3… 2… 1… 4/20! And with that, the smoke floated en masse up towards the emblematic clock tower that signifies Canadian parliament. Even though I didn’t smoke, my thick wool jacket smelled otherwise.

The approximately 10 000 people that gathered on Parliament Hill to mark 420 / 4:20 / 4/20 or simply Weed Day was the most ever in Ottawa according to organizers. The legalization of weed in small amounts last November in Colorado and Washington is mostly to thank. There, marijuana is now legal if you are over 21, smoke in private and possess less than one ounce. That is, unless the FBI comes knocking at your door because the US government has not ok’d the reform.

420 Parliament Hill 2013 12

Meanwhile, Canada, one of the top producers of marijuana in the world, still maintains strict laws against the consumption of earth’s most popular drug. In fact, sentencing has been increased by the Federal Omnibus Bill C-10, which adds stricter six-month mandatory minimum sentences for anyone who grows six or more marijuana plants.

In an open-letter to Prime Minister Harper last year, The Global Commission on Drug Policy, one of the world leaders on the study of drug use across United Nations member countries, attacked the Canadian government’s weed crackdown. “Canada is at the threshold of continuing to repeat the same grave mistakes as other countries, moving further down a path that has proven immensely destructive and ineffective at meeting its objectives,” wrote the Brazil-based organization.

420 Parliament Hill 2013 10Thus, this year, more than being a day to see who can roll the fattest joint, or dawn the most outlandish weed paraphernalia (see Facebook album for victors), 4/20 on Parliament Hill was meant to be more of a political demonstration in favour of legalization.

“I am the Justin Trudeau of marijuana,” joked Precious Chong, daughter of one of the most famous pot-smokers in Canadian history, Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong fame. She MC’d the day’s events from a podium in front of a backdrop of neon-jacketed police officers. Like the new Liberal leader, she is following in the giant footsteps of her father. Also like Trudeau, she supports the legalization of marijuana.

While members of Trudeau’s Liberal party and the Green party did attend, they did not deliver any speeches in support. Chong, however, was joined on stage by other Canadian weed-leaders who have received a major boost to their campaign since a British Columbia $25 million lottery winner injected $1 million to the legalization movement.

“How do we get people who don’t smoke or don’t like to smoke to support legalization?” shouted a pro-legalization leader from the podium. “Get ‘em to smoke one!” responded a grey-haired woman from the crowd.

420 Parliament Hill 2013Even at the biggest celebration of weed of the year there wasn’t a unanimous decision on legalization. Three men who hid their names told the Ottawa Citizen that they don’t want to see their green legalized because new taxes would stack prices.

Despite the growing attention to legalization in Canada, it was hard to take the rally seriously when a guy dressed up as a massive bong was distributing skunk suits to rallying stoners. Still, what can you expect when most of your prospective voters are blitzed out of their minds?

While the Ottawa rally was completely peaceful and calm save for when a stampede swarmed the Trailer Park Boys as soon as they showed up (they were there despite Kathryn May reporting in the Ottawa Citizen that they weren’t), the 4/20 rally in Denver, Colorado, which was expected to be the largest in history at 80 000 smokers, was thrown into chaos shortly after 4:20pm when gunshots injured three people. All victims are expected to survive.

Not very peace and love of you Colorado.

* photos by Joel Balsam, for more, please see our Facebook page


We are currently on an inexorable march towards a Canadian federal election, which will more than likely take place on May 2 or 9th. Despite the seeming strength of the Harper Conservatives, chinks are beginning to appear in his armour. One revelation of unethical behaviour after another has left Our Glorious Leader facing down the barrel of a finding of contempt of parliament.

Parliament is likely to find the Harper government in contempt as a result of senior government officials lying to parliament and otherwise carrying on like mafia dons rather than public servants. In the face of this unprecedented action, which has never happened in the history of our nation, was Our Glorious Leader duly cowed? Apologetic?

Hardly, his response “you win some, you lose some” smacks of the arrogance and thinly veiled contempt for long-standing democratic principles and practices that has so many Canadians itching to oust him from power.

So, on the eve of another election, what options do we have? Well there’s the good ol’ Liberals under the leadership of our man Iggy. The same man who supported the Iraq war, wholeheartedly supports torture and loved corporate tax cuts until his pollsters told him to oppose them (for the election campaign only of course).

Business as usual? Chretien and Ignatieff

What can we expect from Iggy this time around? Well pretty much business as usual for the Liberals, who always campaign to the left and govern to the right. A campaign that shows the cuddly-feely side of the Liberals as they try to convince NDP voters that the Libs have their best interests at heart. Of course if they win you can forget about all that progressive stuff as the Libs pay back their buddies on Bay Street with corporate tax cuts of their own and devastating cuts to the social programs Canadians elected them to protect. We saw it with Chretien and Martin and you can bet we’ll see the same script play out if we elect Iggy.

