian politics.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Well, Ford Nation, how to explain away this one?

The Toronto Star and Gawker were right. The video does exist. The police have it and it will be used as evidence in an extortion trial against Alexander Lisi, a friend of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair said the following today at a press conference:

"The video files depict images that are consistent with what has previously been reported" in the media, which described the mayor of Canada’s largest city obviously impaired in the video, puffing on what appears to be a crack pipe while uttering racist and homophobic slurs.

The Star earlier reported that Lisi, who also faces drug charges, was involved in attempts to recover the video.

Ford has been the target of a police investigation that witnessed and photographed him taking part in meetings with Lisi, according to police documents released Thursday.

Blair told reporters they recovered two videos from a computer hard drive that are relevant to their investigation. At least one will eventually be presented in court. The Star has been told by sources that the 90-second video its reporters saw was an edited version of the original.

"It's safe to say the mayor does appear in the video," Blair told reporters today.

His reaction? "As a citizen of the city, I am disappointed."

Over at the Toronto Star, which has been attacked by Ford Nation fanatics and various Ford apologists for months, there's vindication.

"Of course, we are extremely happy. Journalism has been on trial for the past six months," said Robyn Doolittle today, one of the two Star reporters who saw the video earlier this year and reported on it in May.

This article by Royson James sums up my feelings perfectly.

To all those Ford Nation fanatics who stood by their mayor despite all of the mounting evidence of his complete unsuitability for higher office, you deserve a big fat slap. You really do! At best, you deserve a time out (perhaps that should include staying away from the polls during the next municipal election) in which you can think carefully about your own judgment and what led you to perceive this abomination of a politician as suitable for the mayor's chair.

I suggest all of Ford Nation have a look at these pictures that were released to the public today. Now Magazine has posted all of them on their website for public consumption.

I truly hope the actual video becomes public soon. It will during the upcoming trial of Lisi for sure.

I predicted a train wreck in 2010 after Ford won his election. And indeed, that train wreck has arrived and will be pulling into the station for quite some time.

This Star editorial is bang on.

"Let’s review: Ford stands revealed as someone who has chronically, repeatedly and relentlessly misled the public about his conduct. Troubling surveillance evidence points to possible criminal behaviour. And one of his associates, being investigated for work done on behalf of the mayor, stands charged with extortion. Under these circumstances, having Ford at the helm badly undermines Toronto’s reputation. If Ford possesses even a scintilla of respect and concern for the city he is supposed to lead, he will step down as mayor."

Rob Ford should step down immediately.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Behold: Rob Ford thug David Price's destruction of public property

When you reward a thug psychopath who likes to hang out with criminals by electing him mayor, low and behold said thug recruits his thug friends and their destructive, impulsive, anti-social behaviour gets worse and worse and worse. That would very much sum up the last three unfortunate years in Toronto municipal politics.

Those idiots who voted for Mayor Fraud in Toronto in 2010 because they wanted a tax cut or thought Fraud's pathetic past behaviour made him "entertaining" need a serious reckoning. They'll get it in about a year when Torontonians correct this gross mistake and remove this abomination from the mayor's chair.

Until then, we have to keep watching the thugs do their thing on the public dime. Behold the incident in which Mayor Fraud's high-priced thug David Price - who gets a taxpayer-financed salary of about $130,000 to do stuff that Fraud calls "none of the public's business" - gets annoyed he missed a GO train on August 27, 2013 despite arriving late at the station and decides to destroy public property. Watch from 00:46 to when he smashes the door at 01:13.

We need an ADULT in the Toronto mayor's chair and adults on his/her payroll. We won't get that until Fraud is removed.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Federal party fortunes put to the test in four federal byelections called for November 25th

Federal byelections will be held in four vacant ridings on November 25th, 2013: my own riding of Toronto Centre (my very first byelection as a voter!), as well as Bourassa in east-end Montreal, and two ridings in rural Manitoba: Provencher and Brandon-Souris.

