Community media money – where is it going?


Prior to the deregulation of community TV in 1997, all Canadian communities with 2,000 cable subscribers or more enjoyed access to a cable-operated community TV channel. Some communities even had a vibrant network of volunteer media makers, such as the 1,200 or so volunteers across 12 regional offices throughout Vancouver’s Lower Mainland. The resources for community TV came from a broadcast levy collected by cable companies, and which was considered a public trust.

Dipping into the emptiest pockets

However, in the last 13 years, cable companies have altered community channels and the levy that supports them; they are now used as a competitive advantage rather than a community resource. This represents a serious misuse by cable companies of the roughly $100,000,000 of public trust funds ($116,000,000 in 2008).

 In 2008, cable monopolies earned a profit of 25 percent, before interest and taxes. Irrespective of these earnings, they are using public trust money, partially earmarked for the most marginalized in our society, for their own commercial interests. This community money should be used to create an innovative, independent media sector in Canada and provide much needed resources for underserved communities and at-risk youth. That some of the most profitable companies in Canada are taking public resources from those most in need is outrageous and must be challenged.

The missing report

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The CRTC is currently reviewing community media in Canada and taking back this public money could pave the way for an historic opportunity. A proposal by CACTUS (Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations) is calling for the millions of dollars already being collected by cable companies for community TV to be liberated to independent media centres. These media centres would serve to empower citizens and facilitate media innovation and the CRTC can make this a reality.

Recently, it was brought to my attention that a report detailing community channel policy around the world – “Community TV Policies and Practices Worldwide” – has been removed from the CRTC website. This missing report formed part of the public record when the community TV hearing was called. The study’s author, Catherine Edwards, is an international community TV expert and her report provides essential information for public participation.

According to the CRTC website, it removed the report because of “concerns” by licensees of broadcasting distribution undertakings (AKA ‘Big Cable’). This decision appears to be in response to a letter dated December 10, 2009, sent by Rogers Communications, Shaw Communications, Cogeco Cable, EastLink and Quebecor Media, asking for the report to be removed. The CRTC’s willingness to bend to the concerns of a few clearly biased companies draws into question the CRTC’s independence from the cable industry. has posted the report online at, but it should also be part of the public proceeding.

Watchdog for whom?

The CRTC’s website indicates there are 139 cable-operated community channels in Canada, but gives no further information. We don’t know who owns them, where they are located or what their programming consists of.

As far as I can tell, the problem is that despite complaints from community TV organizations, the CRTC is not actually monitoring or supervising community TV activities. The CRTC doesn’t even appear to be collecting programming logs so how can it possibly review them?

‘Big Cable’ has been given unfettered access to more than $100,000,000 of our money and the CRTC has seemingly provided little oversight. But this situation isn’t new; over the past 10 years, an estimated $800,000,000 has flowed through this fund.

The best way to get out of this mess is to liberate the community media funds straight to community media organizations. Cable companies have shown themselves to be unfit in the role of middlemen and the CRTC has shown itself incapable of ensuring that funds are directed towards their intended purpose.

Canadians can ask for the funds to be given back to communities by sending a comment to the CRTC here:

Steve Anderson is the national coordinator for the Campaign for Democratic Media. He contributed to Censored 2008 and Battleground: The Media, and has written for The TyeeToronto Star, Epoch Times and Adbusters. Reach him at:

Building core strength

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina

This month, the proximity of Olympic athletes draws our attention to the pleasure and satisfaction connected with keeping ourselves fit. Vancouver has a wealth of fitness opportunities, with a superb natural environment topping the list.

Provided we have a good rain hat and warm jacket, we can stroll along the ocean, river or any number of tree-lined paths for most of the year. During winter months, many of us turn to yoga, Pilates, aerobics, workouts at the gym or various forms of dance, such as salsa, ballroom, belly dance, contact improvisation or flamenco.

It can help to get some personal coaching to discover one’s blind spots and surge past perceived limitations. I have been exploring the benefits of greater core strength, which involves toning abdominal and back muscles, thereby increasing their ability to support the spine and keep the body stable and balanced. This type of strengthening can help reduce back pain, improve posture and trim one’s waistline.

Eating for strength

Food choices that provide 15 or more grams of protein:

  • 1 veggie burger (check the label; a whole wheat bun adds 4 grams protein)
  • 1/2 cup of almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds or peanuts
  • 1-1/2 cups Quick Curried Lentils with Tomato (recipe below)
  • 1 peanut butter sandwich (2-1/2 tablespoons peanut butter)
  • 1 cup chickpeas, edamame, black beans or other beans
  • 2 cups of bean salad (assorted beans and vegetables)
  • 3 cups cooked brown rice or oatmeal
  • 100 g (3/8 cup) firm tofu or tempeh
  • 5 to 6 slices of bread (check labels)
  • 2 cups spaghetti noodles
  • 70 g (about 2 oz) seitan
  • 2 cups of green peas

Diet also plays a role. Elimination of sugar and refined carbohydrates and engaging in exercise four or more times per week will lead to a leaner, more powerful you. To increase strength, also get plenty of protein. Beans, peas and lentils are ideal sources of abundant protein and they’re great for maintenance, muscle building and repair after a sports event. These legumes also give us the complex carbohydrates that provide staying power between meals. (Whole grains are helpful as pre-game meals for endurance events.)

