Archive for May, 2010

When this story broke I posted a piece that suggested that the Bryant affair has disclosed the unfortunate truth that there are two standards of justice afoot in this fine country. Well, it seems that every body has an opinion  on this story and many of my very articulate and very smart colleagues weighed in with their opinions – many disagreeing with me. The following is my response to their various arguments and is partially written from my perspective as a former Criminal Lawyer:

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Ok. Ok. The guy was clearly a maniac. Drunk and provocative. And what would I have done? I would have done whatever I had to in order to escape this idiot. All these points are well taken.

However – Bryant’s actions lead directly and causally to his death and in our country, with a very few exceptions, causing the death of another person has various degrees of criminal liability attached to it. It is exceedingly rare to see a situation where someone causes the death of another – intentionally or not – and does not have to answer for it in some forum. While Bryant clearly didn’t murder him there are many other lesser charges that apply when a death is caused without intent. Manslaughter, criminal negligence causing death, dangerous driving causing death, vehicular homicide, etc.

If I understand Bryant’s team correctly they assert that he was trying to defend himself in his efforts to get away from Sheppard and I guess what’s nagging at me is the notion that in 99% of cases like this the policy is to lay the charge and then to let the defendant use self-defence as the justification for the act. What happened here was that the prosecutor usurped the court’s role and made his own unilateral decision that this was, indeed, self-defence and then let Bryant off the hook.

We all know that Bryant wasn’t charged lightly or frivolously. When he was arrested, and after a 24 period where I imagine that phone lines were ablaze with the highest of the higher-ups being consulted, the police laid the charges and then turned it over to the courts for prosecution. They did the right thing as Bryant is causally and directly responsible for this man’s death. The fact that he was justified is exactly why they allow various justifications as legitimate defences. As defences. In court. At a trial. Since when does the Crown decide to allow a defence before a trial or in place of one? The Crown always retains the prerogative to withdraw a charge but it is all highly unusual.

I like Michael Bryant. I liked him as AG and I think he’s a good man. The problem is that the optics here are terrible. In my experience whenever I have defended someone who had a lock solid defence like he did and I tried to put that position to the crown I would be told that was why people had their day in court. Withdraw the charge? Extremely rare and usually only in cases where there is absolutely no reasonable prospect of a successful prosecution.

They say that perception is reality and for many the unfortunate perception here is that Bryant received favourable treatment due to his standing. People need to believe in our justice system and today that faith is little more battered than it was a few days ago. Remember that Bryant’s hands weren’t completely clean. He fled the scene to a hotel and only called the police after the fact. He left a bleeding Sheppard lying at the side of the road and did nothing to assist him.

Did those delays and evasions cost Sheppard his life? We’ll never know now. Why wasn’t he charged with Failing to Remain at the scene of an accident? We’ll never know that either but I do now that if I ever left the scene of a fatal accident and did nothing to help that I would be charged forthwith. No question. That’s how our system works – or is supposed to work. Allegations are made, charges are laid and defences are advanced. That’s the beauty of our adversarial process. Two sides meet, advance their theories and somewhere in the middle the truth will out. And for the most part, it works – when we allow it to.

The trouble here is that there appeared to be no adversaries. Bryant’s lawyers worked along with the Crown to turn over evidence and to shape the case before any trial could be held. That’s not adversarial and it’s a big part of why this result seems so skewed. The public has confidence when they see two sides pitted against each other but when everybody appears to be on the same side nepotic whispers abound and perception once again becomes reality.

This is one of those cases where everybody loses. We’d all like to think that we know how we’d react in extreme circumstances but until it happens to you, you really have no idea. Panic and fear can lead us to make some pretty stupid mistakes and I’m sure that if was me that I would have bolted out of there, too. I have no desire to see Bryant behind bars but I do have a desire to have a justice system that has integrity and is respected by the populace at large. We are all entitled to our day in court. It’s just that now it seems that some people are able to subvert that idea and I think that for that, we are all a little poorer today.

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I swear I feel like a kid on the night before Christmas.

I am so excited I feel giddy. I am filled with anticipation and am feeling positively salivary. Now here’s the embarrassing part – what am I so excited about? It’s a consumer purchase bought several weeks ago and slated for delivery before Friday. A consumer purchase? Salivary?

To better understand my excitement you need to understand that I have always been a bit of a geek. I’ve always been comfortable with technology and over the years I’ve stayed abreast of the amazing developments that have shaped our world and our societal experience. I can be very passionate about technology, but not technology for its own sake. I’m a fan of applied technology – that is how we use it to enhance and better serve our day to day lives.