I'll be volunteering on Liberal candidate Chrystia Freeland's campaign in Toronto Centre (spreading the word through social media, this blog and door-to-door knocking) to help showcase what a great candidate she is and what she will bring to federal politics if elected. I'm hopeful that the voters in Toronto Centre will see in Freeland a dynamic, worldly, deeply intelligent yet personable candidate who will work very hard at representing this riding in Ottawa. I endorsed her long before this byelection got called as she's brilliant and has developed a sophisticated understanding of the major economic challenges we face as a country and as a planet going forward. I want someone of Freeland's calibre representing me in Ottawa. Freeland is already playing a major role in assisting the federal Liberals in drafting modern economic policies to push the country and middle class forward by co-chairing an economic committee with Liberal MP Scott Brison. Freeland's long-held views complement Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's own focus on strengthening the middle class.

Toronto Centre NDP candidate Linda McQuaig has a profile too as a writer and columnist. She'll likely provide Freeland's biggest challenge in this byelection. I'm sure that McQuaig's team will repeatedly attack the Alberta-born Freeland for having worked the last 11 or so years outside of Canada. But such attacks could backfire as the majority of Toronto Centre voters probably don't care much about such things. Residents in Toronto Centre are probably the most transitory in the country, with residents regularly moving in and out of the riding and many only having lived in Toronto, and even in Canada for that matter, for a short while. We are an international riding, deeply concerned about Canada's place in the world. We welcome newcomers and people who want to work hard to make Toronto Centre a better community.

It's likely that Freeland will spend the majority of her campaign talking up her experience, knowledge and what she has to offer the riding in terms of representation going forward. Based on her campaign's communications since being nominated in mid-September, I doubt that Freeland is going to spend much time attacking McQuaig personally, although some good jabs questioning McQuaig's flip-flopping on higher taxes would be welcome. I do hope that Freeland vigorously defends herself against NDP attacks.

In Montreal's Bourassa riding, the battle will be between the Liberals and New Democrats as well. Liberal candidate Emmanuel Dubourg, a former MNA for a portion of the area, will face off against lawyer and musician Stephane Moraille of the NDP in the traditional Liberal stronghold. The Grits will be working hard to increase their margins of victory over the NDP in both Bourassa and Toronto Centre. With their party running high in public opinion polls for months, how that support translates on the ground in these two seats will be illuminating.

How well the Liberals can do in the two rural Manitoba seats will also be informative. The Grits placed distant third or fourth places in those ridings in the 2011 election, with the Conservatives garnering between 64% and 70% of the vote. But a botched Conservative nomination process in Brandon-Souris this time has left many local Conservatives there fuming. It's likely many of them won't bother to turn out to vote in this byelection, while other conservatives may switch their votes to the Grits in protest. The high profile candidacy of Liberal nominee Rolf Dinsdale, the son of the area's former longtime Conservative MP Walter Dinsdale, could see the Liberal vote in that riding jump from a pathetic 5% in 2011 to what could easily challenge the Conservatives, whose vote will undoubtedly drop. Winning outright for the Grits will be a tall order, but not completely impossible, which is amazing to write considering the riding's history.

If the Liberals manage to run strong second places to the Conservatives in the two Manitoba seats, displacing the NDP in both ridings, as well as handily winning their strongholds in Toronto and Montreal, then Justin Trudeau's Liberals will continue to show that they've got the most momentum of the two main opposition parties in Ottawa. It will further reinforce the growing impression that the federal NDP is going nowhere but down and that progressive voters looking for a real, governing alternative to the Conservatives should return to the Liberal fold as soon as possible.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Zac Efron strips for upcoming raunchy comedy "That Awkward Moment"

Okay, let's put aside all seriousness and celebrate the release of a new, rated-R movie trailer for Hollywood heartthrob Zac Efron's upcoming raunchy comedy called 'That Awkward Moment.' The film is set to be released in January, but already the producers are making us salivate over the quick shot of the 25-year-old hunk's nude body while planking on a toilet (apparently after taking Viagra and then needing to urinate.)