Based on a recommended protein intake of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram body weight, each choice listed (see sidebar) provides about one-third of the day’s protein for someone weighing 125 pounds, or one quarter of the day’s protein for someone weighing 165 pounds. Seasoned athletes sometimes need a little more than this. Someone who is actually gaining muscle mass may need double this amount, though only while the increase in muscle mass is actually happening. (Requirements decrease for maintenance).

It used to be that athletes would eat thick steaks before a competition because they thought it would improve their performance. That thinking is now outdated, however. Like beans, peas and lentils, steaks contain protein and minerals. However, the unique feature of steak is the presence of a lot of fat and cholesterol. For health and environmental reasons, plant sources of protein are the superior choice. For more about sports nutrition guidelines, see

Quick Curried Lentils with Tomato

In a saucepan over medium heat, sauté 1 large onion in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add 1 cup dried red lentils and three cups water; bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until lentils are soft and easy to eat. Add a 398 ml can (or 2 cups) of tomatoes or tomato sauce and 2 tablespoons of Patak’s Mild Curry Paste (or to taste); season with pepper and salt or tamari. Makes 6 cups.

Variations: Green, grey or brown lentils require a longer cooking time (45-60 minutes). Cooked leftover vegetables, such as 2 cups of cauliflower, may be added.

Vesanto Melina is a local dietitian and co-author of nutrition classicsBecoming Vegetarian, Becoming Vegan, Raising Vegetarian Children, the Food Allergy Survival Guide and the Raw Food Revolution Diet. Her newest book, Becoming Raw will be in print by the end of February. For personal consultations, call 604-882-6782 or visit

Vesanto thanks the excellent coach Andrea Welling and yoga instructor Lynn Wahl for their input for this month’s column.

The Zero Mile Diet

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness… it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, 1859

One hundred and fifty one years later, Dickens’ words still sum up the state of confusion of the world today. It certainly is confusing to think about dire consequences in the future, as we enjoy the comfort and excess of today’s decadent lifestyle. It’s easy to ignore or deny the facts and the many warnings telling us that, in order to avoid catastrophe, we need to make a major change in the direction we are heading.

Soaring rates of obesity, diabetes, dementia and cancer are triggering alarm bells for the future. Could it be there is something wrong with our diet? According to a statistic from the Canadian Cancer Society in 2009, 45 percent of men and 44 percent of women will develop cancer and the projected morbidity rate is one in every four Canadians. (

As a species, over the past 10,000 years we have evolved eating plants grown in healthy soils and ripened under the sun. We are constantly reminded that fruits and vegetables are a vital part of our diet because they are good sources of phytonutrients, which are disease-fighting antioxidants that our bodies depend on to stay healthy.

In comparison with the foods we once ate to evolve, however, let’s consider the fruits and vegetables we are eating today, grown in the agri-business model of production. On the surface, they look healthy, but industrial-grown fruits and vegetables (non-organic) show high levels of pesticides and they are either grown in depleted soils or hydroponically, with no soil at all. (Fact: a one percent increase of soil organic matter in the top 12 inches of the soil is equivalent to the capture and storage of 250 tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide per square mile of farmland.)

In the agri-business model, fruits and vegetables are grown under glass, harvested when they are not yet ripe, transported vast distances and stored in warehouses. It is hardly surprising they are found to be low in phytonutrients. Recent trials revealed low levels of phytonutrients in salad greens grown under glass. It was discovered that growing food plants under glass blocked a particular UVB band of sunlight that stimulates production of phytonutrients.

Where I live on Vancouver Island (pop. 750,000), islanders provide less than five percent of the food they consume and the population is set to expand 30 percent by 2025! Ten years ago, in order to pacify my concerns about an increasingly uncertain future, I decided to grow as much food as possible, and, in the process, discovered that it only takes five years to become self-sufficient in fruits and vegetables, starting from clay fill. I decided to write a book to inspire others and call it the Zero Mile Diet.

The Zero Mile Diet follows a year of sustainable, home-grown food production – growing healthy organic food, eating seasonal recipes from the garden, saving seeds for future harvests and putting food by for the winter. Growing the Zero Mile Diet is a fun way to increase food security and an opportunity to contribute to regional food production while cooling down the planet. Sometimes, you really do get to feel like Martha Stewart!

Seeing that time is of the essence, I have since expanded my vision for greater food self-sufficiency to the whole of Vancouver Island (a beautiful place, covered with fertile green valleys, where the number one crop is hay). Once the Vancouver Island Food Systems Network connects food producers, we could plan to increase food production to 50 percent and perhaps, in time, we could even create the ‘Vancouver Island Diet.’

Carolyn’s new book The Zero Mile Diet – A Year-round Guide to Growing Great Organic Food (Harbour Publishing) will be released April

Mastering the basics

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

I have always felt there is a glaring omission in the way we have been educated and the way children are educated, inasmuch as there is no consistent teaching about how to communicate. Yes, we learn to read and write, but not how to talk with one another, particularly when there is conflict.