Meanwhile, as much as we love the NDP, no one has illusions that they will be forming a government when the dust clears from this election. So what would qualify as a best-case scenario for a long-suffering and beleaguered progressive?

Quite simply, the best we can hope for is a coalition government. Ideally one in which the Liberals need the support of the NDP to govern without needing the politically touchy support of the Bloc.

So keep your fingers crossed and work your tails off to elect as many NDP MPs as possible.   After all, some of the best days of Canadian government, including the introduction of Medicare, were the result of Liberal minority governments supported by the NDP.

Hope in Gatineau: Francoise Boivin with Jack Layton

Meanwhile, here in Quebec, the fortunes of the NDP are brighter than they have been since, well, ever. Over the last eight or nine polls of voting intentions in Quebec, the NDP has held steady at around 20%. This is not only a huge jump over the 12% they earned in the 2008 election but also puts them in the rarefied air of second place behind the Bloc. That’s right, the NDP is more popular in Quebec than either the Liberals or Conservatives.

With numbers like that it looks like Francoise Boivin in Gatineau and Nycole Turmel in Hull are sitting pretty and we have a serious shot at taking some ridings in the Montreal area that were hopelessly out of reach even a year ago.

So if you ever thought of getting involved with the NDP, now would be the time. Let’s elect some more NDP MP’s here and hope the chips fall right in the rest of the country to have a minority Liberal government propped up by the NDP.

It’s the best case for a country already scarred by an overdose of Harper and his fanatical quest to dismantle the Canada we hold dear and bring us in line with the disaster down south.

Rob Ford, new mayor of Cal...er...Toronto

I must admit, I’m a bit confused. I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to write about here. It’s a year-in-review piece, so at least the time frame is solid, but the subject matter, hmm, that’s another story.

You see, I don’t really have a clear beat. I started off 2010 as a theatre writer, but now that’s done by others and occasionally me, at least when it comes to burlesque shows (heh heh, but seriously, check out my reviews of Blood Ballet and Glam Gam). I do write about news and politics, even in this space, but I’m not the only one, so this can’t be a year in the news piece.

I could write about the year it was for FTB. (and in fact I will, but that’s coming up New Year’s Eve, not here.) So I guess I’m just going to have to talk about the year in random things that caught my attention.

It seems somewhat appropriate that I’m confused, because 2010 sure was a year of confusing things. While Calgary took a few steps forward and elected (by all accounts) progressive lefty Naheed Nenshi, Canada’s first Muslim mayor, Toronto took about fifty steps back and basically elected Rush Limbaugh in the form of anti-homeless, anti-cyclist loudmouth Rob Ford. The City of Montreal, under the direction of Gerald Tremblay, still wants to destroy the Red Light District, at least there was some good news last week that developer Angus may throw in the towel and let the venerable Café Cleopatre continue to exist.

Meanwhile in Quebec, Jean Charest and his cronies (before facing a sham commission) banned the wearing of religious head coverings when trying to use government services and made those services, even those that are supposed to be free, a little more expensive. This drew considerable protest, but you wouldn’t know it by reading The Gazette.

People are not impressed: photo of the anti-Charest budget protest by Chris Zacchia

At least Stephen Harper’s consistently a douchebag. He did up the ante a bit this year, though, by going all police state on peaceful protesters and the City of Toronto during the G20, using tactics that would have made Homeland Security and the CIA under Cheney (er, Bush) blush.

Harper’s new nemisis the UN took a step backwards, too, by condoning the baseless executions of gays and lesbians. At least Haiti decided not to allow Wyclef Jean to run for president, though their elections didn’t go all that smooth, regardless.

The good stuff: Buffalo Infringement Festival photo by Jason C. McLean

Even closer to home, things have been strange. Despite being a fresh, new and alternative media source, we’re still following Justin Beiber on Twitter and last time I checked we’re now following Paris Hilton, too. At least it gives me the opportunity to use the Biebs, Paris, Jean Charest and Islam as keywords in the same post, which is fun.

I did have quite a bit of fun this year, actually and got to report on it, too. From checking out the Brooklyn music scene first hand and getting a sarcastic kick out of the lone tea partier in Times Square to experiencing the unique joy that is the Buffalo Infringement Festival, 2010 has been quite a ride.

I guess my New Year’s resolution (or at least my public one) will have to be focus on the positive, still write about the negative (cause it’s important) and embrace the confusion.