Watch the trailer below to get more details.

I've been waiting for young Mr. Efron to show off a little nudity for years. For an actor who has traded so much on his sexy good looks, it seemed strange that Efron hadn't yet done nudity on the big screen (only instead offering shirtless or even underwear-only scenes, which have been enjoyable to watch, but still aren't quite the full monty we hope to see). Apparently, the drought will be finally over in early 2014 with 'That Awkward Moment.' I can't wait.

Until then, we can stare at this photo and dream of seeing this shot scrolled wide across the big screen with hopefully much more to see of Efron, co-star Miles Teller and perhaps even handsome Michael B. Jordan thrown in. Enjoy!

Friday, October 11, 2013

John Greyson, Tarek Loubani return to Canada after imprisonment in Egypt

Today, October 11th, is National Coming Out Day.

That fact made this article today by J. Lester Feder on Buzzfeed all the more poignant. Entitled, "How A Gay Canadian Filmmaker Jailed In Egypt Went Back Into The Closet To Save His Life," it details how gay Toronto filmmaker John Greyson's partner, Stephen Andrews, was forced to go back in the closet in order to help keep Greyson safe. If you haven't heard about Greyson and Doctor Tarek Loubani's incarceration in Egypt (because you haven't read a Canadian newspaper or watched much TV news for two months), you can read about it here in their own words.

Greyson and Loubani returned to Canada tonight after being released from prison last weekend. It's great that this ordeal is over for them and they're back in seemingly good spirits.

I once met Greyson through my friend Cuong Ngo at an Inside Out film festival party a few years ago. Greyson's documentary film 'Fig Trees' won the Best Canadian Feature Film award that night. My own film 'The Golden Pin' won Best Canadian Short that night as well, and my film's director, Cuong Ngo, was a student of Greyson's at York University.

I've always been a fan of Greyson's films, especially the gay classic 'Lilies.' I don't share some of his politics, but I respect his opinions and his obvious bravery. It would take an immense amount of bravery for any openly gay man like Greyson to make his way into Egypt or Gaza in order to document stories we rarely get to see in the West.

I've also found it repulsive that so many on the conservative right in this country have taken to attacking Greyson and Loubani for their political views and for being in Egypt at all, taking the opportunity to attack the men when they were down (behind bars in an Egyptian prison), something conservatives are often happy to do. The worst may have been this column by bozo writer Margaret Wente, who outed Greyson as gay while he was still in Egypt this week (although at least he was out of prison by the time this went to publication.)

I don't believe criticizing Israeli government policies in the occupied territories is tantamount to being "anti-Israel" as so many commentators continue to falsely allege. I will admit that I've never been a fan of the group 'Queers Against Israeli Apartheid' and I do sometimes detect a disturbingly hateful streak in some of the criticism leveled against Israel by some activists. But I've never observed such extremism in Greyson's opinions, who has been forceful but also intelligent in his comments. I was glad to see the two men take the time tonight to thank both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird after they landed in Toronto.

One final note: As a hot-blooded gay man, I must say that one aspect of this story that wasn't lost on me is Tarek Loubani's immense good looks (in my opinion, of course.) Just look at his smiling face! Combined with an activist mindset and the brains to earn a medical degree, let's just say I was enchanted. I also sensed that Loubani might be gay, an impression that was reinforced by that video Greyson and he released on their website yesterday before returning from Egypt. But I read quite curiously in Feder's article today that Loubani's "heterosexual." But a guy like me can still dream, no? Maybe now it's Loubani's turn to come out on this special day? ;-)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Time to revoke charitable status for "Living Waters" and other Christian groups like it...

I got very angry reading this investigative journalist piece today in the Toronto Star by undercover reporter Graham Slaughter. It's part one of two stories the Star is publishing this weekend into the dubious Christian program called "Living Waters," that claims to heal gay people through an intensive 22-week program that costs $550. The Toronto chapter is run out of a church in the north part of the city.