Over the years there has been an explosion of technological development, some of it ridiculous and some of it life-changing. That’s right, life-changing. I have been thinking of some of the technological developments that I have witnessed that have changed the way I live and interact with the world around me. Here’s a quick list of some of those life-changing technologies, in no particular order, and by no means definitive:

• Cable TV
• Touch-tone phones
• The personal computer
• Modems
• VCR
• The Internet
• WWW, e-mail
• Cellphones
• My PVR
• iPods
• BlackBerry/iPhone
• Apple TV
• Digital everything
• Bluetooth
• Digital cameras
• GPS
• Facebook

Each of these technologies has had a profound impact on my ease of living and on the facility with which I interact with the world around me. What an astonishing world we live in.

Recently I was at a concert and found myself shooting live video, posting it live to the Internet, waiting for my friends to watch it and then reading their comments live as they weighed in on the performance. And all that without leaving my seat in the stadium. Astonishing. When I drive now, geosynchronous satellites overhead pinpoint my location with 10 feet, let me know about traffic up ahead of me and warns me if a speed trap is nearby. Amazing.

I think it’s very easy to take all this techno-wizardry for granted. For most of us it’s invisible and we see only the end result and that’s probably the way it should be. But when I think about what these devices are actually able to do it still blows my mind. Satellites. Wireless. Beam me up Scotty.

But it’s when one of the life-changing devices comes down the pipe that I truly get pumped. They don’t come along very often. Sometimes I can see it coming and sometimes it sneaks up on me, blindsiding me when I least expect it. And if there’s any one company that’s been responsible for forever changing our consumer landscape for the better, it’s Apple.

From its inception Apple has got it. They’ve always demonstrated an uncanny ability to redefine various consumer experiences in a way that makes everyone else hurry up and follow. When they first started out they invented the mouse and the graphical interface that later became the mainstay of the Windows experience. Their introduction of the iPod forever changed the way we interact with our music experience. Apple TV redefined the home entertainment experience and the iPhone became the new standard for mobile computing devices. Love them or hate them, these guys got it and they nailed it every time. I should have bought stock.

So imagine my excitement when last February I saw the first online video demo of the upcoming iPad. By the end of that video I was so excited that I was ready to buy. Now, even though I’m a big techno-file I am not what you would call an early adopter. I usually watch as new technologies debut, get their kinks worked out by the marketplace and then get refined in the second generation release. But when I saw the iPad all that logic went out the window.

When I first witnessed the iPad I immediately realized that this device was something in between a notebook and an iPhone – it wasn’t just a big iPhone nor was it a notebook wannabe. The iPad is poised to occupy a new niche in the tech market – it’s a powerful, mobile computing device that provides a superior entertainment experience, makes your world mobile and utilizes an interface that is intuitive and very, very clever. It is going to become the heart and soul of my home entertainment experience and will likely become my daughter’s best friend.

This is so unlike me – to buy a device before it’s even released to the market and then to watch the calendar as I silently count down to D-day (delivery day). But I know this one’s going to be a winner. I have an iTouch and it has been a life-changing device. The iPad promises to pick up where the iTouch left off and then go somewhat further. Now I can hear many of you shaking your heads in disbelief. All this excitement over a small computer? Darn right and it can’t happen soon enough for me. Bring on the change, the evolution is now.

As an adult I don’t treat myself very often. I still love to get new toys although these days the toys I get tend to be much more functional than the train set I was enamoured with in my youth. But still, as adults I think it’s important that we recognize the kid inside of us and go out and buy it a toy. Sure, they’re more expensive now but they’re also much more fun to play with.

So, when the iPad was listed for pre-sale on the Apple web site I was there in a flash, credit card in hand, happy and eager to be one of the iAcolytes. But to make us wait nearly 3 weeks for delivery – well-that’s just mean. I know that the next generation of iPads will be better – they’ll have a video camera, be slimmer and faster but that’s ok. I’ll deal with that when it happens. I’m so certain that this device will hit my life with a wallop that I bought it sight unseen. I can’t remember the last time I did that.

And so now I wait. But with tremendous impatience that is surprising even me. I want my MTV, darn it and I want it now! This device won’t be for everybody but if it’s for you then get ready to have your world rocked. The iPhone is still rocking my world and that’s more than a year later.

So, join me on the technology bandwagon. Embrace change and look forward with the excitement of an explorer discovering the New World. We live in amazing times and don’t ever forget how powerful the forces are that surround our lives every day. We are the citizens of the new millennium and we will see the world changed for us, by us and even, in spite of us. We will bear witness to that change whether we want it or not.

Hyla is quite happy playing by herself.

Hyla is an only child and, as such, she spends a lot of time on her own. Sure, she has lots of friends but when she comes home at the end of a very long school day (7am – 3pm) she can sometimes be alone for a few hours.

