There is a new record label anchored in the creative hub around Mont-Royal ready to bolster local talent. Queen Mary Records is the brainchild of Martin Bradstreet, front man of local psychedelic-rock trio Alexei Martov. Bradstreet and the Queen Mary Records team wanted to put something together for those artists whose talent and craft “was slipping through the cracks every day because they couldn’t find their niche, or didn’t have the infrastructure needed to launch into the public eye.”10887295_909987422347219_3365542263252303480_o

One such artist is prolific multi-instrumentalist Greg McLeod,  whose work is the first that Queen Mary Records is showcasing . Queen Mary Records recently released McLeod’s MB-LP, his 7th album since 2011.

Prior to his current base in Vancouver, McLeod spent many years writing and playing music with pals in local bars like Brutopia, Barfly and Inspecteur Épingle. I crossed paths with McLeod years ago when he co-fronted local hootenanny throwing band The Argyles. Around then, McLeod also played with local acts the Pinyin Pals and Parapraxis – members of which are now in the This Many Boyfriends Club.

In 2012, McLeod moved homeward to Vancouver by touring his then latest album Mean Times alongside Alexei Martov. Once in Vancouver, he readied himself and began work on a series of five projected albums.

All the while, McLeod continued exploring different styles and instruments touring with acts like Jordan Klassen and a stint with The Oh Wells. He took some “time off” working on his solo albums to score a musical for the Toronto Fringe Festival. Currently, Greg McLeod plays in Good For Grapes who won the Peak Performance Project in November 2014.

MB-LB is McLeod’s strongest album to date. Like his previous albums, McLeod wrote, performed and produced the whole thing in his bedroom. With his previous (and fifth) album Little Gwaii (2013), McLeod ventured away from the more folk and garage driven rock music he’d been making and dove into more alternative forms of pop rock: the world of live-looping, found sound, and combining spoken word with hip hop.

With MB-LB McLeod explores these new songwriting techniques even further. 11004285_10152725995607194_896755687_nHowever, MB-LP continues building on the common thread present in all of McLeod’s work: an exploration of diverse and differing human experiences.

Indeed, MB-LP is a fun sociological and musical experiment whose songs explore the worlds of distinct personality types (according to the Myer-Briggs test). Each song is a different style or genre based on McLeod’s research on the sixteen Myer-Briggs personality types. Lyrics were written based on McLeod’s observations of about eighty persons he knew and whom he had take the test.

Despite the eclectic nature of these songs, MB-LB is McLeod’s most coherent album in terms of track strength: with half the songs being strong enough to hold the status of single. The flow from one song to the other is rather seamless and the entirety of the album is engaging.

Five of the sixteen tracks on MB-LP are standouts:

5. ISFP (Disappear) is smooth rap-like spoken word track with a fun horn chorus.

4. INFP (Halo) is a catchy pop rock ballad with spoken word delivered confessions.

3. ESTP (Come With Me) is a seductive dance anthem from the perspective of someone who ‘goes hard’ and talks a big game.

2. INFJ (In a Dream) is a softer and simpler melodic track with a poetic charm exploring the mysteries of the subconscious and the perils of having a body.

1. ISFJ (Angels in the Dust) is a darkly sweet end of the world lullaby that is quite fun to harmonize with.

For more information check out Queen Mary Records’ websitetheir Facebook page and Greg McLeod’s Bandcamp

*Featured photo by Braeden Klassen

Last Friday in a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously that prohibiting Insite, the safe injection clinic, to operate under an exemption from drug laws would be a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Written by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, the ruling said “Insite saves lives. Its benefits have been proven. There has been no discernible negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada during its eight years of operation.” The SCOC ordered the federal minister of health  Leona Aglukkaq to grant an immediate exemption to allow Insite to operate.

The court said similarly that if Insite wasn’t allowed to operate, it would prevent injection drug users from accessing the health services offered at the facility, threatening their health and their lives. The bottom line: to deny access to Insite is to deny access to health care. The ruling paves the way for more safe injection clinics to open up across the country without the fear of clients and staff being arrested.

The ruling comes as a slap in the face to Prime Minister Harper and his anti-crime agenda. The Conservative government has been trying to shut the site down since it came to power five years ago. Aglukkaq said Friday that the government’s investments are targeted at prevention and treatment, but that fact runs contrary to the Conservatives’ crime bill that would introduce tough new laws for simple possession.

If Harper and his Conservative Government were actually committed to prevention and treatment they should have supported clinics like Insite from the get go. In Insite’s surrounding neighborhoods during its eight years of operation, addicts that have started seeking treatment have gone up 30%. It is far more altruistic and cost effective to treat those trying to quit than to lock them up and throw away the key.

Regardless of what people’s opinion might be on the treatment of drug addicts, the Supreme Court made it quite clear that the main issue was safety. In Canada, healthcare is considered by most to be a basic human right; therefore the government (provincial and federal) should be compelled not only to support safe injection clinics, but to help fund them as well.

Inside Insite

Over the past eight years, Insite nurses have overseen more than a million safe injections resulting in 1400 overdoses, but not one user has died as a result. What cost can you put on fourteen hundred lives? According to Health Canada, Insite costs about $3 million annually to operate or $14.00 per visit. 80% of visitors go for safe injections and 20% for counseling.

If you think $3 million dollars a year is excessive, consider this; according to the US National Library of Medicine, if Insite were closed, the annual number of incident HIV infections among Vancouver IDUs would be expected to increase from 179.3 to 262.8. These 83.5 preventable infections are associated with $17.6 million in life-time HIV-related medical care costs, greatly exceeding Insite’s operating costs.

To summarize; safe injection sites save lives, saves money, reduces the spread of disease, keeps the streets cleaner and helps those who are trying to quit. How could any God fearing conservative be opposed to such an economic and ethical cause as Insite? I’m at least pleased to see that the Supreme Court of Canada can still put logic in front of ideology, unlike some of our politicians.

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After our first encounter with E Hastings St. (known by some as Vancouver’s Skid Row), my friend and I agreed—no storyteller possessed the ability to successfully describe the habitants without sounding guilty of hyperbole, so I’ll refrain from dragging on with details. Though with that said, a basic summary is in order.

A deprived crowd lines the street, consisting of burn victims, penny-bag dealers (oregano, maybe catnip?), and shriveled bodies decomposing under the August sun, all with a shared affinity for heroin and an aversion to the “conformists” (e.g., myself, along with my associates). Imagine Jodie Foster walking past the criminally insane inmates in Silence of the Lambs, only without the bars and, ignoring redundancy, more heroin.

In honesty, E Hastings is a depressing representation of the consequences of a social hierarchy, exposing how far a life can fall. Weaving through the natives can be a mentally-draining activity, with most barely standing up (really, in defiance of God), and the few able-bodied individuals exhibiting a penchant for prolonged, unsettling eye contact—at which point, you (the middle-class tourist) realize you just may have inadvertently been involved in this injustice, or at least in juxtaposition, are a spoiled, over-privileged slacker—and if you dare return the eye contact, realize they know it too.

But of course, a willful blindness is expected.

If at all possible, E Hastings is avoided by vacationers and functioning locals—though in the case of myself and associates, frugality (as in the desire for a $39 hotel) ranks as a priority unfortunately above sleeping space (105 ft ² for four males) and cleanliness (post-coitus, unwashed sheets).

All this considered, the absurdity of cramming the four of us into the smallest room offered by a Budget Inn is shadowed by the decision to stay on the street for a drink (rather than bus as far away as possible).

Somewhere in the heart of E Hastings, there stands a dive bar known as the Grand Union; and with the addition of cowboy hats and superseding alcohol for heroin, the clientele inside the bar somewhat typifies the people outside.

Upon the entrance of four relatively well-dressed college kids, the remarkably photogenic David Lynch characters all decide to suspend their activity only to stare in confusion. Downing $12 pitchers on stained couches in the middle of the room, the undergrads attempt to appear comfortable, but the crowd is far too observant to let the social-disparity remain unnoticed.

Cue Granny, adorned in a velvet one-piece, as she approaches the table demanding hugs and photos. Her lack of a camera is perplexing, but the students oblige—snapping endless photos with an out-of-place smartphone (example: below).

Cue Granny’s slightly-less-drunk daughter, as she transforms the Kodak moment(s) into an unanticipated drug deal (a reminder of the abject nature of E Hastings).

Though the price is right to smoke with an inebriated Granny (or Willie, as she’s mistakenly referred to for several blurred minutes) and her middle-aged daughter, partaking does not seem to be a good decision (again: oregano, maybe catnip?)—so two of the students duck out, while another (who apparently went to the bathroom several minutes ago) still has not returned, and the fourth (present writer) digests the temporary abandonment.

He (the fourth) bee-lines for the door, only to be accosted by Granny & Co. as they attempt to schedule the rest of the night with him, resulting in an overwhelming desire to escape, which causes him to belittle his existing company by informing them that his friend is waiting for Granny in the bathroom, then scampering away from the (understandably) disgruntled response.

After I exited the Grand Union and reunited with my friends, a wave of regret took hold, leading to a series of rhetorical questions which, in hindsight, could all be answered the same way… with the words printed on the street sign above.

George Orwell was right when he said Big Brother was watching us, but it doesn’t seem to be the government as much as ourselves. This past week, social media has proven that we must be careful in what we do and say. We can become the laughing stock of the world or capture its imagination.