In the story today, Slaughter writes:

"During my time undercover in Living Waters’ Toronto chapter, I posed as a depressed gay man who hoped to become straight. The Star sent me inside the Toronto program because many respected psychological authorities have denounced gay conversion programs, saying they pose serious psychological risks, including depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

"The movement to “heal” homosexuality is on its last legs in the United States. Exodus International, an American group, shut down in July and publicly apologized to those it had counselled. Yet in Canada, similar programs still exist.

"At Living Waters Toronto, the program is led by a team of volunteers, including a preschool teacher, a personal trainer and a pastor. Leaders give hope that God can heal participants’ “sexual and relational brokenness,” an umbrella term that includes such issues as homosexuality, masturbation and pornography addictions.

"But some of those former participants told the Star stories of personal anguish and spiritual crisis when their attempts to become straight failed. (Their stories appear in Part 2 of the investigation..)

"These stories chip away at Living Waters’ facade as a healing ministry, revealing instead a religious organization that hurts some participants in its attempts to heal sexual dysfunction and relationship problems."

Despite this, this bogus Christian group continues to enjoy the benefits of charitable status in Canada, something it obtained in 1998. Slaughter's article confirms:

"Living Waters must meet certain requirements to keep its charity status, one of which is to provide a “public benefit.” In the CRA’s guidelines for registering a charity, it describes “benefit” as “directed toward achieving a universal good that is not harmful to the public — a socially useful endeavour.”

If the information in the article is to be believed, it's clear that Living Waters did not include its plans to run gay reparative therapy sessions when it applied for charitable status. The program's leaders promote lies about the origins of homosexuality in individuals and follow lines of thought in their "healing" that have proven deeply damaging to those who are unfortunate enough to come into their misguided clutches.

I'm sure tomorrow's story will detail many tragic experiences by people who have gone through Living Waters' program. If those stories are similar to many others I've read from similar Christian programs, Living Waters will be exposed as doing great "public harm" and "destruction," not the "public benefit" needed to continue its dubious charitable status in Canada, where in the past three years donations have accounted for 62 per cent of the group's total revenue.

In fact, the Star reports that Canada Revenue Agency documents show that Living Waters has grown significantly in the past nine years, more than tripling its annual revenue from $227,035 in 2003 to $769,204 in 2012. The idiots who are giving this money to this group do not deserve a tax receipt for it, that's for sure.

It is well past the time that these types of bogus Christian groups be cut off from the public trough.


As expected, the stories shared in Part Two of this Toronto Star piece by reporter Graham Slaughter illuminate further the damage being done by Living Waters and other religious programs like it. Here's how the experiences of one former participant in the program are described:

"After a year and a half in the Living Waters program — the end of a 10-year journey of denying his sexuality — [Darin] Squire left the program feeling ashamed. He said Living Waters indoctrinated him to believe that as a gay man he could be only three things: a prostitute, a pedophile or a recklessly promiscuous swinger.

“I was told there was no such thing as a healthy happy homosexual. They do not exist,” he said.

He accepted this supposed fate and descended into a self-destructive “depraved lifestyle,” he said. “No one walks out of there and says, ‘It just doesn’t work for me.’ We walk out of there broken. People go in there unhealthy and come out unhealthier.”

Clearly, there is no credible "public benefit" to this Living Waters program. I hope they and other groups like them lose their charitable status as soon as possible in Canada!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Congrats to Chrystia Freeland!

A quick note of congratulations must go to Chrystia Freeland, who was elected today as the federal Liberal candidate in Toronto Centre for the upcoming by-election. I was at the meeting and happy to give her my first-preference support.

I wasn't able to stick around for the results announcement but got the word of Freeland's victory from Twitter and later the media. Freeland and her crew of supporters are no doubt enjoying some beverages as they celebrate this nice victory. And I agree with what she reportedly told them: the hard work starts now.