As would be the case with many 10 year-olds, Hyla has developed a rich and fully featured fantasy world. Sometimes she is Witch Hyla, her mischievous alter ego. Sometimes she is Good Hyla and, of course, sometimes she is Bad Hyla. But whoever she is on any given day, it’s all her and it’s all in her mind.

I love to watch her play by herself, immersed in a world of make-believe and oblivious to the fact the she is playing on her own. Blocks, dolls, beads, you name it, they all become characters in her narrative and she just loves to bring them out to play.

At first I used to feel guilty that she was playing on her own and I used to jump in every chance I got. But that’s me projecting my own biases on to her. Every time I check in with her as to whether she’s ok, she always looks up with a bemused smile on her face and says, “Of course, Daddy. Why wouldn’t I be?”

I grew up in a house with 2 sisters and 2 parents which meant that I was never alone for long. As I grew up I noticed that I was much happier in the company of others than by myself and tried to limit the amount of time I spent on my own. That’s because it’s what I knew, what I was used to.

As an adult I became a serial monogamist, moving from one relationship to another. As soon as someone was no longer to be a presence in my life I would go out and meet someone new because the alternative, being alone, felt uncomfortable to me. And these relationships would last anywhere from months to years but I always felt as though that I needed that other person to complete me, to make me whole.

About 10 years ago I had occasion to meet someone who told me that until I spent a significant amount of time on my own – which she defined as 2-3 years – I would never be able to have a whole and healthy relationship. I told her that I couldn’t imagine spending that much time by myself and wondered why anybody would ever want to do that willingly.

I then proceeded to jump into a relationship that lasted 6 years and when it ended a funny thing happened. I didn’t jump in with someone new. I just started to hang out with myself. Over the past 4 years I have had one relationship that lasted about 6 months but that’s been it and I began to notice that a wonderful thing was happening. I was starting to become comfortable with my own company and I was starting to get to know who I actually was.

For so very long I would make my choices based on me being the person that I wanted to be. I would do this or that because it suited my self-image. But when you spend a lot of time on your own you start to notice things, like what you like and don’t like. Your good qualities shine a little more brightly because they’re not diffused by another’s energy and the bad ones also stood out more because there was no one there to dilute their effects.

Suddenly, I was being true to myself. I was no longer making choices based on who I wanted to be but, rather, based on who I actually was. And it was exhilarating. Last year when I met the person that I ended up dating for about 6 months I couldn’t help but notice that I was a different man in this relationship than I had ever previously experienced. Because I knew who I was, I knew what I had to offer and I knew whether it would be a good fit for me. I knew what I was willing to change and what I wasn’t. I kept catching myself saying things to her that I had never said to anyone ever before because it was all coming from a place of self-knowledge.

Now, I never chose willingly to be alone for those 3 years. It just worked out that way. But when I started to date this new person I remembered what that person had told me all those years back about being on your own. I couldn’t see it at the time but it certainly turned out to be both prophetic and true.

Did I not want to be alone because that’s what I was used to growing up? I don’t know. But I do know that Hyla has no trouble at all being by herself and for that I admire her greatly. I think that all the time she spend playing on her own will serve her well and it is my hope that in the coming years that very same quality will help her to know herself better – and thus, to know what she really wants.

Today I both know myself and like myself and that has been an immeasurable gift. How freeing it is to be able to make choices based on self-knowledge and how comforting it is to be true to one’s self. I used to look for my next relationship with a kind of hunger, never really feeling whole with one. Now I’m ok either way. Today I enjoy my own company and have come to really like the various traits that comprise my character.

Hyla may spend a lot of time playing by herself but I’m feeling pretty sure that this will serve her well in life. By spending time with yourself you get to know yourself and once that happens, there’s pretty much nothing that you can’t do.

Stand tall, be true, and be honest with yourself about what makes you tick and playing alone will never seem quite so empty again…

“Everyone will be famous for 15 minutes”
Andy Warhol

“Be careful of what you wish for, you might get it”
Colloquial Wisdom

When I was a kid I wasn’t sure of much, but one thing I was sure of was that I wanted to be rich and I wanted to be famous. This twosome, rich and famous, seemed to embody all that I thought I desired in this very early stage in my life. I mean, it just looked like so much fun. Rich. Famous. What’s not to like? Well, as it turns out, both of these acquisitions come with a price, and it’s a steep one.

Rich changes you. Your entire way of interacting with the world around you has changed in scale. Now, this change may or may not be a good thing. Some people do rich very well, and others, not so much. The landscape is littered with lottery winners whose lives have been torn apart after the big win. Divorce. Social alienation. Business failure. No happy dance, there.