If you visit the House of Commons, your t-shirt could land you in trouble. That is if you wear one that says Greenpeace. Parliament Hill security, which is controlled by the RCMP, has banned anything with a Greenpeace logo on it from the Parliament Buildings in the wake of a recent banner drop by the organization.

Last Monday, approximately 14 Greenpeace activists scaled the roof of the West Block and unfurled a banner criticizing Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff of deadly inaction on climate change, an inaction that has become quite apparent in Copenhagen. The activists, along with others on the ground, were arrested.

While a spokesperson for the Speaker’s Office, which is responsible for Parliament Hill security, told reporters that this blanket ban on all things Greenpeace is merely a matter of security and not different from attempts to ban other types of cause-specific slogans from the observation deck, others disagree. NDP MP Libby Davies brought up the issue of freedom of expression and others feel this new crackdown is overkill.

Consider for a moment the fact that this security breech isn’t the kind that can physically harm anyone (except, of course, for the people who scaled the building). Also consider that people attempting a repeat action or another action and hoping to get away with it probably wouldn’t walk in the front door wearing t-shirts that shout their allegiance to the group that security is looking out for.

Now factor in the recent shouting match Harper spokesman Dimitri Soudas started with the group Equiterre in Copenhagen over a hoax that was later revealed to be done by The Yes Men (gotta love the Yes Men). Also consider the more than an hour-long inquisition of Amy Goodman, a respected journalist at the hands of border guards out of fear that she may speak negatively of the Vancouver Olympics. Throw in for good measure the treatment of Olympic dissenters as a whole.

We’re left with the impression that Canada has a government that is concerned, above all, with protecting its reputation. The tactics they use, however, just serve to make them look like a bunch of goons who will stomp on civil liberties without batting an eyelash. These, ironically, make them look far worse than their policies could.

In North Dakota, there is a town that has its own currency that residents use to purchase locally-grown food.   In Ottawa a man will rent your unused garden space and pay you back with fresh produce.   And in Montreal, a group of people are teaching others how to turn urban space into green space that grows something to eat.   These are three new initiatives that raise the bar on what people can do to help make their lives and the lives of others more sustainable.

Paying rent with vegetables

If you live in the Ottawa area, resident Jesse Boynton Payne wants to transform part of your back yard, front yard or unused lot into a garden and grow food.   In exchange, you get a basket of fresh produce from his company.   He came up with the idea because he wanted to garden and doesn’t have the space himself to do so (he lives in an apartment).

Payne created Vegetable Patch after getting laid off from his job and today they sell fresh, organic produce free of chemical fertilizers locally through their delivery service and give a free weekly basket to those offering up space to them as a garden to tend.   They already have enough space for this year, but plan on using the website to link those with space to offer to others with green thumbs and no spot to use them.

Learning how to garden in an urban setting

In Montreal, Greening Duluth is offering a one-day crash-course for beginners covering everything from caring for plants and an introduction to vegetable families to small space/high-yield garden design.   The course runs next Sunday, April 19th, from 9am to 4pm and costs $48.

This follows a 12-week detailed course on how to turn ordinary urban spaces like fire escapes and rooftops into gardens to grow real produce.   The final project of this course is to turn the parking lot in front of the House of Friendship where Greening Duluth is based into a garden.

Greening Duluth is an organization established to create a sustainable green community in the heart of a major metropolis.   For information or to sign up for the course, you can contact Sarah at urbangardening101@gmail.com

Brother can you spare a plenty

The city of Pittsboro, North Carolina knows a thing or two about sustainability and thinking locally.   They have an eco-industrial park which houses Eastern Carolina Organics, an organic vegetable distributor as well as Piedmont Biofuels and ECO Blend, a bio-herbicide and bio-pesticide company.   There’s also a sustainable farming program at Central Carolina Community College and the Chatham Marketplace, a co-op grocery store which is also the hub of the community.

In 2001, they took the next step: their own currency.   The Pittsboro Plenty currently comes full, half and quarter denominations (the full being the equivalent of $10 US dollars), but they are changing it to be on par with American Federal Reserve notes.   Since their locally-owned bank, Capital Bank, is now going to exchange Plenties for US currency, it looks like more merchants in town will begin to accept it as payment.

“If you buy a book at our locally owned bookstore…the dollar will go round and round and round before it leaves town,” Lyle Estill, author and the founder of Pittsboro Biofuels told Democracy Now!, “if you take that dollar and send it directly to Amazon, it leaves town immediately, never to be seen again.”

An interview with Estill talking about the Plenty and the situation in Pittsboro can be viewed here: