Monthly Archives: June 2010

There’s something about Terra

My little brother graduated from high school last week.

Well, actually, he didn’t graduate from high school, he just had his graduation ceremony. Because graduation ceremonies happen before final exams are graded (or even during the school year, with classes still to come), students are put through a ceremony and given a fake diploma as they cross the stage to shake hands with their principal. The real diploma comes later, unceremoniously, in the mail. Unless they failed, of course, at which point the ceremony becomes meaningless.

Anyway, after the ceremony, my brother began his summer vacation with his grandmother off-island, and since it was late and I was in the West Island, I decided to stay the night, sleeping in his room.

I noticed above his bed was a poster of the planets (including Pluto, though with a note about its current status) by a company called Eurographics. Each planet on the poster included scientific details about it, such as how many moons it has, what its gravity is and what its average temperature is.

I looked at the one for “Terra” (names are in Latin, while other information uses pictograms so it can be understood in different languages). Something there just didn’t seem right.

Can you point it out?

UPDATE: You folks are fast, and you’re all right. Apparently the fine folks behind this poster got oxygen (O2) confused with carbon dioxide (CO2). Carbon dioxide represents about 0.04% of Earth’s atmosphere, and would be lethal at 20%, particularly if there’s no oxygen to breathe.

Alex Norris wants to go tie-less

Video: Alex Norris won’t wear a tie (18:22)

Alex Norris is on a mission. The former journalist, elected as a member of Projet Montréal in the last election as a city councillor representing the Plateau, is fighting what he considers an archaic unwritten rule of Montreal’s city council that sets minimum standards for “decorum” including the fact that all male councillors must wear a tie.

At the council meeting last week, Norris rose to debate a point about the city’s democratic process (namely the fact that people need to be registered to vote well in advance of voting day, something he considers undemocratic), when immediately councillors from the governing Union Montreal party rose up to object that he wasn’t following the rules.

This wasn’t the first time that Norris showed up without a tie, and council chair Claude Dauphin had made it clear at the April meeting that the rules would be enforced – meaning Norris would be expelled until he put a tie on.

It might have ended as simply as that, except Dauphin wasn’t chairing the meeting when Norris stood up. Caroline Bourgeois, of Vision Montreal, was filling in for him as he had other business to attend to. She refused to eject Norris, preferring to leave the decision to Dauphin when he returned. So instead, she pleaded with Norris to put a tie on so the council could continue its business, while councillors from Union Montreal objected with strong language (Marvin Rotrand called the move “infantile” and described Norris as a “juvenile delinquent”), and Vision’s house leader Anie Samson rose to object about the ways other people were objecting.

Fifteen minutes later, after Richard Deschamps spent a full minute complaining about the 12 minutes that had been wasted so far, Norris finally put on a tie and was allowed to complete his point.

It reminds me of my old days at Concordia Student Union council meetings in terms of the level of absurdity.

“There is in fact no dress code at City Hall,” Norris explained to me via email. “The speaker has traditionally imposed an unwritten rule requiring male councillors to wear ties but there is no basis for this rule in any bylaw or formal written code of any kind. There is a long tradition of progressive councillors objecting to this rule — and then giving in and forgetting about it, which is why we still have an archaic dress code whereas other big cities like Toronto and Vancouver have long gotten rid of theirs.”

Amazingly enough, there’s a body to deal with these kinds of things. It’s called the Commission de la présidence du conseil. But instead of taking a hard line either way, this body appears to have decided to leave it up to the chair of council to enforce “decorum”.

“Bourgeois, a young (and quite progressive) Vision councillor, had told me that she found the tie rule utterly archaic and ridiculous,” Norris wrote. “I surmised that in these new circumstances the tie convention would no longer be enforced. When I rose to speak, however, a number of Tremblay backbenchers went ballistic. I held my ground — briefly — to highlight the absurdity of the rule, then relented and put on the tie.

“So yes, this is a small protest — one to which I have devoted very little time or energy but one on which I have made my views known and will continue to do so, periodically.”

Norris stresses that this is his campaign and not that of his party. Luc Ferrandez and Richard Bergeron wear ties to city council meetings without complaint.

So why make this an issue?

“I think imposing any kind of dress code on a democratically elected body is anti-democratic and sends the wrong message about who we are and what we represent,” Norris wrote. “We are not meant to be a class apart from the people we represent; we are meant to be ‘of the people.’ Also, dress codes inevitably carry cultural and class biases. Is city council meant to be reserved only for business people and white collar workers? If so, how should we regulate women’s clothing? How low can a neckline go? How high a hemline should be permitted? And what about hijabs, kippas, turbans or any other type of attire for that matter? Where does it all end?

“Inevitably, a dress code carries biases of the sort that I think should be avoided in a democratic body representing a culturally diverse, cosmopolitan city such as ours. Ultimately, I think the final judges on this and on all other matters are the voters who elected us — and that neither Claude Dauphin nor any Tremblay backbencher should have any right to tell me or any other councillor how we must dress in order to be able to advocate on behalf of our constituents — just as I would not presume to tell them or anyone else how to dress at City Hall.”

Norris added that he didn’t see any ties on (male) candidates running against him during the campaign. “If we were good enough to win the votes of Mile End voters without ties, I figure we should be good enough for the council chambers without ties.”

As for wasting council’s time, Norris correctly points out that he wasn’t the one talking during those 15 minutes. He simply stood his ground on a rights issue he believed in and watched as others went crazy over the most minor of issues.

Will Norris resume his campaign during the next council meeting? We’ll see. He doesn’t want to distract the council’s business with such a simple issue, but he doesn’t want to surrender either.

UPDATE: I should point out this post on Coolopolis, in which a barber tells Norris to “get a tie!”

UPDATE (Aug. 25): This week’s council meeting (the first since the one in the above video) sparked a bit of media coverage about wearing ties, including a blog post by La Presse’s Ariane Krol and a column by Patrick Lagacé, who doesn’t own a tie (he has reaction on his blog).

UPDATE (May 19): Another incident at city hall, also ending with Norris putting on a tie.

UPDATE (Jan. 23, 2014): Another minor kerfuffle after Norris fails to wear a jacket.

Pascal Robidas: Caught in the headlights

UPDATE: After videos were pulled off YouTube twice, I’ve posted a version that censors both the NSFW element and the World Cup B-roll. Hopefully this one sticks.

One of my spies within the CBC sent along this clip of an interview Pascal Robidas conducted live on air with an Italian soccer fan after Italy was humiliatingly bounced from the World Cup this morning.

There’s no audio with it, but as you’ll see that’s not important. Thanks to Clique du Plateau, which managed to locate a version with audio that RDI itself uploaded (WMV). I’ve added blur as appropriate to make it more safe for work.

STM knew 515 bus would have pointless leg to it

The Gazette’s Andy Riga has a story out today about the 515 bus to the Old Port, and the problems it has attracting riders – particularly as it uses a route that the mayor wants to replace with a tramway eventually.

The problems are familiar to this blog’s readers: the route is confusing with its yellow and blue signs, travels through an area of town (René-Lévesque Blvd.) already served by plenty of transit services, doesn’t do enough to attract and inform tourists, it tends to get stuck in Old Montreal traffic, people in Old Montreal tend to prefer to walk to their destinations to and from nearby metro stations (particularly in the summer), and the new residential developments it was supposed to serve (like the new Griffintown) haven’t yet emerged.

But Riga brings up an interesting point through his access-to-information request and interviews: The STM knew way back in 2007 that a circular route taking René-Lévesque Blvd. would be a waste of money:

A March 2007 study, also obtained under access to information, suggested that the route eventually chosen, particularly the section along Rene Levesque Blvd., would “increase operating costs” and duplicate service offered by “numerous other lines.”

The federal Old Port of Montreal Corp., which took part in the study, favoured the longer route that used Rene Levesque, and that was eventually accepted.

Riga quotes STM planning head Michel Tremblay saying this summer would be a “last chance” for the 515, after which the STM would re-evaluate the chronically underperforming bus route.

The article also says there have been no studies or surveys conducted for the 515 bus since its launch. So I guess I just imagined this detailed survey that was presented to a public consultation by the city last year based on a study of the 515’s use by passengers in 2008. Either that or the STM was unaware of it, which seems silly.

Riga also has some supporting documentation on his blog, which shows the STM predicting some huge spike in ridership in June that hasn’t materialized.

UPDATE (April 30, 2011): Andy Riga has more info in The Gazette, saying that cutting this useless stretch would save $882,000 a year.

Dorchester Square reopens

After what seems like decades of renovation, the city has finally reopened Dorchester Square to the public. The grass is lush and green, park benches are plentiful, the walkway is new and clean, and pretty flowers surround the central monument.

Didn’t take long for the first litter to appear, though.

UPDATE (June 29): The Gazette has a story about the reopening, a photo gallery of the square – past and present – and a 360-degree panorama from the centre of the new square. The project also has its own website.

Canwest settles with freelancers over copyright lawsuits

This hasn’t gotten a lot of attention outside of the business press, but Canwest has reached multi-million-dollar settlements with freelancers who have sued the company over what they argue are unauthorized uses of their works in electronic databases.

One of the settlements is with Heather Robertson, who leads a rather massive class action lawsuit against a bunch of publishers, and whose case reached the Supreme Court of Canada – and a decision in her favour, which led to the Globe and Mail settling. The case is still pending against other defendants, including ProQuest, Torstar and Rogers.

You can read the Robertson settlement here (PDF).

The other settlement is with a group called the Electronic Rights Defence Committee, which is a group of Gazette freelancers suing Canwest over the same issues, and which had only gotten class-action status last year.

The settlements are valued at $7.5 million and $9 million respectively, but the amount of cash actually distributed will likely come down as Canwest continues to go through restructuring under creditor protection.

The freelancers can thank this process for pushing these ancient cases forward. As the court-appointed monitor overseeing the restructuring put it in his report on the Robertson case (PDF):

The Settlement Agreement greatly reduced a large claim against the LP Entities and the resulting uncertainty to the CCAA Proceeding and facilitated the approval of the Amended AHC Plan by the requisite majority of stakeholders at the Creditors’ Meeting, which approval is vital to the successful restructuring of the LP Entities.

In the Robertson case, the original claim was for $500 million. In the ERDC’s case, $33 million.

Because the restructuring process requires settling outstanding claims, the freelancers’ lawsuits became an issue that it was easier to deal with quickly than fight.

The ERDC estimates it has about 800 writers in its class, which would work out to $11,250 each. This is above the $1,000 limit set for small creditors, which means they would not be getting cash payments in full, but an option for less cash or shares in the new company. The ERDC says it will hold that cash or stock in trust until the distribution is complete.

The settlement also would grant Canwest and its subsidiaries all the rights the freelancers were fighting to protect. In exchange for the cash, Canwest gets rights to use all articles submitted by all freelancers for whatever purpose it wants, including online publication or electronic archiving.

This means one of the primary goals of the ERDC, to render void these we-take-all-your-rights contracts that Canwest and others are forcing new freelancers to sign, will not succeed. Those freelancers who have signed such agreements, allowing Canwest to use their contributions for electronic media, are not considered part of the settlement group.

Players in the ERDC, including chair Mary Soderstrom, have kept quiet (except to announce the deal and promise more later) until the settlement reaches its final approval.

UPDATE (June 28): The ERDC has released a statement:

“We are pleased that freelance writers will eventually receive some compensation for their work used electronically, and that the other side explicitly acknowledges ‘the importance of protection of electronic rights and fair compensation for the electronic dissemination of content’,” said ERDC President Mary Soderstrom. “But we regret strongly that it has taken 13 years to get to this point, and that, because of the protection against creditors proceedings, freelancers will receive amounts much less than the face value of the settlements.”

She added that the ERDC also continues to maintain that contracts which freelancers have been forced to sign with The Gazette and Canwest are unfair.

A slight moral victory, I guess, though kind of empty if Canwest’s freelancing contracts can still demand all these rights at no extra charge.

Those who want to opt out of the class-action settlement have the chance to do so, although I can’t imagine why they would.