But where rich changes you, famous changes everything. Sure, you’ll never have to pay for a cup of coffee again, but welcome to life in the fishbowl. If you have successfully managed to convince the public that you are worthy of their special attention then you better be ready to handle all the other unanticipated, unwanted, and other forms of attention that become part of the deal – like it or not.

And you better be able to stand up to the public scrutiny – often relentless – that is sure to accompany your fame. If you’re found wanting, that same adoring public can turn on you in a New York minute. And a public dismantling of anyone’s life is never a pretty picture. Just ask Tiger.

So, is the fishbowl really worth it?

Some people do fame very well. They have learned how to handle, no, manage, the showbiz machine that has made fame a calculable commodity. They manage the press and, in turn, have their lives left alone. Some, not so much.

Although I’m sure she’s laughing all the way to the bank, ask Kim Kardashian how it feels to have every pound she gains chronicled on the front page of every supermarket tabloid around the world? Ouch is still ouch.

Kim, of course, is one of the new breed – people who are famous just for being famous. The public appetite for worthy icons had grown to such a fever pitch that we are now willing to put some people up on the pedestal just because they’ve managed to catch our attention in some… er… memorable way.

Anybody who stars on The Hills can tell you of the benefits of being in the right place at the right time. Spin-off shows, public recognition and, of course, the merch, the merch, the merch. Just ask Lauren Conrad, now of LC Fashion, about how to do it well and ask Heidi Montag about how to become a caricature of yourself for everyone to see. And those implants seal the deal. Unbelievable what some people think are a good idea.

When I was younger I went through a phase where I was quite enthralled with the idea of being around celebrity. For many years I haunted the Film Festival in the hopes of adding to my ever-burgeoning autograph collection. But after all the screenings and all the parties and all those famous people, I learned a valuable lesson: Don’t meet your heroes; they will only end up disappointing you.

I remember one year I was dating a Publicist whose job it was to babysit a big, big star who was in town for a few days during the Festival. As her official date I was occasioned to spend a great deal of time with her and this big, big star, who I had previously regarded as an amazing acting force. And he is an amazing actor, unfortunately for me he wasn’t a very amazing human being. This publicly heterosexual star stepped off his private jet with his hands stuffed down the front of his 16 year-old male travelling companion’s pants.

And the groping never stopped.

In the limo, at the restaurant (under the table, of course), everywhere the cameras weren’t, and everywhere that I was. The gay thing didn’t faze me (or really surprise me). It was all the child sexual abuse, and his attitude about it, that really got me. Although he was officially 19 years-old, the boy-toy at one point quietly confessed to me that he was really only 16. I have all the time in the world for gay folks; I’m just not that hot on paedophiles.

And now this actor, whom I had previously respected, is ruined for me. I can no longer watch anything with him in it without thinking of that leer on his face as he fondled his freshly pubescent companion. Ruined. And don’t ask me who it is. Let’s just say that year it was one of the Usual Suspects

Don’t ever meet your heroes. Double for rock stars.

There is now a multi-billion dollar industry that has cropped up that is devoted to nothing but keeping us informed on everything that is any small way notable about people who are famous. Shows like ET, Access and a hundred others, and websites like TMZ.com and Perez Hilton and too many magazines to mention, have made the star’s business, their business. And quite a business it is, too. Billions are now spent promoting, chronicling and dissecting every last piece of minutiae that comprise the life of celebrities.

And boy, we can’t get enough.

The other day my 10 year-old daughter nonchalantly told me about the difficult decisions that are currently plaguing Miley Cyrus. Not Hannah Montana – Miley Cyrus, the actress who plays her. Apparently, she’s putting an end to the Hannah Montana juggernaut and is having trouble deciding where to board her horse. I asked Hyla how she knows all of this and the dismissive answer was “the Disney web site, of course!” which, according to Hyla, is quite a reputable news source. “Of course it’s true, Daddy. It’s on the Internet!”

Somewhere along the way, the line between publicity and news got a little blurry. Newscasts now regularly report the doings of celebrities right along with the car crashes and other trials that fill their airwaves. And we are salacious in our appetite for more as insatiable demand creates an abundant supply.

Now, I know the difference between entertainment and news but I’m afraid that my daughter doesn’t as well as I’d like. The big studios have become very adept at marketing their stars like commodities and have learned how to feed this machine quite effectively. They want that line to be blurry, for us to think that someone’s dalliance is, in fact, news. It is not.

We want to emulate celebrities because they seem to have what we don’t – successful, glamorous lives filled with lots of sex with really good looking people. And somehow we’ve acquired the notion that if we do like them, we’ll be like them. We won’t. Ever. And that’s probably a good thing.

A number of years ago I decided to get as far away from the world of celebrities as I could. I deliberately avoided situations where there would be celebrities present and declined invitations to same and feel my life is all the better for it, that I’m a better person for it.