I also want to congratulate runners-up Todd Ross and Diana Burke for their hard-fought campaigns. Depending on how this by-election goes, I'm hoping that both of them consider running again for the Liberals, perhaps in one of the new ridings that will be carved out of the existing Toronto Centre riding.

I look forward to working on the by-election campaign and knocking on doors to introduce Freeland to more residents of Toronto Centre and help communicate her message that we need to do more in this country to address income and economic inequality and to help ensure the middle class can once again thrive and succeed. As many of us in the middle class know too well, we continue to see our incomes stagnate or rise much slower than the cost of inflation. Stephen Harper's response to this?: raise our payroll taxes even more while giving big corporations tax cuts that don't need them.

I am thankful that Justin Trudeau and the Liberals are promising to focus on the needs of the middle class as we figure out how to get Canada's economy thriving again. I'll be working hard along with many others to elect Freeland to Ottawa so that she can be a part of that federal Liberal team as it develops those very policies to push Canada forward.

I should also congratulate Linda McQuaig, who was chosen this afternoon to carry the NDP banner in the upcoming by-election in Toronto Centre. We can delve more deeply into some of McQuaig's strange and extreme statements in the past on various issues at a later time.

But for today, we can simply look forward to an interesting contest as voters in Toronto Centre get an opportunity to send to Ottawa a thoughtful, brilliant, idealistic, energetic, international affairs expert in Chrystia Freeland who is running for politics for all the right reasons.

Below is a video put together by the Freeland campaign that played just before her speech this morning. You might recognize one of the speakers, I'm proud to say!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Best wishes to Christopher Peloso, George Smitherman and family...

After missing since Monday, 39-year-old Christopher Peloso, the husband of former Toronto Centre Liberal MPP George Smitherman, was located today by police, dirty and disheveled in the Lansdowne Ave. and Dupont St. area, just after 11 a.m.

I want to express my best wishes to Christopher, George and their family at this time as they move forward with their lives. I also hope the public and the media give them the dignity and respect they deserve.

"The path forward isn’t firmly clear except that we know that it’s long and it will be hard," said Smitherman today at a press conference.

“(Christopher) and me and our family and our kids especially will be surrounded by an outpouring of love and they will restore anybody’s faith and confidence,” said Smitherman.

I want to commend the media, particularly Xtra, for their coverage of this story.

Here's footage of George Smitherman's press conference today, accompanied by former Toronto mayor Barbara Hall:

Sunday, September 8, 2013

LGBTQ Rights activists rally around the world against ignorant laws

The International Day of Protest for LGBTQ Rights took place today, Sunday Sept 8, 2013, in about 50 cities around the world including Toronto. Citizens concerned about attacks on LGBT human rights in Russia, Uganda, Iran and other countries also rallied or held "kiss-ins" in Rio, London, Dublin, Berlin, Montreal, Winnipeg, New York, San Francisco, Sydney, Stockholm, Paris, Helsinki, Amsterdam, Brussels, Chicago, Pretoria and many other cities.

About 100 people turned up this evening in Toronto's Yonge-Dundas Square (pictured above and below) to rally and show support for their fellow queers in other countries. I was glad to be among them. The most touching moments were hearing letters of thanks from LGBT activists in Russia and elsewhere where they live in fear of being targeted by anti-gay laws and rampant homophobia and violence.

Once the rally took place, the group marched down Yonge Street briefly stopping traffic en route to the TIFF Bell Lightbox building at King and John in downtown Toronto to send a message during Toronto's high profile international film festival. (A sore foot made it impossible for me to join them on the march tonight, but I was there in spirit.)

The struggle continues but these types of public protests against ignorance send the right message both in our own country and across the world.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The heartwarming story of Wren Kauffman

I have been delighted this week to read about the story of Wren Kauffman, an 11-year-old Edmonton boy who went back to school this week like most kids his age. The amazing part of this story is that Wren returned to school after he had been known as a girl named Wrenna. This school year marked the end of hiding for him.

