Sara Tilley on Crosstalk

    Posted on: Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Sara Tilley is on CBC Radio Noon’s Crosstalk program right now to talk about date rape drugs. She was drugged two weeks ago while dancing at Distortion.

We’re really proud of Sara for speaking out about what happened to her. Her story has encouraged a lot of important media coverage of the issue.

Here’s a little list of some of those stories:

Woman suspects she was drugged in George Street bar, CBC
“I didn’t know where I was, what I was doing, but I was still mobile and able to speak. So, if I hadn’t been there with my friends it would have been very easy to manipulate me wherever you wanted me to go.”

George Street bartender says drug assaults not unusual, CBC
“However, an RNC spokesperson said complaints from bar customers about being drugged are rare. Chisholm speculated that’s because victims are embarrassed or not really sure what happened to them.”

‘Predatory drugs’ in bars pose problems, police warn, CBC
“The gentleman had a syringe, he had a bottle of GHB, and he simply was asking people, patrons of the club, ‘How many millilitres do you want to buy?’ They gave him the response, he drew that up into a syringe, and then dispensed it in a glass.”

Drugging Drinks, an editorial from The Telegram
“The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary issued a news release warning people about the problem and offering the usual warnings: have friends watch your drinks when you are in the washroom; don’t leave beverages unattended; don’t accept drinks from strangers; make sure you see your drink from the time that it’s being poured to the point when it reaches your hand. It’s all good advice, but it’s also about making potential victims responsible for the actions of others.”

Blaming the victim, The Scope’s Rant Farm (note that this is a reader-submitted rant, not an editorial by Scope writers/staff)
“I am appalled at the number of instances of drugs being slipped into drinks at George Street bars. What is even more appalling, though, is the number of people who place the blame on the men and women who are being drugged.”

You can hear Sara, along with Leslie McLeod of Marguerite’s Place, on Crosstalk at 12:35 pm today.

Downtown Community Watch St. John’s, a community-based initiative set up to address the problem of downtown druggings, is looking for people who have been drugged or have experienced drug-related assault. Check out their website for more information.

Important deadlines comin’ up!

    Posted on: Monday, January 21st, 2013

Because January and February are the perfect sort of months to write grant applications, and because today is Blue Monday (and not the New Order kind but, hey, who’s up for a dance party?) here’s a whack of deadlines for you:

– January 31st is the deadline to apply for the City of St. John’s Grants to Artists and Arts Organizations.

– The NLAC’s Professional Festivals Program deadline is February 15th.

– The NLAC’s Professional Projects Grants deadline is March 15th for projects starting on or after May 15th.

– The CineCoup Film Accelerator Program deadline is February 17th. Here’s the lowdown: Teams of three with a film trailer and $150 can sign up for CineCoup’s film accelerator program, wherein they’ll learn how to promote the heck out of their film, improve the script and the idea, and start building a following for the film on social media channels. After 17 weeks, one team will win up to $1 million in funding and their film will be released in Cineplex Odeon theatres. Not bad! You can read about it in this article from the Globe and Mail called “Is social media the answer for Canada’s indie filmmakers?”

The Nickel Film Festival’s final deadline is February 22nd.

The Island Media Arts Festival is a swiftly-growing film festival in Charlottetown, PEI, and they’re accepting submissions until February 15th.

And seriously, I’m not kidding about that dance party.

Businesses stepping up for the arts

    Posted on: Friday, January 18th, 2013

There were two huge and encouraging announcements about private funding of local arts organizations this week.

On Tuesday, the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council held a press conference at the Christina Parker Gallery to announce new and expanded partnerships with Cox & Palmer, Fortis Properties, Memorial University, and the CBC. That’s a picture of NLAC Chair Tom Gordon delivering the news. Cox & Palmer, MUN and the CBC are also huge supporters of the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival.

On Wednesday, the LSPU Hall announced a new partnership with Exxon Mobil that will inject $30,000 into the Resource Centre for the Arts for the operation of the Hall and the production of new plays.

It’s fantastic to see the private sector stepping up to support the arts like this, especially as public funding to the arts seems to be diminishing: last year, funding to the NLAC was cut by $33,000.

Each year the NLAC holds a gala event during which they announce the recipients of their Arts Awards. Those recipients get a cash prize and a piece of art, both of which the NLAC used to pay for (except the CBC Emerging Artist of the Year, which the CBC has always funded). This year, local businesses are covering the costs for the cash prize and the art awarded, allowing the NLAC to put that money back into their programs.

The Fortis Properties Hall of Honour Award will give two artists a $1,000 piece of art each, and $2,500 each*. Previously, the NLAC awarded two artists a $500 piece of art.

The Memorial University Arts in Education Award and the Cox & Palmer Arts Achievement Award will both put $2,500 into an artist’s pocket and a $1,000 piece of art on their walls. The NLAC used to give a $2,000 cash prize and a $500 art prize for each.

The CBC also bumped up its support for the CBC Emerging Artist of the Year Award, putting the cash prize at $2,500 and the art prize at $1,000.

All this is allowing the NLAC to put $6,000 back into their programs.

Reg Winsor, the NLAC’s executive director, says they’ll keep funding the Artist of the Year and the Patron of the Year Awards, though they have been looking for an Artist of the Year Award sponsor.

Here’s what else he had to say about it all:

“Our goal, actually, is to get a sponsor for the entire show. We spend roughly $60,000 to $65,000 on the entire production of the awards show depending on whether we’re in St. John’s or out of town, and that includes the awards. If we can get a sponsor for the awards show itself, we’d be looking at at least $50,000 that could go back into our programs.”

Were the budget cuts to the NLAC the impetus for setting up these partnerships?

“Yes and no. We had a reduction last year and quite honestly, looking forward, there seems that there will be no increases. But we recognize too that the cost of the Arts Awards have kept increasing over the years and part of this is that we’re doing the show outside of St. John’s and we don’t have the CBC on with the live production. When we did the consultation about this two years ago we asked the community about it and they said they wanted us to keep doing the Arts Awards. What the Board decided was that we really need to find avenues to have whatever we need for the arts awards to come through some sponsorships. That way, we could put the money back into the projects grants.”

“And you know, even with the increases that we’ve had over the years, we have about four times the amount requested [from the grants programs] that we have to award, so there’s a huge demand on the programs. So, if we’re able to put money back into the programs, it’s going to make a huge difference.”

Telefilm Canada also announced a pretty cool funding venture with the private sector after the Harper government slashed their funding. You can read about it here.

*Please note that I just (January 23rd) added in the cash prize awarded to winners of the Fortis Hall of Honour Award.

Go see People of a Feather.

    Posted on: Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

People of a Feather will be at Empire Theatres at the Avalon Mall for one extra screening on January 17th, at 7 p.m. Don’t miss this doc! It’s also playing in Mount Pearl at Empire Theatres Mount Pearl Square, Friday Jan 18th – Thurs Jan 24th, 7 & 9:15 pm Daily, plus weekend matinees.

Friends, there’s one other thing you should do before this storm hits: go see People of a Feather.

It’s incredible. And it’s only playing at the mall until tomorrow night.

Inspired by films like Baraka and Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, People of a Feather says more with images and sound than it does with words. It’s a documentary about the Inuit of the Belcher Islands, near James Bay, and their relationship with the eider duck. Save for narration here and there, there aren’t any formal interviews or talking heads in the film; if there are voices at all, they arise through conversation and action.

But mostly, you’re pulled through a compelling narrative by time-lapse images of the Arctic. It’s an impressive accomplishment.

Eider ducks live up in Hudson Bay all year round. They mostly hang out in big gashes in the sea ice, diving down to the bottom of the ocean to grab sea urchins, which they eat. Whole. In one swallow.

Shown through (strictly non-cheesy) reenactments, the Inuit of 100 years ago used the ducks for food and clothes — they made soft, warm jackets from the feathers to keep them warm when they hunted seal. Today, they still eat the ducks and use their down to stuff jackets. But today, the ducks aren’t as healthy or as plentiful.

That’s mostly because of hydroelectric power — specifically, a series of hydroelectric dams belonging to Quebec near the James Bay watershed. In the winter, when people in Quebec are cranking up the heat and requiring more power, the dams open up and warm fresh water gushes out, seeping out onto the sea ice. That water freezes quickly, and it freezes over the big gaps in the sea ice. The ducks wind up piling into tiny cracks, and having to dive farther and farther out to find urchins.

In one gut-wrenching underwater scene, we see a duck desperately trying to poke its head back up through ice to get some air. Exhausted, it finally dies.

The director, Joel Heath, is now working with the Arctic Eider Society to encourage the decision-makers behind Muskrat Falls to look at incorporating hydrogen fuel technology into the project. Iceland, for example, captures power at hydroelectric dams and converts it to hydrogen fuel, stored in cells. Those cells then fuel Iceland’s cargo ships.

Heath is originally from St. John’s, and he was up there doing research for his PhD on the eider ducks and the sea ice. A long-time photographer, he built a special underwater camera to take footage of the ducks diving for urchin, which the BBC wound up using. He’s been working on the doc for almost ten years and it’s paid off: it screened at HotDocs, and has won major awards for direction and cinematography.

I caught up with Heath yesterday to talk about the film. Sadly, my recorder died today (R.I.P., little guy) and I only had a small part of our conversation transcribed. Here it is, though — Joel Heath on Idle No More:

With Idle No More happening, it’s really crazy seeing underneath the layers of people’s perspectives on First Nations. So, I think it’s really important to show, as the film shows, that their culture being alive and that they have an economy and they’re living off the land, and the resources around them are really important. To show that they’re not all just drunks and staying home, they’re out there bringing back food to the community, and it’s local free-range organic food. They’re living sustainably, and we have a lot to learn about being local and sustainable from these communities, and actually having an economy that’s linked to our local resources. And their innovation, they’re such amazing craftsmen. In the film, you see them making harpoon heads, making rope out of seal — their skills are so amazing, and they’re still alive and well.

I imagine you’re pretty close with a lot of the Inuit people in your film after working with them for so long. How do they feel about Idle No More? From my perspective, it seems like it could be revolutionary, and really bring about a lot of change. Do they feel that way?

I think so. There has been some good coverage, they’re really getting the word out, but the amazing thing has been all the ignorant and racist comments coming back on everything. But that shows how people in Canada just really don’t have any idea about what’s going on. So that’s why I think it’s really important to get a film like this out there, and show the other side, because people only see the bad news.

Here‘s a link to an article in The Telegram with more information and here is the Facebook event page for the St. John’s screenings.

Manufacturing controversy: CBC’s thermography story – who’s deceiving who?

    Posted on: Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

A few weeks ago in late November, CBC’s Here and Now presented an investigative report on thermography.

Sort of.

It wasn’t really about thermography. I mean, they didn’t look into thermography in any great detail. What they did instead was focus in on the only clinic in the province that offers thermographic breast cancer screening services, and did their level best to rake them over the coals for it.

I’m not going to spend any real time debating the potential merits of thermography here. But I will say, while the jury is still out on its usefulness here in Canada as a breast health screening tool, it has already been approved for such use and is regulated in several other developed nations, including the United States. The key thing about that is, thermography in the US can’t be used or advertised as the sole method for screening for breast cancer. It’s what is known as an adjunct service. In countries such as the US, thermography does not replace mammography, but it can be used to seek additional information about the health of a woman’s breasts.

You wouldn’t know that from watching CBC’s investigation, though. While they did feature two Canadian breast cancer experts who testified against thermography’s effectiveness, never was it mentioned that thermography has been approved for use in other parts of the world, including our neighbour to the south. If there’s one idea this investigative report really wanted to prime the viewer with, it’s that thermography doesn’t work. A bit selective with their facts, maybe, but this for me was not the most concerning aspect of this investigative report.

The report spends most of its time building a house of cards wherein they want you to believe that Avalon Laser Health Clinic is misleading patients about the intended use of thermography as a tool for breast cancer screening. The only problem is, they have no proof that this is actually taking place – because it isn’t. So instead, they go to great lengths assembling all the usual sites and sounds of a hard-hitting investigative report. There’s the ominous sounding score, the darkened lighting, the tinted camera effects, and the clincher: an undercover patient who goes into the clinic for a thermographic exam.

And uncovers nothing. But you wouldn’t think that prior to seeing the footage, when reporter Amy Stoodley tells the viewer, “They say it’s only additional information, but we wanted to be sure. So we sent our undercover agent to Avalon Laser Health to find out what actually happens.”

Several prolonged minutes and one entire commercial break later (the report is conveniently split into two segments), nothing happens.

The sting turns out to be a bust. Everything the patient was told is everything the clinic has always said in public, that they offer the service as additional information and that it is not a replacement for other breast exams – indeed, the undercover patient even signed a standard consent form stating as much. But the viewers at home never get to hear or see any of this – if it was caught on tape, they never bothered to include it in the report. Instead, we get a shaky camera with a tinted lens walking down a corridor and muffled voices going over mundane test results. It’s all sizzle and no substance. But we still walk away with the sense of something covert taking place. The undercover footage has served its purpose, at least from an editorial perspective – it leaves the viewer with the impression that something worth going undercover for is taking place here. When it isn’t.