Have you ever been around someone really famous? If so, you’ll be able to attest to how completely stupid normally very together people get when around someone famous and that is something I don’t miss at all. People do some pretty unseemly things to get near celebrities and I don’t want to be around people who bring out my worst qualities. My fawning days are over.

At the end of the day we must remember that these people don’t have superpowers. They are once ordinary people who managed to get our attention somehow. Talent is a great thing to respect but it doesn’t call for the deification of its originator.

I do worry for my daughter, though, who barely owns a single piece of clothing that isn’t branded somehow by Barbie or Hannah or whoever. It makes me so crazy that this is what she looks for in her consumer decisions. Not quality. Certainly not price. But branding. The more High School Musical, the better.

In his Inaugural Address, Lincoln talked about inciting “the better angels of our nature”. My experience has been that most celebrities bring out the worst angels of our nature. Even Tiger has become a repository of derision. I do everything I can to help Hyla see the cynicism behind the dogma she so happily consumes but I fear it will never be enough. At the very least I can teach her to be critical.

Rich would still be nice but, famous? Not so much. I’ll take a life, please. Andy can have his 15 minutes back. I don’t want it.

And we can all hold out hope for the timely emergence of those better angels…

Memory is a funny thing. As time goes by we tend to remember the positive, the happy. Old beaus suddenly don’t seem so unreasonable, accomplishments become iconic, and the past acquires a sort of gossamer glow.

I was born in Toronto and have lived here all my life. This is a great city which I firmly believe is one of the great cities of the world – especially in the summertime. Lately, I’ve been on a bit of a nostalgia kick thanks to all the old friends I’m being reacquainted with on Facebook. And as I’ve been remembering old friends my mind has turned to remembering the Toronto I grew up in.

Toronto is a great city but the city we live in today is nothing like the city I grew up in. So much has changed – some for the better and, of course, some for not. We’re a lot bigger, we’re amalgamated and we have become a major global cultural capital. Good for us.

But what of those memories? Was the Toronto of my youth as innocent and carefree as I remember or are my memories being simplified by being viewed through the lens of my childhood? Probably a bit of both.

I was once told that memories are the signposts of our lives – markers that denote the significant occurrences that, together, create our life’s narrative. So, what are signposts that mark the city I remember? Here, in no particular order, are some of things that I remember from the city of my youth. Some are happy, some are not, and some just are. Please feel free to add your own as together, we try to remember the city that we’ve left behind.

I remember…

• having milk and bread delivered to our home by the “Milkman”, the milk all frothy in its glass bottle

• yellow police cars with the single red “cherry” on top

• 10 cent fares on the TTC, 25 for adults

• my father taking me to Yorkville and Rochdale to see the Hippies

• concerts at Maple Leaf Gardens where the best seats sold for the outrageous price of $7.50

• the most exotic food was Pizza or Chinese

• 1 and 2 dollar bills

• smoking everywhere – elevators, movie theatres and airplanes

• super balls!!!

• shoestring liquorice and other candies that sold for a penny a piece

• 1050 Chum and the ubiquitous Chum Chart

• saving my allowance to buy my first 45 rpm record, Space Oddity by David Bowie

• never having enough of those little plastic discs that went in the middle of those 45’s

• the Electric Gallery on Avenue Rd and the Markle brother’s unique take on neon

• payphones that cost 10 cents

• rotary dial phones, busy signals and no voice mail

• typewriters and carbon paper for copies

• Baby Blue Movies

• the most exotic language you would ever hear on the street was French (or maybe Italian in the right neighbourhood)

• the Toronto Telegram, the Globe in the morning and the Star at night

• Stoodleigh’s restaurant, the Bagel King and the Hamburger King

• The Toronto Police’s Morality Squad

• movie censorship

• 1 oz of Colombian Gold that sold for $60

• where the worst thing you could catch from sex could be cured with anti-biotics

• Shopsy’s on Spadina (next door to Victory Burlesque which was always a source of fascination to my 11 year-old mind)

• mostly white faces everywhere you went

• guns were the exclusive domain of police. Period.

• Ryerson was called Rye-high or, grade 14

• grade 13

• television stations that went off the air overnight, closing with our national anthem played over footage of endless mountains, lakes and the Musical Ride

• endless tests of the Emergency Broadcast System

• all the porno theatres at Yonge and Dundas

• the University theatre, the Eglinton and the Uptown – the three biggest screens in town

• the opening of the Imperial Six and spending an entire day moving from one theatre to the next, trying to see all six movies for one admission

• the opening of the first Cineplex theatre in the Eaton Centre where you could see rear-projected movies on a screen no bigger than your TV in a theatre that sat 25 people

I could go on for a while but I think the point has been made. Somewhere along the line we lost our innocence and we changed from a little big city to a big big city. Do we have more amenties now? Absolutely. But have we paid a price for that sophistication? Absolutely. We’ve lost some of our innocence as we’ve taken our place on the world’s stage.