As this Huffington Post article indicates: "Teachers, friends and other students at his Edmonton school know the truth — that he's a girl on the outside but feels like a boy on the inside. And that's why, even at such a young age, he has chosen to live in the world as the opposite sex, and not keep it a secret.

"If you're not yourself, then it kind of gets sad and depressing," says the freckle-faced kid with short-cropped hair.

"I'm glad that I told everybody."

Click on this link to watch a great Canadian Press video of Wren in his own words. Unfortunately I can't embed it here on this site.

What a beautiful kid! I'm so proud of him and his family for supporting him in this amazing decision.

The story also reminds me of a dear friend, Kyle Scanlon, who was also transgendered and often told me how he felt quite awkward while growing up. Born female with the name 'Kelly', Kyle said he too looked at himself as a boy, not a girl while growing up. The onset of puberty and its hormonal changes brought on a deep depression that lasted for Kyle for years. Only later as an adult (a couple years after I met him) was Kyle able to undergo gender re-assignment surgery and finally become the man he was meant to be.

Sadly, even this transformation didn't help Kyle handle all of his personal demons and he chose to end his own life in 2012. So watching this story this week about this amazing 11-year-old boy who has support from his family, his classmates and his school to come out as transgendered provides some great relief and hope.

If indeed school boards across Canada are starting to work out how to accommodate and support transgendered students (and make no mistake, there are many such students struggling in our schools right now), then that is a fantastic thing and most needed!

Monday, August 26, 2013

INTERVIEW with Chrystia Freeland and why I'm supporting her for the federal Liberal Toronto Centre nomination

There has been a bit of press recently on the local battle for the Toronto Centre federal Liberal nomination to replace Bob Rae, much of it unfairly attacking the candidacy of Chrystia Freeland (pictured), including allegations that Justin Trudeau is stacking the deck in her favour despite his commitment to allow for open nominations.

Had Trudeau appointed Freeland as the candidate, or banned her opponents from taking her on, these critics would have a point. But the fact remains that Chrystia Freeland is currently working the riding big time, calling up local Liberals in person, meeting with dozens more, knocking on doors looking to recruit more Liberals in order to win the nomination. She told me herself last week she doesn't know if she's going to win the nomination (click on the interview link below to hear for yourself). So clearly this has not been handed to her on a silver platter. She quit her job in New York and moved back to Toronto this summer with her family to pursue this career change, signalling an impressive commitment most of us would hesitate to make.

“We certainly haven’t sent out some kind of executive order that thou shalt nominate this person,” said Trudeau adviser Gerard Butts recently in an interview with the National Post. “I know that it’s hard to believe given the past of the federal Liberal party, but we told her when she said she wanted to run, we told her that she would have to win her own nomination. We would introduce her to people, but in the end it was going to be up to her.”

I'm a member of the Toronto Centre federal Liberal association. I am by no means an elite Liberal nor a member of the political establishment in this riding. Todd Ross, an old friend who's also running for the nomination, called me up personally in July to discuss his candidacy. Chrystia Freeland also called me up a couple weeks later and invited me for a coffee. One of Freeland's campaign volunteers (a real person on a phone, not some recording or robo-call) also called me up last week and asked if I would be supporting Freeland. I told her that I would be.

I've received only one robo-call in this race and it was sent on behalf of candidate Diana Burke. After a brief introduction from a male voice, the message continued with Diana Burke introducing herself as the only candidate "who lives in Toronto Centre."

In my mind, Burke's claim to have lived in the riding for 25 years seems somewhat superfluous in a community as transitory and diverse as Toronto Centre. I've lived in and out of the riding since 1996. Currently, I own a condo near Church and Shuter streets, which I bought in 2012. Prior to that, I owned a condo for five years in Davenport riding. Prior to that, I rented for two years in Toronto Centre, and before that, I rented for four years in Trinity-Spadina. This followed stints in Toronto-Danforth and even Willowdale! Such is life in this cosmopolitan and vibrant city. Deep roots in one riding in Toronto are truly rare. Most of us are from somewhere else and have spent little actual time here, yet we still call Toronto our home.