Then there’s the video on the clinic’s website that the report compares to an online video in the US that was taken down by the FDA. The report refers to the FDA-offending video as a “similar video” that made “the same claims” as the clinic’s video. Only that isn’t entirely true. The video in the US taken down by the FDA was done so specifically because it made the claim that thermography could be used in place of mammography for a breast exam – which, as I explained earlier, is not allowed. The clinic’s video, on the other hand, actually states clearly in a slide that lasts for 35 seconds that a thermogram is not a replacement for a mammogram. Again, the CBC report doesn’t tell you this, and instead cherry picks images and text from the video out of context for maximum shock value.

They even went so far as to try and make the clinic’s owner, Clare Barry, appear to be lying about a statement she makes in the report that frequent mammograms can increase a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer. Her claim is indeed a well documented fact. However, when Miss Barry says this, the footage is digitally zoomed in again and again and again on her lips as she speaks the words. Then breast cancer expert Dr. Nancy Wadden is shown saying that this is “incorrect advice” and “false advertising”. What exactly she’s referring to is unclear, but the connection the audience is being asked to make is that she’s responding to Miss Barry’s claim – a claim that is indeed factual and true.

Dr. Wadden, who created our province’s breast screening program, claims at one point that thermography patients are “clogging up” her ultrasound and mammogram list. But what we aren’t told is that in the past two and a half years just seven thermography patients have been sent for further breast screening. Again, it’s all about what they’re not telling you.

What this investigative report really lacks is a smoking gun. There’s no sign of anyone from Avalon Laser Health Clinic telling a patient, undercover or otherwise, that thermography is a replacement for mammography – because they don’t do that, and are explicit in telling their patients about the limits of thermography. There’s no interview with any women who were told by the clinic that thermography is a replacement for mammography – because no such woman exists. There’s nothing to really pin on anyone here, aside from some claims made by a couple of Canadian cancer experts that thermography doesn’t work, which contradicts the established practices of other developed nations, including the United States.

Without anything substantial to give this story any real purpose, what we instead get is a lot of smoke and mirrors, ample suggestion and even some clever misdirection. The report is so well put together that by the end it’s almost impossible to tell that nothing has come of it. Unless you count the damage it’s done.

This report has seriously damaged the entire reputation of Avalon Laser Health Clinic, its staff and its services, where thermography makes up less than one half of a percent of their business. By offering thermography as a breast screening service, Avalon Laser Health Clinic was following in a long line of other clinics across Canada, and clinics around the world where thermography has already been approved and regulated for use. Unfortunately for women in Canada, this country has yet to catch up with the rest of the world. And CBC’s Here and Now report seized on that opportunity to attack Avalon Laser Health Clinic for essentially trying to give women more choice in their approach to monitoring the health of their breasts.

Now Avalon Laser Health Clinic, its owner, Clare Barry, and its many staff are suffering for it, both financially and emotionally. As Miss Barry explained to me over e-mail, this experience has shattered her.

I urge anyone who saw this report when it originally aired to watch it again online and decide for yourself who is really doing the deceiving here. The CBC would like you to believe it’s the subject in front of the lens, Avalon Laser Health Clinic, but it should be clear to anyone after a second viewing that the real deception is taking place behind the lens at the CBC.

You can view the video online by clicking here.

I hope you’ll agree that CBC’s Here and Now owe Avalon Laser Health Clinic a heartfelt apology and a highly visible, well advertised retraction for the false claims and suggestions they made against them in their report.

One final note: Throughout the day yesterday I tried getting a response from the CBC about some of my concerns with their investigative report, but I got stonewalled. I contacted the investigation’s reporter, Amy Stoodley, with a list of questions I was hoping to have answered for inclusion in this piece, but was eventually told that she was not permitted to comment on the story – though she did say she was happy with the story’s outcome. After further inquiry she suggested I try Peter Gullage, Executive Director of CBC News, NL, whom I contacted with the same list of questions. I received a curt reply from Mr. Gullage, asking who I was and who I wrote for. I explained myself fully, and followed up with another inquiry before the end of the day, but I never heard back from him.