Progress is a double-edged sword. We all want it but when it comes we often spend much time reminiscing over how good we had it. Maybe it falls under the category of “be careful what you wish for, you might get it”. Don’t get me wrong. I loved the Toronto of my youth and I still love Toronto today but they are two very different cities. Technology, sprawl and immigration have forever changed the face of this city as progress marches on.

What are your memories of the Toronto you grew up in? Was there an event that, for you, marked the transition to a different kind of city that you remember? Thank you Emanuel Jacques for my epiphany.

This city always surprises me as it’s constantly growing up around me, evolving, sometimes in step with the world and sometimes marching to its own drummer. I was once told that Toronto is a native word for “meeting place”. And today, that has never been more true…

Canada will never be the same.

When I was growing up I remember a continual, if not nascent, debate on the issue of our Canadian identity. We we were always asking ourselves, “What does it mean to be Canadian?” We always sensed that we were different from the Americans but were hard pressed to say how. I remember hearing jokes (that were never very funny) about us being the 51st state.

Most of our culture came from south of the border. The Canadian music industry was mostly non-existent and most viable Canadian artists had to go south to make it big. Bye bye Joni. Bye bye Neil. In the 70’s the Canadian film industry was a bit of a joke and was renowned for providing tax shelters for producers looking to make a fast buck. There were so many bad films made then that the idea of going to a “Canadian” film was mostly reviled and met with derision.

Sure, there was Porky’s, one of the first Canadian films to make it in the States, but that was an exception and only made money because it aped an existing and fairly crass Hollywood formula. Quebec cinema was starting to flourish but those films mostly reflected Quebecois culture and were always in French, which significantly limited their appeal.

As the pundits and thinkers tried to define the Canadian identity they would mostly do it comparatively, by showing how we were different from the Americans. This was a reactive, and not proactive, attempt at self-definition. We weren’t Canadians because of who we were. We were Canadians because we weren’t American. This never sat well with many and always felt lacking in substance. There was nothing to really get behind.

Well, we’ve come a long way, baby.

This past February Canada hosted the world at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. We threw a big ass party, we invited the world, and everybody came. And we didn’t only play host. We competed, we won and we were proud.

The Olympics have always been iconic and as the Opening Ceremonies approached you could feel a swelling pride and a stubborn determination to stand up, be seen, and be appreciated. The huge sense of occasion seems to have accomplished in 17 days what previously had been a patchwork effort.

Suddenly, it was cool to be Canadian.

Of course, winning has helped tremendously. Every medal has been met with fanfare and a unique kind of Canadian boastfulness. It was pride without the arrogance that so dominates American characterization. And as we beat country after country in a variety of sports, we cheered every win with a renewed sense of nationality. When those wins were gold we could hardly contain ourselves – and we didn’t. We cheered, we clapped and we stayed up past our bedtimes. Exhilarating.

We were, of course, destined to succeed. After all, we know how to do winter better than most. And how could we go wrong with the Vancouver/Whistler setting? Some of the most beautiful country in the world.

As we filled the bars to watch hockey and as we cheered our athletes competing in sports that most of us have never heard of, an amazing thing showed up. Our Canadian identity. The spectacle of the Olympics suddenly seemed to showcase what we were instead of what we weren’t. It was the perfect backdrop and audience for a country that was in the right place at the right time. We shone, we knew it, and we basked in the glow of the international recognition.

Over the past 30 years Canada has evolved into a fairly homogenous multi-cultural melting pot and I saw people of all nationalities on TV proclaiming their support for Canada and not for their home country. You really have to love a country a lot to be able to do that. It gave us a commonality that we previously were missing. For the past two weeks we have all been Canadian, no matter where we lived or where we were born.

Because of the focal power of the Olympics we could suddenly see all of the things that made us who we are and not who we weren’t. For the first time our self-definition had nothing to do with how different we are from the USA.

We’re unique and we’re loving it.

We’re boundless landscapes populated a by a firm, steady and resolute people. We’re maple syrup and bannock and bacon. We’re a police force on horseback. We’re winters that are big and bad and we pride ourselves on their endurance. We’re universal healthcare and we’re social welfare. We are individuals and we are also communal. We are kind and polite and nice. We’re very nice.

We’re dependable and will always show up if we can help out. We don’t like guns and we love our sense of public safety. We’re about great movies that are both shot and set in Toronto. We’re The King of Kensington and the Little Mosque on the Prairie. We’re the great outdoors and the cozy indoors. We’re BTO and the Guess Who. And boy oh boy, do we love our hockey!