With a camera being built in almost every gadget known to man these days, it is almost impossible to hide. Chances are whether you know it or not, your mug shot is in the background of dozens of photos taken by strangers using regular cameras, camera phones, traffic cameras, etc. The only sure way to avoid becoming part of a file on some guy’s computer is to be invisible.

Last week we all witnessed what happened in Vancouver following the Canucks loss to the Boston Bruins in game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Riots quickly broke out downtown leaving more than 150 people injured, more than 50 businesses damaged, 15 cars destroyed and at least 14 officers with minor injuries.

Most people present during the unrest were not causing damage, but almost no one could resist the opportunity to pose proudly for a picture in front of a burning car. Whether or not they were responsible for torching the car, they might as well have been telling everyone (including police) “Hey guys, look what I did!”

For the miscreants that did take part in the destruction and looting, it won’t be long until the police come knocking on your door thanks to images and video clips uploaded to Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, not to mentioned some idiotic ramblings on Facebook bragging about the crimes their authors have committed.

How stupid can you get

Vancouver Police requested that the public send or post pictures so that they can be used to prosecute the offenders, naturally they have received plenty. Vancouver 2011 Riot Criminal List alone has gathered tons of videos and photos depicting those who started fights, flipped cars, set fires and looted stores. In the future if you decide to loot, you might not want to be seen smiling with your face exposed and your arms full as you exit London Drugs.

Not only is social media working in favor of the police, but it also is helping to clean up the downtown core. The riot wasn’t even under control yet when Facebook events started to appear calling for everyone to go downtown Thursday morning to help clean up the mess.  “Post-Riot Clean-up: Let’s Help Vancouver” quickly drew over twelve thousand people and sure enough the masses have been pouring in to volunteer the last few days. All it takes is one man opening a page on Facebook for the rest of us to get inspired and do something.

Speaking of inspired, without all the little brothers out there with cameras last Wednesday night we might not have gotten to see the kiss. Alex Thomas and Scott Jones are now world famous for their viral photograph of them lying on the ground kissing while surrounded by riot police. The Australian Jones was apparently trying to calm down his Canadian girlfriend when the picture was taken. It is one of the best authentic images I’ve ever seen.

Heaven in Hell

Social Media outlets clearly played a key role in the Vancouver riots, much like the Iranian protests that followed the re-election  President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009; social media played a key factor in its organization and its crackdown. At least in Vancouver’s case the only losers are actual losers.

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Since opening in 2003, Canada’s first safe-injection site has been at the heart of controversy. Vancouver’s Downtown-Eastside facility Insite has been the subject of media and medical praise, and Montreal’s very own Cactus-Montreal can’t wait to open its own safe-injection site facilities.

Simply put, a safe injection site is a supervised clinic-like environment that provides intravenous-drug users a safe place to go and sterilized tools for their addiction. Using Insite as an example, the facilities have adjoining rehabilitation programs to help people quit their addictions. Plans to open safe-injection sites in Montreal and Quebec city are already in the works courtesy of Cactus-Montreal.

On the national front, the subject of Vancouver’s safe-injection site has reached heated proportions. Provincial governmental supporters of Insite claim the facility falls under provincial health jurisdiction and greatly benefits the community while the federal government ultimately believes the facility is a federal matter and wants it shut down to ensure that others aren’t opened anywhere else in Canada. These differences are the subject of a supreme court case initiated by the Federal government that will reach a verdict in May 2011.

Despite praise from the national medical and social working communities and facts yielded by multiple recent studies in terms of individual benefits (reduced risk of overdose and spread of blood-transmitted infections) and community benefits (increased community safety, easy access to drug rehabilitation programs for addicts), establishing a place like Insite anywhere else in Canada has been met with resistance. The Government claims that not enough evidence is available to prove that Insite or safe injection sites in general are truly helping communities. At this point, Quebec Health Minister Yves Bolduc is waiting for the supreme court ruling about Insite to be announced later this spring before he yay-or-nays Cactus-Montreal’s plan to open safe-injection sites in the province.

It baffles me that the debate about the effectiveness of safe-injection sites continues as if there wasn’t enough proof that they are advantageous to everyone. Vancouver’s headlines on this topic say a lot: “Safe-injection site slashes fatal overdoses” and “BC safe injection site saves lives.”

Not only that, but Insite keeps the downtown community safer. The Insite website states that 73% of their clients have injected in public before having access to the facility. This fact strikes home for me considering the number of times I’ve walked past used syringes in parks and on the street in Montreal. Just two days ago, I saw a used syringe in front of me on the metro tracks. Having a safe-injection site in Montreal could help centralize used-needle disposal and reduce the stray-needle problem in public areas, among many other individual and community benefits.

Obviously, I’m looking forward to what Bolduc will have to say in May. More to come on this in the near future! In the meantime, take a look inside Vancouver’s Insiteand tell me what you think about having something like this in Montreal!

Images: The Somerville News Blog and The National Post