SLAV at the Jazz Fest
This summer’s Montreal Jazz Fest faced intense international controversy for its support, and production, of SLAV, a musical described as a “theatrical odyssey based on slave songs”, featuring white creators and mainly white actors. Due to the violent history behind the show’s subject matter, the lack of Black representation in the performance caused outcry and sparked protests. In creating the show, Robert LePage and Betty Bonifassi, consulted artists of colour and were encouraged to include more artists of colour in the show, yet did not follow these recommendations. One reviewer for the Montreal Gazette commented, “[the performers] wearing scarves in their hair and flowing skirts, mimed picking cotton; and that’s where things began to fall apart. Accepting the image of white women picking cotton requires a significant degree of cognitive dissonance. It was but the first of many such instances.”
The following protests lead some showgoers to accuse protesters of threatening free speech, telling them to instead focus on the art. The same reviewer had comments on this matter as well: “This is not a comment on their talent but their skin colour, which pretty much disqualifies them from credibly portraying black slaves.”
SLAV’s remaining performances were cancelled at the Montreal Jazz Festival after the controversial show quickly gained widespread attention and even caused some performers to withdraw from the festival in protest.
The show is still scheduled to be performed early next year in other parts of Quebec.
Floods in Kerala
Kerala, a state located in south-western India, is practically underwater, new NASA satellite images show. Since August 8, the Indian state of Kerala has experienced a particularly horrendous spell of monsoon rain, wherein the state receivied one third more than usual precipitation, and subsequent flooding. Over 400 people have lost their lives in the flooding epidemic, with close to a million others displaced. Rescue operations have since ended but significant funds are needed to start rebuilding and rehabilitating the land. In line with Kerala and India’s past actions during natural disasters, the government is denying any and all offers of foreign aid, a move which local officials are condemning, considering the level of damage in the area. Instead, the government of Kerala has set up The Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund for civilian donations.
It is expected that Kerala will continue to suffer damages both physically and financially. Farming, construction, and tourism were all put on hold during the height of flooding, and the state’s largest airport in Kochi was shut down for a number of weeks, only recently resuming service. In comments made to Reuters, the State Financial Minister of Kerala T.M. Thomas Isaac said he expected GDP for the area to drop by 2%. It is estimated that the tourism industry, responsible for roughly 10% of the state’s economy and 25% of the state’s jobs, will suffer a $357 million loss as a result of the flood. The Chief Minister of Kerala now believes that the original estimate of $2.8 billion (USD) for damages and repairs across the province will not be enough to rectify the trauma.
Student protests in Bangladesh
Two students died in a violent bus crash in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, on July 29. The tragedy has since caused outrage, prompting other students to organize protests over the condition of the country’s roads. The accident in question occurred when a speeding bus from a privately owned company ran into a group of students, killing two, and injuring many others. Accidents like this are not uncommon in Bangladesh; the World Health Organization estimates that around 300,000 people die in road accidents in the nation each year. In protest of the bus crash and the general unsafety of the roads, students in Dhaka protested these conditions by taking over the streets, only letting emergency vehicles through and making sure that all drivers are in possession of a license. Despite the success of these students, reports say that during their takeover congestion in the city dramatically decreased, the Bangladeshi Government is outraged at their conduct, using violent measures to “control the problem”.
In early August, authorities resorted to beating protesters with batons, even using water cannons and tear gas on student demonstrators outside Dhaka University. A prominent journalist, Shahidul Alam, has also been arrested for his comments made in support of the protests and against the government. Alam is now coming forward with allegations that he was tortured by authorities while in custody. Activists are concerned that if authorities continue abusing students on the street, this abuse will continue while protesters are held in custody.
While the government of Bangladesh is not in support of the students and their actions, they recently tabled a new piece of legislation including some of the demands put forward by the student protesters called The Road Transport Act 2018, which is now awaiting legislative approval.
The protests ended August 6, and while during the height of the action roads were deemed safer, since the dispersion of demonstrators, some say that the roads have reverted back to their original, dangerous condition. Bangladesh’s National Committee to Protect Shipping, Roads, and Railways reports that between July 29 and August 27, 282 road accidents were recorded resulting in 315 deaths and 819 injuries.
Canada-Saudi Arabia human rights dispute
On August 2, Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s Minister of foreign affairs tweeted her shock over Saudi Arabia’s arrest of women’s rights activist Samar Badawi. Badawi’s brother, Raif Badawi, also an activist, has been detained since 2012. In her tweet she expressed her anger over the situation and called for the release of both the siblings. “Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi,” wrote Freeland. The following day both The Canadian Foreign Ministry and the Canadian Embassy in Saudi Arabia also shared tweets with similar sentiments to Freeland’s. On August 5 the Kingdom’s Foreign Ministry responded, also via Twitter, saying Canada had a “negative” attitude and was “interfering with the internal affairs of the Kingdom”. The ministry further declared that no new trade or investments will be made with Canada and tweeting the exile of Canada’s ambassador to the country, demanding that he leave within the next 24 hours. The Saudi government has also suspended all flights to Toronto, withdrawn support for over 15,000 students studying in Canada with the exception of medical students who are allowed temporary stay in the country , and is moving all Saudi patients receiving treatment in Canada to other countries.
Canada has stood behind its claims and has recently gained international support through a letter signed by numerous international dignitaries. As Saudi Arabia plans to behead a female activist for the first time in the Kingdom’s history, Canada is standing by Freeland’s original comments, with Prime Minister Trudeau saying in a press conference: “Canadians have always expected our government to speak strongly, firmly and politely about the need to respect human rights around the world. We will continue to stand up for Canadian values and human rights.”
There is no word yet on if Canada will make an attempt to withdraw from its existing arms deal with Saudi Arabia.
Doug Ford, leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, became the new premier of Ontario following the party’s majority election win on June 7 of this year. The election of Ford disrupted the consecutive 15 years of Liberal government in Ontario, ousting Kathleen Wynne as Premier. The Liberal party, for the first time in 161 years, did not win enough seats to maintain party status, winning only seven seats across the province. The NDP, led by Andrea Horvath is now the official opposition party.
Ford, during the campaign did not provide a fiscal platform like the other candidates, instead offered a list of promises with a focus on restoring “respect for the taxpayers”.
Since his election, Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservatives have followed through on a few of their promises. Highlights of the Ford Government’s actions include: the cancelling of municipal elections for the Regional Chair position across the province, the termination of Ontario’s Basic Income Project, withdrawing from Ontario’s cap and trade program and related energy programs, and reverting back to the province’s 1998 sex-ed curriculum instead of using the controversial 2015 version. Most recently, Ford introduced the Buck-A-Beer program, one of the main policies of Ford’s campaign, which would mandate the lowest price for a can of beer to be $1, with incentives for breweries to offer beer at this price.