We apologize for everything – even if it’s not our fault. We’re about paying higher taxes for better services. We have a profound connection to nature and the land around us. We are clean and not mean. And we are beer. Lots and lots of beer.

For the past two weeks we have shown our heart and we wore it proud and I have a genuine depth of patriotic pride that had previously eluded me. I suspect I’m not alone. We have all stood together for two weeks and that is a powerful force. And even though eventually we will, in time, retreat to our familiarities; I predict we will be stronger as a nation than we ever were before. And I predict that will endure.

We should be very pleased with ourselves and I think we are.

After all, it turns out it really is cool to be Canadian.

CityTV suddenly fires 60 senior on-air and production staff and axes almost all their local news

What a shame. What a tremendous loss for our city.

CityTV has long been a beacon for Toronto, showing us our triumphs and our failures on an epicly moving landscape. I was at the party for the launch of CityTV in the early 70’s and mostly I remember how incredibly excited everyone was. There was a palpable feeling that this station was going to be different. And different it was.

Spurred by a desire to innovate and forced to be inventive as the result of a constant cash shortage, City transformed the way we saw our Toronto – and the way we watched TV.

I remember in the early days you never knew what was going to happen on the air. On-air personalities were given broad discretion to do it differently, the camera was always moving, and many early shows were live, meaning that some pretty audacious stuff got on the air. Led by media visionary Moses Znaimer, CityTV took the gloss off of our city and got down and dirty with the rest of us.

Early offerings included Boogie, which was the bold forerunner to Electric Circus. There was Forum, which featured live debates, often quite audacious, and shows like the New Music that forever changed the face of music on television. Indeed, the New Music would later morph into MuchMusic, which also trail-blazed the way for a whole new era of entertainment TV.

In my youth I used to spend a lot of time down at the station, which in those days was at 99 Queen E., on the other side of Yonge, and I’ll never forget the energy that rippled through the place on a constant basis. Everybody who worked there loved their jobs even if City was one of the most infamously cheap employers in the industry. You didn’t work at City to get rich, you worked at City to be a part of the evolving brave new frontier that was the ascension of TV in the 70’s and 80’s. You worked there because you believed in what Moses what doing and you wanted to be a long for the ride.

Even though it didn’t pay much, at City you got on the air – whether you were ready or not. Some of the more famous City personalities today have been with the station for over 25 years and we have grown along with them. Gord Martineau, Kevin Frankish and Anne Mroczcowski have all been there for 25 plus years and are considerably more polished now than they were way back then.

And it wasn’t just the on-air style that shook things up – where the building became the set and everything and everybody were part of it – it was what they put on the air. The Baby Blue Movie forever changed the standards of what is permissible to air on a public station. City Pulse News did away with the anchor desk and put it’s broadcasters right into the thick of the action and shows like Fashion TV and Sex TV have become ubiquitous in markets all over the world.

It was always a dream of mine to work at City, to be close to that marvellous energy. I was childhood friends with Jay Switzer, who would go onto become the President of City during it’s biggest growth boom, and my parents were close with the Swtizers, who lived a few houses away from us. They were a TV family through and through. Sruki Switzer, the father, literally invented the technology that made cable TV possible and his wife, Phyllis was one of the original three founders of City TV.

City was always in my blood and as a neophyte film maker I used every excuse I could think of to hang around down at 99 Queen E. I just wanted to be close to that unmistakable energy, to be around people who loved what they did and who knew that they were making a difference. In later years I would do a fair bit of business with City, whose penchant for innovation matched some of my fairly audacious ideas, and although I did interview there once for my dream job (and didn’t get it!!) I never successfully leveraged any employment out of the grand dame. Pity. That would have been fun, indeed.

But, like all good things, City eventually grew up and the little station that could became the cash-box that was a well run station in the new millennium. Over the 90’s CityTV grew exponentially. They launched station after station, taking broad advantage of the new CRTC rules which allowed for cable speciality channels. Overnight there was Space, SexTV, CP24 and about 20 other niche stations that are still making their shareholders very rich. And that, of course, was the beginning of the end.

City couldn’t hide its burgeoning revenues from the street and in the early part of this decade they were snapped up by broadcasting giant CTV. At the time, CTV seemed to recognize the inherent uniqueness of their new property and pretty much ran things as per usual. City looked a little slicker but it was still a “little” station. However that couldn’t and didn’t last and in 2007 CTV was forced by the CRTC to divest itself of 5 City stations across Canada due to rules that prohibit any one entity from owning more than one broadcast station in any one market. And who ponied up $375 million for this broadcasting plum? Good ‘ole Rogers Media.