Built into our culture and socialization process is a tendency towards polarity. Siblings have rivalry and there are disagreements on the school playground. Generally, the response to these occurrences has more to do with who was right and who was wrong, rather than how communication could be improved.

In fact, the way we talk about things structures our reality. If we have not learned the language of co-operation and facilitation, we are stuck battling opposite positions or points of view. There are a few things we need to teach children, and, of course, one of the best ways to teach them is to model the behaviours ourselves.

We need to teach them it is always better to try to find a solution than to fight and argue. We must give them plenty of examples of solutions so they understand how to create their own. If they hear mom and dad doing this in the kitchen, it will be easier for them to do it on the playground.

We need to teach them it is not helpful or nice to speak badly of others. Rather, it is wise to encourage them to see the positives in others. They should know that words have energy and that negative comments put negative energy out into the world. We pollute the interpersonal environment when we do that.

We need to teach them if we work together and help one another, we will all be further ahead. We do not have to be the best, the fastest, the smartest. If we happen to have those qualities, all the more reason to be helpful to others. Years from now, we will be remembered not so much for our accomplishments, but for how we treated others.

We need to teach them the importance of honesty and integrity – even when no one is looking. A conscience that is clear – free of guilt, remorse or regret – not only makes us feel better, but we sleep better too. Dishonest actions or being out of integrity is not something that can be erased. Most people carry the memory of such incidents for the rest of their lives.

We need to teach them the importance of forgiveness. No one is perfect. Everyone deserves a second chance. Holding grudges is like pausing a movie. You cannot move on with the story when you remain stuck on one event.

We need to teach them that love is the greatest gift we have to give. They need to know that their love has the power to uplift, heal and empower others. They also need to be reminded that we each have unlimited amounts of love within us. Opening our hearts and letting the loving energy flow out to others is the best thing for maintaining physical and emotional health.

We need to teach them how important it is to share. They need to know how to take turns, to let everyone play and to give to those less fortunate. The whole world is our family and we need to take care of each other.

Can you imagine if we had an entire generation of children raised knowing these things? Imagine if every adult had been raised with these principles. How different our world would be. If we really want to change our world, it might best to start with the children. The only thing is if we want them to really get it, we have to get it first.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For articles and information about her books and CDs, visit

Performances redeem Tolstoy’s story


Sofya Tolstoy (Helen Mirren) and Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer). Stephan Rabold photo, courtesy Sony Pictures Classics.

As costume dramas go, The Last Station is perfunctory and sags in the middle. Set in the last year of Leo Tolstoy’s life, it dramatizes the battle between the author’s wife Sofya and the leaders of the Tolstoyan Movement – which the writer founded – over the rights to his works. The tussle over intellectual property rights has obvious contemporary resonance, even though the film is set exactly a hundred years ago in pre-revolutionary Russia. But although Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren, as the volatile couple, provide fireworks and humour, the theme is found wanting.

We meet ageing Count Leo Tolstoy – a sage-like Christopher Plummer, wearing a long, white beard – surrounded by family and acolytes on his lavish country estate. Having earned international literary stardom, the author of Anna Karenina and War and Peace is about to renounce his title, home and his tempestuous wife in favour of the Tolstoyan Movement he founded to promote social equality and passive resistance. However, Tolstoy’s wife Sofya, a fiery Dame Mirren, believes that, after 48 years of marriage and 13 children, the estate should fall to their family.

The conspiring leader of the movement, Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti), fearing Sofya’s influence and power over his affections, dispatches the naive Tolstonian Valentin Bulgakov (James McAvoy, not altogether convincing in the part) to assist and spy on the author. Bulgakov’s own loyalties are tested as his hero starts confiding in him about his inner struggle to follow his own ideals and Bulgakov’s values are also tested in an affair with the down-to-earth Masha (an assured Kerry Condon).

Wild at Heart:
The Films of Nettie Wild


In January, the Vancouver Film Critics Circle awarded Nettie Wild and Vancouver International Film Festival founder Leonard Schein with the Achievement Award for Contribution to the British Columbia Film Industry.
Ms. Wild’s work and interests span the globe and also encompass issues of regional interest to the broader Western Canadian/British Columbian community. From the Zapatista revolution in Mexico to a Native standoff in BC to street nurses working with addicts in Vancouver, acclaimed documentary filmmaker Nettie Wild plunges into the heart of politically volatile events and emerges with a portrait of their core issues. Both FIX and A Place Called Chiapas won Genies for Best Canadian Feature Documentary and all of her films have been widely distributed in cinemas across North America.
Notable amongst the many honours she has received for her body of work, in addition to her two Genie Awards, are major retrospectives at the Hot Docs festival and the Ontario Cinematheque. 
For details about Nettie Wild’s work, including her awards, visit

Anvil Press is pleased to launch Wild at Heart: The Films of Nettie Wild. (Text by Mark Harris; interview by Claudia Medina; series editor, Brian Ganter.)


