Tag Archives: Canada

The country in six days, ending with an exclamation point…

trajets_Canada_enOf course everyone is focused on the madman attack on Parliament Hill, that total abnormality here in Canada, where representatives of the people feel free to walk and work without fear of assault. (well, at least until now). I’m not going to write about that, sad though it is. Suffice to say the assault brought my trip to a sudden, jerking end, reality intruding on my mind much like my post-travel cold throws me flat onto the bed.

I’ve just travelled across the country, stem to stern, on #VIArail, taking the Ocean from Halifax to Montreal, commuter train from Montreal to Toronto, and the Canadian from Toronto to Vancouver. It is a fabulous trip, one everyone should do at least once in their lives. I sat up in Economy from Halifax to Montreal, cheap-seated it to Toronto, got a room (and an upgrade, thanks VIA!) to Vancouver. All have their pleasures.

The Ocean is fitted with handicapped accessibility (limited though it is). There I met a former biker gal who cheerily named me “D” and took me under her arm (literally) while she pestered the bartender. She told me of her many lives, from legal to slightly not so, then offered to put out a contract on one of my relatives. You see, the thing about the train is that you know you are not likely to see folks again, so stories get told, intimacies shared, secrets revealed. It’s a bit like those five minute dating things – meet, smile, reveal, reveal, leave. One woman told me the horror she felt that her cousin accused her of jumping off the bedroom dressers when she was a kid. The woman was in her 70’s, and she’d never told anyone before. Some hurts lie deep.

I met a gorgeous but naive young gal who was going to Montreal to maybe be a model. Biker gal and I both sat her down for a talk, I gave her my contact info, called on my niece for info about places to stay in Montreal. The young gal listened, but I haven’t heard from her. I hope she’s okay.

But then, that is the other real charm about train travel and, in fact, about Canada. Almost always, you meet people who are going to treat you right, who are polite and friendly and safe and sweet, who offer help or support or friendship, short or long. The trip affirmed that. No matter what train I took, what class I was in, every person I contacted was this way. Even on the flight back, when I shared the plane with a crew of drunken roustabouts heading home from the oil patch, 99% of the people were sweet beyond belief.

It’s a grand trip for the people, but the landscape is breathtaking. I started with the rocky Atlantic shores, rumbled through the Acadian dykelands, on to the rolling Appalachian hills of New Brunswick, the fields and townships of Quebec, through my old town of Kingston and on to the big city of Toronto. Then on to the Canadian Shield, so large it takes a while to understand it. I watched the endless endless trees and rocks and trees and rocks and water of Northern Ontario, gasped with relief when we got to the prairies and Winnipeg and I could see the sky again. Saw the tiny old slumping homes being consumed by prairie, spotted a football-field-sized car dump in Saskatchewan, adored the Qu’Appelle valley. A few oil rigs dipped their heads as we went by.

Then the first mumblings of hills, a blue-grey lump ahead, that grew, slowly slowly, then faster than imaginable into the completely over-the-top (pun intended) Canadian Rockies – they are sharp enough you could cut yourself on them, showing off the rocky tumblings laid down millennia ago, tilted up long long ago, still patterned like a group of seven painting.

By this point we all were in the sky view car, glass overhead and around. We didn’t get the bubble car – we were the last long train of the season and so missed that – but it was chilly in the regular glass one so everyone brought up blankets and curled up for the show.

We stopped in Jasper, rolled down to Vancouver. Beautiful, beautiful. Sea to sea in six days. Unspeakable grandeur, sweet places and huge cities, seemingly more trees than stars in the sky…and not a SINGLE MOOSE.

Our train trip ended in delays from conflicting track use – CN owns the rails so there are battles at most crossings over priority. So we passenger trains wait, then race along like a roller coaster. The engineers were great, slowing down so we could see waterfalls and bears and goats. The staff on the train were fantastic, the chefs unbelievably good, the activity staff endlessly cheerful and helpful. I loved every minute, though I admit to impatience in Northern Ontario. I do love the sky.

I flew back through that sky. It was a shorter ride, but much less pleasant, despite the charms of Westjet. The train rules.

Now, how can I get to N’Awlins by train???