Now, even though Rogers was led by it’s own media visionary, Ted Rogers, their styles couldn’t have been more diametrically opposed. Where City was wild, Mr. Rogers was conservative. Where City dared to boldly go, Rogers preferred to tread more cautiously. And aside from their local Cable 10 operations and the ownership of OMNI, Toronto’s multicultural channel, Rogers had little experience in running a national broadcast presence. And it didn’t take long for the axe to start to swing.

Immediately, the first to go was Speaker’s Corner, a marvel of television democracy that let any body grab some air time – and just for a loonie. In many ways Speaker’s Corner was an important symbol of City’s guerilla status. Famous for launching many careers – the Barenaked Ladies, Mike Myers and Scott Speedman all got their first exposures on the Corner – Speakers Corner suggested all that was right about what CityTV was doing and stood for. Often irreverent, frequently shocking and always entertaining, Speaker’s Corner fulfilled Moses Znaimer’s central philosophy that suggested that television was for every one and every Saturday night at 6:30 you could turn on your TV and see some extraordinarily democratic TV.

Many observers who watched the axing of Speaker’s Corner had a pretty strong premonition of what would be next. Slowly, over the next two years, City gradually became more and more polished until you couldn’t automatically identify which channel was CityTV when you were flipping through the channels. Rogers moved them out of their shrine to TV, the marvellous and innovative building at 299 Queen W., and slowly began dismantling everything that was special about the little station that could. The old CityTV used to feel a little like Improv TV, where anything could, and did, happen, and the new , emerging CityTV became slicker and more polished until it’s current, almost unrecognizable, state.

After Rogers began cleaning house, all of the original staff, who had poured their very best years into that station, gradually began to go, becoming replaced by Rogers’ bean counters. By early this year there was practically no one single holdover from the early days still on the executive roster. And today, the axe fell again.

In a bold and unsettling display of corporate power, Rogers gave pink slips to 60 of some of City’s most recognizable faces. Veterans like Anne Mroczkowski, Laura DiBattista and Pam Seatle were all given their walking papers – effective immediately. Their bios were unceremoniously yanked from the web site and many of the veterans who we have come to know and love were summarily dismissed. City’s mantra used to be Movies, Music and News, and they did all those things very well but today Rogers announced that it was cutting the Noon News, City at 5 and all the weekend newscasts, as well, putting a final dagger into the heart of a once thriving mediatropolis.

I have been watching the devolution of City for some time now and over the past few years have had a number of conversations with some of the senior staff there about what the future held for CityTV. None of them were very optimistic and all were already looking afield to greener pastures. And while they were losing their jobs, I was losing a friend. City has been an integral part of my life ever since I can remember and it feels like something important is missing today from the fabric of this city. One of our best and most insistent voices has been silenced.

A few years ago I was down in Bogota, Colombia, where CityTV has a flagship station – also called CityTV. This incarnation was templated off of the original City paradigm and when I walked into the studio it was like walking into a time warp – but in Spanish. It was the same half-cocked craziness that used to make every City broadcast seem like an episode of SCTV. I stood amidst the chaos and revelled in the energy I felt and it was immediately apparent to me that our CityTV had lost its edge, in comparison. They were doing it the way they wanted because they seemed to understand that the very energy they were producing there was what made City different. It’s what made City special.

I have been sadly watching the slow death of my old friend for several years now and I think that the loss of the old CityTV is a much bigger loss for our greater City of Toronto. We used to have pride in CityTV. We liked that it was imperfect because we were imperfect, too, and in some way City’s irreverence and pluckiness came to symbolize greater Toronto’s more irreverent character and nature. When we turned on City we were looking at ourselves and all the imperfections and roughness made us feel a little bit better about our own less polished overtures.

People were in tears and in shock as news of the cuts rippled through the industry. Suddenly, everyone seemed to viscerally understand what others had been observing for some time from afar – that CityTV was no longer the maverick it used to be and that it was now certain that some things seemed destined never to be the same again.

Today some very nice and very capable people lost their jobs but I’m afraid that the City of Toronto has lost a lot more. If CityTV was tele-democracy in action then its new, evolving, more corporate image means that we are losing an important voice in our entertainment and cultural landscape. CityTV used to speak for all of us – in a language that we all understood – and it gave a voice to that most ambiguous of entities – our city proper. We live in a more heavily branded, more corporate world than we ever have before and without a voice for the underdog I fear that the corporatization of our media infrastructure will soon be complete.

And as those old familiar faces are escorted out the door by unsmiling security guards, Toronto is losing a lot more than a few newscasts. We are losing an important part of our civic identity. Yes, it’s true, that we won’t have CityTV to kick around any more and I, for one, am feeling very sad for us all.

Goodbye old friend. You’ll be missed…