The production notes state that some of Tolstoy’s descendants acted as advisers throughout the production and it’s clear early on where writer-director Michael Hoffman’s sympathies lie. Giamatti’s moustache-twirling character is painted as the arch-villain of the piece, coming across as a conniving snake, as he urges Tolstoy to leave his work “for the Russian people.” The goals of the movement, whatever they are, are only loosely touched upon, and in a way that is loaded with suspicion or, in the case of Bulgakov, deemed impossibly romantic.

The redeeming quality of The Last Station is the performances by Plummer and Mirren, who are given free reign over the subject matter. Plummer’s mumbling, grumbling, pensive performance, interspersed with moments of explosiveness and lucidity, gives a good sense of his character’s inner turmoil. But it is Mirren who really lets rip, one minute fainting and the next throwing crockery around in a histrionic fit. In her quieter moments, she’s also a master of the barbed put-down and bed-chamber playfulness. Fans of the two actors will get something from the film for the performances alone. That, and the attractive period visuals, even if the story is a plod.

One last thing; much has been written about the appropriateness of Plummer’s long, white beard. There are a few snippets of original archive footage at the end of The Last Station and, yes, Tolstoy had a big, white beard typical of the era.

Love & Savagery (out February 5) is a tale of forbidden love where spiritual ideals do battle with earthly desires. I haven’t seen the film, but it sounds intriguing. It is 1969 and poet-cum-geologist Michael McCarthy (Allan Hawco) travels from his native Newfoundland to Ireland’s west coast to study the Burren, a rugged landscape known for its limestone terraces. In a nearby village, he and a beautiful waitress named Cathleen (Irish actor Sarah Greene) are inescapably drawn to each other, although she is about to become a nun. Compounding Michael’s problems, the local townsfolk are determined to keep the two apart, even resorting to physical violence. Will Cathleen choose the love of a man or the love of God?

Robert Alstead made the Vancouver documentary You Never Bike He writes at

Pesticide use should end

EARTHFUTURE by Guy Dauncey

Over the millions of years of Nature’s evolution, every kind of insect and bacterium has evolved, seeking its niche in the world. There are more than a million insect species and, sometimes, a gardener may believe that they are all trying to eat her roses.

No problem, however. We are clever. We can reach for the pesticides!

Spray, spray, spray away, 
gently with the breeze. 
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
spray away disease.

At first blush, the magic works. Your lawn is so immaculate you could invite the Queen to dine upon it. Isn’t it amazing what modern science can achieve? But then your dogs start dying. They don’t know you have sprayed your lawn and they romp and roll happily, finishing with a good licking to clean their paws.

Between 1975 and 1995, the incidence of bladder cancer in dogs examined at veterinary schools in North America increased six-fold, with Scottish terriers, Shetland sheepdogs, wirehaired fox terriers, and West Highland white terriers having a higher risk than mixed breeds. When the researchers interviewed the owners of Scottish terriers with bladder cancer, they found that dogs whose owners had used phenoxy acid herbicides on their lawns were four to seven times more likely to have cancer than dogs whose owners had not.

And then your children start getting cancer. A 1995 study by Jack Leiss and David Savitz published in the American Journal of Public Health found that children whose yards were treated with pesticides were four times more likely to have soft-tissue sarcomas. Another study, by R. Lowengart, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 1987, found that the parents’ use of pesticides during pregnancy was linked to a three to nine-fold increase in childhood leukemia.

And then there are the golf courses, home to golfers who love the perfect green. When the ten-year-old Jean-Dominique Lévesque-René of Montreal was in hospital with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1994, with a 50 percent chance of surviving, he did some homework. First, he discovered that half the area where had had grown up on the Île Bizard had golf courses that were routinely sprayed with pesticides. He then learned that the herbicide 2,4-D, linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, had been sprayed on their lawn every summer since he was a toddler.

While in hospital, he met other children with cancer and he built up a map of Quebec, showing where they lived. Twenty-two came from Île Bizard, where the golf courses were located, and when he worked the numbers, he discovered that their rate of childhood cancer was 37 times higher than normal. Thank you, merry golfers! When he left hospital, he became a persistent activist for by-laws to ban the cosmetic use of pesticides.

And this is where you come in. Quebec, Newfoundland, PEI, New Brunswick and Ontario all have legislation banning the cosmetic use of pesticides and herbicides, and right now – but only until February 15 – BC is gathering public feedback on its own proposed legislation.

The Canadian Cancer Society, with a number of other organizations, is calling for legislation that will: 1) prohibit the use, sale and retail display of chemical pesticides for lawns, gardens and non-agricultural landscaping; 2) allow exemptions only to protect public health; 3) provide public education about the ban and alternatives to chemical pesticides; 4) include effective mechanisms for enforcement; 5) exclude the use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which allows the use of pesticides as a last resort to deal with weeds and insects; 6) be passed in 2010 and fully implemented by 2012.