A new front in the Transcon-Quebecor war

The all-out war between Quebecor and Transcontinental continues. Only a few months after announcing new community weeklies in Laval and the north shore, Quebecor is opening up two other free weekly newspapers northeast of Montreal:

  • L’Écho de Repentigny (59,000 copies), serving Le Gardeur to Lavaltrie and competing directly with Transcontinental’s Hebdo Rive-Nord
  • Journal de Joliette (62,000 copies), serving Joliette, Berthierville and St-Michel-des-Saints and competing directly with Transcontinental’s L’Action

Quebecor says it will create 120 jobs with these new papers, which sounds like a lot, even from a company that is looking for creative ways around Quebec’s anti-scab law to get cheap content for the Journal de Montréal.

So far, there’s been no counterattack from Transcontinental in areas that Quebecor has historically covered, like the south shore. It remains to be seen if they will raise the stakes and create real competition in community newspapers, or if they’ll just give up and watch the media giant slowly erode what’s left of Transcon’s readership.

UPDATE: Seems I’ve missed the Rive-Sud Express, which was launched in April and competes directly with Quebecor’s Courier du Sud. Last week, Transcontinental added Point de vue Sainte-Agathe and Point de vue Mont-Tremblant, and Abitibi Express, that compete with Information du nord Sainte-Agathe, Information du nord Mont-Tremblant and La Frontière, respectively.

The Point de vue papers are actually a split-up of the formerly independent Point de vue Laurentides, which Transcontinental has acquired and turned into two weeklies, each running with a single journalist, a freelancer and a shared photographer, and a bunch of people doing ad sales.

Bye-Bye 2010: Redemption

If you haven’t seen this video yet, the rest of this post probably won’t interest you.

So a year and a half after a rather disastrous end-of-year Bye-Bye special that got a bit of media coverage and resulted in complaints to the CRTC, Radio-Canada has decided that, what they hey, they’ll bring back the team that produced it to try again. Véronique Cloutier and Louis Morissette will be at the helm of Bye-Bye 2010. They announced the move with a parody of their well-publicized apology from January 2009.

The media, after receiving assurances that this wasn’t some strange joke and getting their web geeks to setup the YouTube embed codes, reacted much as you might expect: “kamikazes de l’humour“, “perplexing“, or, simply, “pourquoi?

While I was one of those people who didn’t think highly of Bye-Bye 2008, Cloutier and Morissette deserve a chance to make amends. They screwed up, and while it took them forever to realize that, I think they’ll do a better job for 2010.

Radio-Canada is making sure the same mistakes don’t repeat. This year’s special will have no live component, which means lawyers and political-correctness censors will be all over the entire show before it goes to air.

Expect an overreaction to the problems of 2008, and perhaps a bit too much sensitivity to visible and cultural minorities. And don’t expect any mention of Nathalie Simard, unless she’s on it as a guest.

And really, who else could do this? The insane media coverage, and the cancellation of Bye-Bye 2009, ensured that any future show would have no choice but to reference – and be compared to – the one from 2008.

If this video is any indication, Cloutier and Morissette will put targets on their own backs for the sake of comedy. That alone makes me want to give them a second chance.

Trades are killer on magazine news cycles

L’actualité this week recently had a profile of Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak teased big from its cover.

On the cover: “Que réserve l’avenir du gardien du Canadien?”

And in the piece itself:

Son mari envisage une seule « folie » : faire fi de sa peur de l’avion et s’envoler pour Montréal si Jaro se rend en finale de la Coupe Stanley l’année prochaine. Et, qui sait, en profiter pour voir un défilé rue Sainte-Catherine…

Thankfully, there’s little chance of that now.

There’s also a photo gallery of Halak’s hometown of Bratislava, Slovakia, and a blog post about Halak’s trade to St. Louis to downplay somewhat how much the magazine is two weeks behind the news.

Linda Gyulai’s big moment

“I don’t like politics.”

It’s an odd thing for The Gazette’s city hall reporter to say, but Linda Gyulai explains: her motivations are journalistic, not political. She’s not out there to sabotage the mayor (even though many on both sides of the aisle at city hall may think so). She’s not out there to stir up controversy. She’s out there to explain to people what goes on in their municipal government, both the things they want the world to know about and the things they’d rather keep secret.

If it means she ruffles a few feathers along the way, that’s part of the job. She doesn’t take it personally.

And if it wins her some awards, that’s just a bonus.

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Montreal Geography Trivia No. 80

The line formed by 55th Ave., Côte de Liesse (Highway 520), Highway 13, Côte Vertu Blvd., Sauvé St., and Pie-IX Blvd. represents what?