Confessions of a former scientist…

I’m almost ashamed to admit this, given the atmosphere here in Canada of late. I was raised…sniff…wait a moment…in a scientific family. Yes, my parents foolishly expected me to wonder about the causes of things, to enquire and explore. My mother, though a lawyer, fell under my father’s spell. She’d make me argue, using facts and arguments, for every freedom I desired. She always won. I studied harder, researched more, and was able to persuade her, finally, that getting married was a good idea, and that being a grandparent wasn’t usually deadly. I took up a scientific occupation, even took an epidemiology degree.
I became used to making coherent arguments, using research and confidence intervals and science to prove it.
It seems unlikely now to think of parents willing to put their children through such testing.
“Oh, Billy,” they say, “If our Prime Minister says it, who are we to argue?”
I feel sorry for parents these days. Here their poor kids need science to get into university (should they be able to afford it), yet the science presented in school is directly contrary to the knowledge crushing, faith based statements we are asked to believe.
Not to worry, little children. Facts are being removed from your schools as we speak. Science curricula are being dumbed down, oil is being made a good for the environment thing, smoke and smog is being given a “green” label. It has a dollar-sign on it, and that’s all that matters.
I’m going undercover. My MS brain makes it hard to remember scientific thoughts, anyway. And as for those pesky scientists…

Embrace the net, or how Michael Geist says the proposed new law is all copywrong

Finally, a reason to be glad for the prorogation of Parliament. At the January meeting of the Canadian Author’s Association, Dr. Michael Geist, law professor at the University of Ottawa, where he holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law, discussed C-61, the proposed copyright law. At first overview, it seems not to have protected copyright for authors at all, but rather restricted access to works everywhere. It died when Parliament did. Dr. Geist feels this was a very  good thing.

Geist argues that creators and users of information are the same people. All of us “google” information, many of us use Open Office and Wikipedia, and I know I am addicted to the new NFB library and Open Culture.

C-61 concerned itself with little things like: preventing you to move your cell phone service to another company; permitting software sampling your interests for research to be placed on movies and CDs; requiring professors to destroy on-line classes after one month; restricting access to other items to five days; and assigning blame to those who infringe the many complicated rules, banning them from the internet after three such crimes and no due process. It meant that reader software could not be used for the blind, requiring them to purchase the more expensive audio books. Mashups would be out of order, and archiving would be a nightmare of rules and exceptions.

None of this seems particularly helpful to us as writers. As Cory Doctorow pointed out, it isn’t piracy that is the enemy, it’s obscurity. All of us toiling in our various book and paper strewn offices want to be read, want to share our vision with someone, or else we would not seek to publish our writings. It seems counterproductive to want this on one hand, and deny all access on the other.

Geist went on to encourage us to “embrace the Net”. He talked about the various open access sites available now, and how they were helping collaboration and innovation. Open Medicine, for example, was started by doctors who felt that where the public funds research, the results should be open to the public. Now we all can wander through the various research studies, finding unusual disorders and novel ways to kill off our characters, without having to pay for this access.

There are different types of people who react to digital information given free.  There are the ones that use it free and wander about in glee. This does represent a decrease in sales of the item. Another group use the digital versions to determine if they want the hard copy. He described a university book publisher that put the entire text of a heavily academic book online. Initially they were afraid this would result in reduced sales – but they were pleasantly surprised when sales went up.  People who never would have bought the book or known of its existence were able to find it online and decided to buy all 700 pages of it to take home.

Geist feels that fair dealing, the sharing of information with users, should be expanded.  Currently, the law is a series of enumerated categories – if you are not in a given category, you’re not part of the deal.  Satire and parody are not protected under fair dealing – which places many at risk of being sued for copyright infringement.

Fair dealing does not mean free dealing, says Geist. There should not be a blanket exception for educators to pull materials off of the internet, for example.  Multiple copying or commercial uses should not be free. However, using a website in the classroom should be. He encouraged us to help define fair dealing in a way that was fair for both creators and users.

Of course, most of this is moot, with the prorogation of Parliament, but copyright law is eternally being revised. The pressures now are to match the US and Europe in their copyright arrangements, a delicate dance orchestrated by big players like big pharma up in the stratosphere. It’s doubtful we can have much of an effect on the opinions of such heavily pocketed groups.

Geist encouraged authors to focus on contracts, instead, especially those where publishers want authors to surrender all rights. Now, in this multiple-access world, this is even more unwise, and there is scope for authors to resist these contracts, and negotiate a better arrangement.

Geist also recommends that we encourage and prioritize digitalization.  Google is developing a monopoly on this, and it could result in a lack of multicultural input on what is digitalized. Canada should start its own digitalization project to ensure a diversity of voices in the new digital future.

Dr. Geist has an excellent (if a bit impenetrable for non-lawyers) website: www.michaelgeist.ca that includes a blog about the latest in copyright law.  It’s well worth a look.