This is politics, however, and you can be sure that pestdicide companies are lobbying for legislation that is weak and woolly. Please, for the sake of our children, our pets and ourselves, go to and send an email to reinforce the Canadian Cancer Society’s push; it has outlined its recommendations for a Cosmetics Pesticides Act on its website. Five minutes, that’s all it will take.

Guy Dauncey is the author or co-author of nine books, including Cancer: 101 Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic. He lives in

Earth needs an Avatar

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

For more than 40 years, I’ve been involved in making television programs to educate people about science and the natural world. But people watch television in a desultory way, often interrupted by the need to help children with homework, let the dog out or go to the fridge for a beer or to the bathroom for a break. So we tune in and out, often forgetting whether we got a memorable factoid from The Nature of Things or Grey’s Anatomy.

Movie audiences are different than those in TV land. For one thing, people have to make an effort to go to a theatre. They then must pay to watch, and once they start, they have to focus on the film. There are no commercial breaks. So the impact of watching movies is far greater than the impact of television viewing.

Years ago, while camping on the Serengeti in Africa with my family, I was astonished to meet three young Chinese-Americans, who, as I could see by their clothing alone, were clearly not seasoned campers. I asked what made them want to come and experience the wilderness. Their answer amazed me: “Because we saw The Lion King.”

So even an animated film had such a powerful impact that these urbanites were motivated to set off on a wilderness adventure. For me, Dances with Wolves was a monumental experience, as it presented North American aboriginal people and their values in a way that was a big departure from the usual Hollywood stereotypes.

Which brings me to the latest movie blockbuster, James Cameron’s Avatar. Some reports claim that Mr. Cameron has wanted to do an environmental film since he was 14-years-old. I don’t know whether that story is apocryphal or not, but I do think he’s produced an incredible film.

Of course, the 3-D effects are dramatic and charming, but the best part is that Mr. Cameron has created a world that is instantly compelling and believable, which is what good fairy tales do. The indigenous inhabitants of Pandora are clearly alien, but not so profoundly different that we can’t identify with them.

All of the issues on this world are clearly the same as those on Earth when Europeans first contacted the indigenous people of the Americas, Africa and Australia. The invaders perceive the natives as ignorant, superstitious and cultureless beings with far less worth than their own. When the Earthlings learn that an ancient, immense tree, which is a sacred home to the native Na’vi, sits on a priceless resource, nothing is going to stop them from exploiting it.

The movie is over the top, as most fairy tales are, with its conflict between the good guys (the Na’vi and a few Earthlings) and bad guys (the rest of the Earth people), but it’s a rip-snorter of an adventure when the good guys fight back with flying reptiles (I’d give my right arm to have one of them!), six-legged horses and a host of other ferocious “beasts.” I won’t give away the ending, but I can say that I left the theatre very satisfied.

Right-wing commentators in the US and Canada have been apoplectic in their condemnation of Avatar. They say it is anti-American, depicts soldiers and corporations negatively, is anti-Christian, promotes paganism, and on and on. One of the more amusing comments came from someone who wrote a letter to the Calgary Herald, claiming, “This movie will be the undoing of our children. They will soon turn into a hive-mind of radical environmentalism – puppets of their master, David Suzuki.” Talk about confusing fiction and reality!

One US “family” movie-review site says Avatar has “… an abhorrent, New Age, pagan, anti-capitalist worldview that promotes goddess worship and the destruction of the human race.”

Of course, this anger is in reaction to the clear analogy of the Na’vi with North American natives – the way they’ve been exploited and the ignorance of the oppressors about the interconnectedness of everything in nature.

Sure, the movie has a great ecological message, but overall it’s just a lot of fun. Please go and see it if you haven’t already. I’m going to watch it again – and again!

Learn more at

This month’s cover: A contextual reframing and some meandering thoughts on Avatar and the Internet

by Geoff Olson


The defunct humour magazine National Lampoon once ran a regular feature called “Professor Kennelworth Explains the Joke.” The professor dissected groaners about farmers’ daughters and animals walking into bars. He parsed their structure and determined why they were funny. Of course, if you have to “explain” any joke, you’re in trouble.

I feel a bit like Professor Kennelworth. On the way to production, this month’s cartoon morphed into a cover. We gave a few people a preview of the image and it generated a lot of comment. Some loved it, some were indifferent and a few thought there was too much noise in the signal. But funny? More like attention getting.

The original cartoon makes the intent a bit more plain – BC’s conservative premier has transformed into his erstwhile enemy: the “tax and spend liberal,” who tosses money at megaprojects and leaves the taxpayer holding the bag. Campbell’s introduction of the HST was the classic pig in lipstick – a tax said to be “revenue neutral” while impacting the wealthy less than the middle class, including small provincial businesses avowedly championed by the BC government. With one decision, Campbell has managed to alienate both the left and the right.

And how can someone pitch their image as a carbon-taxing champion of the environment while simultaneously endorsing salmon farms and run-of river projects? That must be every bit as confusing as being a disabled marine, waking up in the body of a 10-foot tall, blue humanoid with a tail. In terms of pop-culture memes, Avatar’s imagery is uppermost in peoples’ minds these days – another reason it was made into a cover. Director James Cameron has created more than a lush, sci-fi allegory in 3D. It is a game-changer. This pricey production represents a tectonic shift in the arts and the culture as a whole.

How so? Let’s look at the plot, without too many spoilers. Far from the strip-mined Earth, a mining corporation seeks out a new source of wealth and finds it on a Moon-world called Pandora. Unfortunately, the inhabitants insist on staying put, on top of an underground motherlode of “Unobtanium.” In seeking a solution, the mining corporation, a kind of interstellar Halliburton, turns to its private security arm, a kind of interstellar Blackwater. A disabled ex-marine infiltrates the humanoids’ society by taking on their form, in a genetically engineered Na’vi body used as a remotely controlled device. But when he attains a deeper understanding of the Na’vi’s fierce but united community, naturally embedded in their Pandoran environment, his sympathies change.

Cameron’s film has caused a great deal of controversy for its themes on religion, race, the environment and foreign policy. Critics have included the Vatican, US marines, non-smokers and the politically correct. The film endorses a nature-based spirituality, a kind of pantheism inflected by complexity theory. It hints that our interconnections with other living things are the central foundation for our existence. It suggests that gnosis can take many different forms and that we are alike more than we differ. It defends the notion that peace is more desirable than war. It argues against the exploitation of others for profit and because it’s technically feasible. And, as a film, it’s one hell of a ride.

Such themes are rarely examined in mainstream media, in any significant depth, and when they are, they are often qualified, diminished or summarily rejected. Yet these are the same themes that are heavily endorsed in the alternative media, and especially on the Internet. Mainstream media, and their increasingly antiquated point of view, are in retreat. Avatar is following the belief-systems of a new generation that is getting the vast amount of its news, information and entertainment on the web. Hollywood is tracking its future audience and James Cameron has thrown its weight with the young, to the tune of a half-billion dollars. It’s a gamble that’s already paid off at the box office.

The authoritarians in the military and organized religion can scream all they want, but it’s too late to close the barn doors. The Internet – a mixed bag of blogs, videos, online gaming, porn, rabble-rousing, B2B and B2C services – is getting too big and profitable to control in its entirety, along with belief systems that depart in radical ways from both secular and religious norms. Even if the powers that be want to put a saddle on this distributed intelligence, there are 12-year-olds out there who can launch bots, find proxies and penetrate firewalls with a few keystrokes. For good or bad, the young will always be faster and better than the old in this milieu.

The balding guardians of the status quo are losing control. It’s happened before, most notably during the Gutenberg Revolution when the first printed bibles became available to the Christian flock. The church no longer had an exclusive hold over scripture, which could be freely interpreted by anyone capable of reading.

There is good and bad in all of this. The traditional print media – at least in terms of newspapers – is on the way out. Bookstores are failing and the broadsheets are flailing. Steve Jobs’ announcement of Apple’s iPad has brought speculation that this will save the old-school news and book business. But when significant numbers of publications pull up stakes in the ink-and-paper world and decamp to cyberspace, they are on the same playing field as and, where the old models for mass persuasion and marketing no longer hold. There’s an entire generation that’s been raised on getting their information for free. That’s the world traditional media is going to have to navigate, one where you can’t sell to people who aren’t interested in buying. (Especially if it’s more political platitudes about war on the planet and its people.)

The print world won’t be entirely demolished by this Permian-style event – but there will be much extinction among the dinosaurs. Avatar is all about the tree shrews. So are we.

Water Beneath Our Feet

Mapping the Spirit of the False Creek Watershed

presented by the False Creek Watershed Society

Are you interested in the history of False Creek? Would you like to creatively map your “home place”? This community mapping project offers the opportunity to participate in historical walks, community storytelling and a creative mapping workshop. If this mix whets your appetite, we encourage you to register for one of the two community mapping workshops and the three supporting events to gain the best experience of this unique project.

These events are all free. Donations will be accepted on historical walks. Please make sure to register for all events (event websites are noted after the individual events below) so we know how many to expect. For information on these events and to add your own photos and stories, please visit

March 13 – Historical False Creek Walk with Bruce Macdonald

March 20 – Musqueam Creek Walk – Vancouver’s last wild salmon stream

March 27 – Community Sharing Workshop False Creek History

April 10 – Community Mapping Workshop – Emily Carr University

April 17 – Community Mapping Workshop – Roundhouse Community Ctr.

The Water Beneath Our Feet: Mapping the Spirit of the False CreekWatershed is a creative, community mapping event, which will result in individual and composite maps that will be offered for viewing by the public. In the population-dense city of Vancouver, this project brings a cultural layer to the process of mapmaking by engaging the creative heart of our citizens to help them visualize their “home place.” It offers an opportunity to map the way participants feel about the land where they live, play and work.

The process of mapping has been done by humans through countless centuries. Maps of trails, feeding grounds and seashores have been prominent in history books. Maps were one of the first images made by the explorers of the New World. Using as a guide the award-winning model created by BC artists and community leaders “Islands in the Salish Sea – a Community Atlas” (Heritage, 2005), we would like to share the idea of mapping one’s “home place” to the centre of Vancouver’s False Creek. In so doing, we will encourage active and creative citizens, whose dialogues and collaborations about the significance of their home will enrich Vancouver’s vibrant culture.

It was not that long ago that False Creek would have been lined with rocky shores, with abundant sea life and birds and its waters filled with fish, seals and killer whales. The forest behind would have been thick with conifers up to 1,000-years-old, home to bears, cougars and wolves and humming with the sounds of beaver, frogs, chipmunks and much more.

Today, although much biodiversity has been lost, the water is still there and some birds and sea life are still present. Many workshop participants will have visited other wilderness areas that offer some idea of what life in False Creek would have been like before the mid 1800’s when the first logging began. We will be bringing back the memory of the time when what we now call False Creek was home place. The area provided rich sustenance for a thriving community of First Nations people and many plants and animals. We would like to help recreate a vision of this historical environment through maps, story, memories and painted and photographic images. Participants will choose what they wish to portray on their map and they will be encouraged to creatively link the past, present and future.

Our project is an excellent catalyst for the community to learn more about its history. In the short term, the artists and participants will benefit by making connections and working with community members who are concerned about the land and their local surroundings. In essence, we are trying to inspire and motivate a community that is surrounded by concrete and human-based reality. In the long-term, having deepened their understanding of the city’s history by learning from the historians, artists and each other, the participants and artists will be able to further their own creative practices as well.

Participants from all walks of life are welcome. The projects will remain in the communities after they are completed.

Grey whales & friends – a Pacific Rim celebration


by Jim Shinkewski and Marla Barker

Who doesn’t love whales? Who doesn’t at least like marine mammals in some way? Given the popularity of events, research and the industry that often spotlight their peculiar lives and the high profile of BC’s marine wildlife, it is safe to assume that many British Columbians have a soft spot for these remarkable mammals. Fortunately for us, we’re on the doorstep of migratory corridors that offer the opportunity to witness the presence of an array of whales, dolphins and porpoises, as well as the annual migration of the world’s largest population of California grey whales along our most west-coastal waters. We’re talking upwards of 20,000 strong making their way from the warm calving and breeding lagoon waters off of the Baja toward the cold, nutrient-rich waters of the Arctic north, often within viewing distance of shore.

Much more than a passing fancy on the part of humans for these majestic leviathans has generated the evolution of countless opportunities to explore their underwater world. The success of the whale watching industry – ever-present along the length of the BC coast, promoting tourism as well as encounters with whales – has led to a long list of regulations to ensure ethical viewing practices, initiated by both the government and individuals. Not all that long ago, whales were hunted up and down the BC coast and when humans looked toward a spout spotted on the horizon, they wondered how many barrels of oil that whale would produce. Only a handful of decades later, we’ve come a long way to arrive at a place where our queries are much more empathetic, such as “Where do they live? How do they breathe? What do they eat?” The connection and understanding we are developing with whales has brought about the major change in the kind of interaction we seek with them. And we’re not the only species looking for a whale of a time.

Let’s consider the much less visible supporting cast in the grey whale ensemble. Who loves barnacles? Krill? How about lice? You may be hard-pressed to find someone willing to attend the Pacific Rim Marine Lice Festival. We would, but we’re among the kind of special geeks who love algae, plankton, aquatic worms and scientific nomenclature. Nonetheless, these not-so-charming organisms have very interesting stories and are important elements of marine mammal biology. An adult grey whale is an ecosystem unto itself, playing host to several species of parasites and hangers-on. Allow us to pull out the hypothetical magnifying glass for a moment.

The bumpy and calloused skin found on a grey whale’s head is due to clusters of attached barnacles. These are not the familiar 

24th Annual 
Pacific Rim 
Whale Festival
March 6 – 14

Throughout the coastal towns of Tofino and Ucluelet and the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, the Pacific Rim Whale Festival Society throws open its doors to welcome whales, springtime and visitors alike in a “Celebration of Coastal Life,” highlighting the annual spring migration of upwards of 20,000 grey whales. Enjoy live music, culinary competitions, children’s fun-fairs, art, hands-on education and interpretive walks and talks. Explore the coastal temperate rainforest, hunt in tide pools and come eye-to-eye with octopi in the Ucluelet Aquarium. Weave a cedar basket with Nuu-Chah-Nulth elders, join a researcher for a day-trip at sea with migrating grey whales, tour to Hot Springs Cove with a local biologist, or sink into a seat for the screening of a film with your family. Admire local artists in action, fill your ears with the stories of Roy Henry Vickers, or count spouts while walking the Wild Pacific Trail. Experience a unique and culturally powerful coastal tradition.