Toronto Centre residents are progressive, diverse, outward-looking people who believe that Toronto and Canada need to be major players in the world, including promoting issues of equality, justice and sustainable economic growth that benefits all. Toronto Centre has homeowners in Rosedale and elsewhere, middle class condo owners all over the riding, plus thousands of renters and sadly many under-housed or homeless individuals. The economic challenges faced by our country hit home big time in this community. Toronto is an expensive place to live. But with stagnating wages and anemic economic growth the last few years, most of us in the middle class are barely keeping afloat, while many others are getting left behind.

Despite this, I feel strongly that the Harper government has largely abandoned the average person like me. Sure they claim to be representing the average Tim Horton's coffee drinking, SUV-driving soccer mom. But Conservative philosophy has always been about reinforcing the power of those who already have a lot of it and don't need the help. Corporate taxes continue to decrease under the Harperites, while payroll taxes continue to go up every year for the rest of us. Our city has huge transportation infrastructure needs, but the Conservatives in Ottawa provide no stable, ongoing funding to support us in this way.

On the other side of the House, we have Tom Mulcair's NDP, whose economic platform so far seems to consist of "making the rich pay" and implementing new types of regulation and control over private industry in order to enforce some kind of environmental "sustainability." Mulcair seems to be saying: "Let's slow down the oil sands and other private industries and all will be well." As we saw even in British Columbia this year, such NDP arguments usually end in political failure and re-elected conservative governments. I have no confidence in Thomas Mulcair and the NDP replacing the Conservatives in Ottawa any time soon.

It's clear now that Justin Trudeau's Liberals are re-emerging as the main challengers to the Conservatives in Ottawa. Based on his performance to date (including his honest admissions to previously smoking marijuana), I have a lot of confidence in Justin Trudeau as he continues to make a largely positive impression on Canadians. His political instincts seem to be very solid. Trudeau is an extremely gifted communicator, connecting with people on emotional levels in ways Stephen Harper or Mulcair could only dream. Much more work needs to be done, but so far his main focus on strengthening the middle class in this era of economic uncertainty and change is a major source of hope.

This brings me back to Toronto Centre and why I'm supporting Chrystia Freeland for the federal Liberal nomination. Like Trudeau, Freeland also shares a passion for helping the middle class to succeed. She's spent her career studying and writing about the major economic changes we have been facing and will continue to face in the years to come.

As a writer, she published a book in 2012 that grappled with these very issues called, "Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else," which won the 2013 Lionel Gelber Prize for non-fiction reporting on foreign affairs. She previously wrote the 2000 book, "Sale of the Century," about Russia's journey from communism to capitalism. She's worked as a journalist around the world. As well, she was the deputy editor for the Financial Times in London, and later that paper's Moscow bureau chief. Freeland also served as the deputy editor of The Globe and Mail from 1999 to 2001. Most recently, Freeland was the managing director and editor of consumer news at Thomson Reuters and a weekly columnist for the Globe and Mail.

Such a wealth of international experience fits well in a community as outward-looking and progressive as Toronto Centre. Many residents here are immigrants who came from abroad to live here. Many of us who are Canadian-born have also have worked outside the country, or pursued projects that took us abroad. We don't begrudge international experience.

I will admit when I first heard about Freeland's candidacy, I was skeptical about her lack of local community experience. But when she called me up on the phone (it was her calling, not some automated robo-call), we set up a chat and she told me how she hopes to put her considerable international experience to work for this community in Ottawa. She's a writer and a journalist who has decided to put down the pen, so to speak, roll up her sleeves and do something about the issues she cares about. As a former journalist and current writer myself, her decision to run is inspiring. Freeland has her heart in the right place and brings much passion to this fight. For those reasons, I was happy to offer her my support.