UPDATE: A bunch of you got this right, though NDGer was the first. It’s the border between the AMT’s Zones 1 and 2 (grey and pink on this map).

The AMT’s zoning system (where higher-numbered zones pay more to use commuter trains and multiple-network bus trips) is roughly based on the distance to downtown Montreal (assuming that everyone is travelling downtown to work, which of course isn’t always the case).

There are some quirks though, for example Lachine is considered Zone 1 while Longueuil, which is much closer to downtown, is Zone 3. Similarly, Kahnawake (Zone 5) is closer than Pointe-Claire (Zone 2), and most of the Zone 8 territories are closer than Rigaud (Zone 6), though that won’t matter once Rigaud loses its train service on July 1.

Thanks to SMS for this week’s question.

TVA plagiarist speaks out

Stéphane Malhomme, the recent Concordia journalism graduate who was caught plagiarizing a Rue Frontenac piece for the website of TVA’s Argent and subsequently fired, has broken his earlier silence with a letter to Rue Frontenac, among others.

He confirms that he was handed a printout of the Rue Frontenac piece by his employer and told to use it as background – with only 45 minutes left in his shift. (It’s not clear if he was also told not to mention Rue Frontenac as a source.) He says he believed what he was doing was okay at the time, and that his boss approved the text, presumably aware of the blatant plagiarism or even encouraging it.

That said, he says he takes responsibility for what he did and isn’t trying to deflect blame, just to set the record straight.

Malhomme trots out the usual excuses for plagiarism:

  • I didn’t think what I did was wrong
  • I didn’t have enough time
  • I was overworked
  • I don’t do this normally
  • This is a problem with the system, not just me

His text has been described as “courageous” by commenters, and “honest” by Jean-François Lisée. I don’t know if it’s either of those things. It’s incredibly self-serving, and Malhomme has nothing to lose now that he’s been branded a plagiarist and he’s out of a job. His disclaimer that he takes responsibility for his actions seems to be contradicted by all the other things he says.

But Malhomme is right that this is also a problem with the system. The fact that he was handed a printout from Rue Frontenac in the first place, the fact that news media are discouraged from citing one another (and that Quebecor media are seemingly forbidden from referencing Rue Frontenac but more than willing to steal their scoops), the fact that young journalists are expected to throw together a story on deadline with few resources, the fact that such work isn’t checked for things like this before being published. It shouldn’t be too surprising that an issue of plagiarism will eventually surface in such an environment.

But under that pressure, Malhomme resorted to using another person’s words and putting his name on it, something he knew – or should have known – was wrong.

It’s a decision he made as part of a 45-minute assignment that he’ll have to live with for a long, long time.

UPDATE: Trente interviews an anonymous Quebecor employee who wasn’t a witness to what happened but still feels free to offer opinions that shed a negative light on his or her employer. The interviewee suggests with no apparent evidence that if the victim was any news organization other than Rue Frontenac, there would not have been such a fallout.

UPDATE (Dec. 20): The Conseil de Presse has ruled on this matter, blaming QMI, the Journal de Montréal and Argent, which all published the piece. None of those organizations cooperated with the council, and Malhomme has confessed, making the decision kind of pointless.

The Mirror at 25

The Mirror’s 25th anniversary issue is on the stands now. Aside from the usual weekly features, it includes a pullout with a look back at the first quarter century of the paper’s existence, including a selection of covers, the various logos and a timeline.

As part of its multi-page collage, the paper has the first Best of Montreal poll, the first Sasha column, the first Rant Line, as well as a list of contributors over 25 years (one that wasn’t well edited – there are quite a few repeats) and a bunch of those under-the-logo taglines.

It’s unfortunate that more of an effort wasn’t made to bring those early stories and columns online – many of them are unreadable in the anniversary issue. Fortunately, the Mirror has among the most ancient online archives of Montreal media, going back all the way to 1997, so more than half of its history is now online – in a format that seems to have changed little in 13 years.

The anniversary got a bit of attention, from Radio-Canada and Montreal City Weblog, the latter pointing out that it was the first alt weekly in Montreal, predating Voir by about a year. (Which I guess means we should expect a Voir 25th anniversary special in 2011.)