  • Wickaninnish Inn’s annual Gala Dinner & Silent Auction: Call Rachelle to reserve: 
    (March 4).
  • 14th Annual Chowder Chowdown: Live maritime music and up to 12 chowders, with local chefs competing. 
    (March 7).
  • Maritime Kids Days – Fun & educational activities for all ages. Free live concerts with Gabriola’s own The Kerplunks. 
    (March 11 & 12).
  • Traditional Cedar Weaving: Workshops with First Nations artists & weavers 
    (March 11 & 13).
  • Ucluelet Aquarium season opening: Up Close & Personal. 
    (From March 6).
  • Inspiring Talks & Interpretive Walks:(March 6-14).
  • Whale Watching Station & Interpretive Loop: Amphitrite Point Lighthouse & Wild Pacific Trail. Join naturalists for interactive land-based viewing from this traditional whale-spotting point. 
    (March 7).
  • Barnacle Blues: David Gogo Live in Concert: A fundraising at Black Rock Oceanfront Resort. 
    (March 11).
  • Martini Migration: Feathers, Fur & Fins: Annual cocktail competition & fundraising affair featuring live music & fine food. 
    (March 10).

For more info, including a calendar of events,

seashore barnacles found on virtually every solid surface in coastal environments; instead, they’re a separate species similar in function and form. These barnacles are parasitic and embed themselves into their hosts’ skin. It is thought these parasites cause little damage to the host whale beyond decreasing swimming efficiency, as a 40-ton adult grey whale carries up to one ton of barnacle weight. Since grey whales feed in the bottom sediments (and, as a result, are most often seen so close to shore), one side of the whale’s face is scraped clean of these arthropod hitchhikers. Whichever side is barnacle-free is an indicator of whether a particular whale is ‘right-handed’ or ‘left handed.’ While there is no apparent advantage to favouring one side over the other, it is interesting to note that grey whales share this trait with humans and a few other mammals. It is not inconceivable to think these barnacle infestations are uncomfortable or itchy. Grey and humpback whales often scratch their barnacled heads on boat hulls and other solid surfaces in search of relief.

Adding to the discomfort are whale lice – small crustacean parasites living amongst the barnacle patches on the skin of grey whales. These creatures normally live their entire life cycle on a single grey whale, taking advantage of the whale’s social nature to spread to neighbouring whale hosts. Although parasitic, the lice are not thought to cause damage or injury to their hosts; they are most interested in feeding on dead skin and remnants left over from the grey whale’s enormous feeding gorges. In this sense, they could actually be helpful to their hosts in terms of grooming and exfoliating. These insect-like lice can each be as large as a two-dollar coin and they number in the thousands.

When a whale dies and sinks down to the sea floor, another specialized creature moves in to take advantage of the whale’s abundant mass. The charmingly named, bone-eating snot flower worm, or zombie worm, is a bizarre mouthless deep-sea worm that appears to only survive by feeding on bones of whale carcasses. Given the relative rarity of whale falls over the entire sea floor, it is incredible that such a species can even survive on what amounts to tiny, habitable islands in a sea of emptiness.

All of this would not be possible without krill. Krill is an understated and important character in the marine- mammal food chain. Most of the world’s largest whales include tiny krill in their diets. This small, shrimp-like animal schools in the tens of millions and contributes to a sizable proportion of the planet’s entire biomass. A species of krill native to the Antarctic constitutes almost one percent of all living biomass on Earth. This may not seem like much, but consider the mass of all the trees, insects, marine mammals and every other living thing to gain a perspective of how much krill is in the oceans. Recently opened krill fisheries pose a new hazard to whale populations, as fishing so low on the food chain in such quantities could have serious repercussions to any species that feeds on krill or any of krill’s predators.

These consequences are not to be taken lightly. Some people view fisheries management as more partisan alchemy than science and political interests can easily override sound judgment when considering conservation concerns. Many once-valuable fish stocks have completely collapsed due to overfishing, and, as a result, the majority of the world’s whale species has also felt the drastic effects in the food chain. Thankfully, the grey whales of North America’s Pacific coast are a generally healthy stock, thanks to today’s good conservation practices and the basic distaste Canadians have for commercial whaling.

Admittedly, it is easy to overlook the small and seemingly insignificant creatures when confronted with the enormity and charm of a grey whale. Nonetheless, these animals teach us much about how the ocean functions and about each species’ position within it.

During their northbound migration, grey whales are relatively abundant and accessible for viewing off of Vancouver Island’s west coast. If you have never seen a whale in the wild, go. This migration brings overwintering adults and new calves on a remarkable journey driven by basic biological needs, in part using currents and sea floor features to navigate. For a few weeks each spring, grey whales pass by welcoming communities like Ucluelet and Tofino as part of their centuries-old routine, with their barnacles and lice along for the ride as always.

Each March, in an all-out celebration of coastal life, the Pacific Rim Whale Festival presents a platform of engaging talks, walks and learning opportunities to connect us to our lives and the lives of other creatures along the coast. Featuring guests from all over Canada and the Pacific Northwest, it’s a volunteer-fuelled community event that packs a sizeable punch in the areas of education and quirky Canadian culture. Worth the road trip, and a guaranteed whale of a time – minus the parasites.

Jim Shinkewski is a biologist and director with the Ucluelet Aquarium Society. Visit the Ucluelet Aquarium to learn more about the marine plants and animals of the west coast. (The aquarium re-opens March 6.) Marla Barker is a naturalist, adventure tour guide and coordinator for the Pacific Rim Whale Festival Society. Email her at