In advance of this blog post, I spoke with Freeland again over the phone last week and conducted this interview, in which I asked her the following questions:

1) Why are you running to be the next MP for Toronto Centre?,

2) What roles do you see yourself playing, if you are elected MP, to help promote the middle class agenda in Ottawa over the next two years and beyond?

3) Besides your extensive work in journalism, academia and writing your books, what other types of work including volunteer work and activism have you been involved with?, and...

4) What are your thoughts on the state of LGBT rights or other issues of concern to the queer community in Canada and abroad? How will you forge ties with the local LGBT community as the MP for Toronto Centre?

You can also listen to the interview on here. I apologize for the minor audio feedback in parts of the file. It was my first interview recording on a new app.

I was especially glad to hear Freeland's comments about representing issues of concern to the LGBT community in Toronto Centre. If elected MP, she hopes to use her extensive background and expertise on Russia to represent local concerns about that country's new anti-gay laws in advance of the Sochi Olympics and beyond. Freeland's emphasis on focusing on issues around homelessness and queer youth is also good to hear.

In the interview, Freeland mentioned how proud she is of her mother, Halyna Freeland, whom she described as a pioneering feminist lawyer in Alberta, for winning the first known successful parental custody case for a lesbian mother in Canada. The 1975 case was called 'K v K, [1975] AJ No. 462.' and set a very important precedent that benefited queer parents across the country, says Freeland.

I like Todd Ross immensely as a person. I've known Todd for years from my previous work as a Liberal staffer at Queen's Park. He's an affable and decent guy. He's spent the last few years since leaving George Smitherman's office working in various community organizations. Still, in my opinion, he's nowhere near as good a communicator as Freeland. Todd strikes me as a very good general election candidate, but not a good by-election candidate.

In addition, Diana Burke has some nice qualities and decent work experience at the Royal Bank of Canada. But she too also strikes me as a decent general election candidate, but not a strong by-election candidate. As every political junkie knows, by-elections turn largely on the strength of the local candidates in the race.

I've made up my mind and will be voting for Chrystia Freeland to be the nominated Liberal candidate. I will be working to get her that nomination, and should she win the nomination, I will also volunteer on her election campaign to get her strong voice as an advocate for the middle class to Ottawa as MP. Of course, I'll do the same for either Burke or Ross, should they win the nomination.

In the end, Toronto Centre Liberal members will go to the as-yet-unscheduled nomination meeting and vote for the candidate to represent us in the by-election. No one will be appointed, the winner will have to work hard to earn their victory. And that winner will be a better candidate for it.


Tweeted by David Akin (@davidakin) on Aug 27th at 4 pm or so:

#LPC in Toronto Centre will pick candidate for byelection on Sep 15. Cut-off date for those registered to vote was AUG 20.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird blasts 'hateful' Russian anti-gay law

I'm very glad to see John Baird taking a very strong stand in opposition to Russia's odious, hateful, new anti-gay laws.

"As concerned as we are about the Olympics, that's nothing. That's two, three, four weeks for the athletes and participants and the visitors," Baird said in a telephone interview from Colombia with CBC.

"This mean-spirited and hateful law will affect all Russians 365 days of the year, every year. It is an incitement to intolerance, which breeds hate. And intolerance and hate breed violence."

Baird did not endorse recent calls for a boycott but said Russia's hosting of the Olympics would draw attention to the issue.

"In the run-up to the Olympics, it provides a spotlight on this mean-spirited and hateful law," Baird said. "Hopefully, we can use that spotlight to bring pressure to bear on the Russian government."

I do support boycotting all Russian products including vodkas to put pressure on that foolish country to reverse these hateful laws. I also think athletes should put aside their massive ambitions and consider for a moment the moral implications of competing in a Games in a country that treats its minorities this way. For me, it's like refusing to stop eating at a 'No Jews Allowed' restaurant just because you can't get enough of the food.

You can read the full CBC story here.