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Rob Ford at the 100th Grey Cup celebrations on November 20, 2012

Sometimes I miss living in Toronto. But this is not one of those times. In the past two days all my friends have been bombarding me with messages of the likes of, “Look what’s happening in your home town!” or “What on earth is going on with your city?” or “Oh dear, Rob Ford.”

I agree, but I’m more concerned for the city: Oh dear, Toronto.

I left Toronto for Montréal before Rob Ford, current mayor of Toronto, was voted in 2010. Ford’s popularity is mainly backed by the support from the city’s suburban ridings which contrasts sharply with the votes from the downtown sectors. Suburban Toronto’s unwavering support for the fumbling, erratic mayor is named Ford Nation, and this enduring love was clearly demonstrated after the Toronto Police confirmed the existence of the video “consistent with what had been previously described in various media reports.” Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair was referring to Gawker.com and The Toronto Star’s assertion that their editor and journalists, respectively, viewed a video of mayor Ford smoking a crack pipe in May. And how did Toronto react to the news on Hallowe’en? Rob Ford’s approval went up by five percent.

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October means many things for different people: school has started to settle for parents and students, others are excited by Hallowe’en candy, and winter is at the doorstep as per the current weather here in Montréal. For me, I also note that the month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I feel grateful for my health and think about the many families that are impacted by diseases such as breast cancer. As I young child, I knew how the diagnosis of breast cancer can shake a family as my mother was diagnosed with the disease at a young age. After battling cancer for eleven years she succumbed to the illness more than a decade ago.

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Flame-haired American songstress Tori Amos turned 50 this month. Fifty years old! Above is her video from her first solo album, 1992’s Little Earthquakes, for the single Silent All These Years. The simple piano accompaniment throughout most of the song is very characteristic of Amos’ early works, and I actually really enjoy the vintage feel of the music video. When I think about Tori Amos entering her fifth decade, I think about the talented female musicians today, and the debates about feminism in pop culture. And there sure are a lot of talk about the feminism label amongst female musicians these days.

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Beaudry metro station in The Village

Montréal Pride week, or the LGBT festival, is in full force this week. Recently, I took a mid-week and mid-day walk through The Village in downtown Montréal along rue Ste-Catherine. During the summer the portion of this main street is closed for pedestrian use only, which becomes lively during the evenings and weekends. As expected, Montréal’s LGBT community is brightly decorated with equally vivid storefronts. The Montréal LGBTA Parade took place on Sunday August 18, 2013. Click here for more information.

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It took me a day and a bit to digest all the information concerning the Boston Marathon bombings. During the last 30 hours or so, I read various news sources to keep up with the streaming and constantly updating information. There has been so much information from so many news sources, often with conflicting reports, especially during the first few hours of the explosion. And accordingly so much has changed since I first received the New York Times News Alert on my cell phone about the non-verified reports of two explosions at the popular race.

I was studying at a café here in Montréal when I received the news alert, which prompted me to check my Twitter feed and see the incoming tweets regarding Boston. I definitely did not realize the magnitude of the situation — obviously anyone outside of the immediate aftermath could not at first — and I went on with my books and sipping on much needed coffee. Then, more information became uploaded to news sites and photos were posted. I, with the rest of the world, began to realize the severity of the situation and was horrified to see images of the carnage, some appropriately flagged as graphic content. The pictures of severely injured spectators, many missing limbs, became seared in my head and I had much trouble focusing on my tasks at hand.

A café patron sitting next to me eventually received news of the explosions, and began to chat with me about the situation. The café we were sitting in was mainly quiet, most of us having hauled laptops and books to the neighbourhood outlet, and plugged into our respective ear phones. My seat neighbour dropped his pen and paper, and sat clicking away at various news sites for the rest of his stay. When he was leaving, he said to me, “They found the person who did it. He apparently is in custody.” I cocked my head and said, “Really? I was just checking the news and did not read anything about this.”

I was constantly reading updates on the Boston situation, mainly relying on The New York Times, which put down their pay wall for articles regarding the tragedy for the day, as well as Slate and The Atlantic. There had been one news item that I had read which indicated that “a person of interest” had been spoken to by police at a hospital, and that his apartment had been searched. However, other than that bit piece of information, not much was said about any real suspects. Later, I found out that the New York Post had been maintaining that the “person of interest”, a Saudi student, was a suspect and with reports that he was tackled when seen running away from the explosion. (Um, perhaps because there was an explosion?) The New York Post continued this angle of the foreign student being a possible suspect despite The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Slate, and other news outlets having dismissed the reports. It was only around 3 pm today that the New York Post tweeted that the student was no longer a suspect. A suspect to the bombings has still yet to be identified.

Meanwhile, the Internet has decided that the event is a conspiracy and even planned, with a video juxtaposing two different parts of an episode of The Family Guy to illustrate the conspiracy on YouTube. The episode in question was edited so that it seemed that Peter was using his cell phone to set off bombs at the marathon, causing Fox to pull the episode from the Internet and Seth MacFarlane denying any connection. Gun-loving right-wing person, Alex Jones, is also claiming that this is a government conspiracy.

Additionally, there were reports that another explosion, this time at the John F. Kennedy Library, occurred a few blocks away from the marathon’s sites of bombing. While the two events were first suggested to be related, this was later rebutted by The Boston Police Department who confirmed it was a fire, not an explosion. Furthermore, reports that the government had shut down phone networks was also proven to be false. The problems in connectivity that many people were experiencing following the attacks were later attributed to overloaded local cell towers.

This all made me think about how hard it is to receive accurate and unbiased information, especially during times of crisis. First incoming reports regarding a tragedy may be subject to error — when emotions are high and the dust has literally yet to settle. Keep in mind that the news is coming from reporters, whom are human, whom are prone to failures. At such situations, it is also so easy to jump to conclusions and rely on our prejudices (a Brown man running away from the scene? Stop him!) when we try to make sense of a horrific situation. I am not excusing anyone for racial profiling but I am trying to understand the situation in context of an American culture that still bears the marks of the events and politics surrounding of 9/11.

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Image from CBCNews.ca, photograph by Andrew Biraj (Reuters)

Happy International Women’s Day.

CBC News has a beautiful and very moving slide show of various International Women’s Day celebrations and protests around the world (above). The International Women’s Day website, the United Nations (U.N.), and the International Committee of the Red Cross (I.C.R.C.) all celebrate the day with varying themes and foci each year with International Women’s Day declaring the 2013 theme as “The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum.” The U.N. declared International Women’s Day 2013 as “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women.” The I.C.R.C.’s focus is the plight of female prisoners whom, due to their gender, “often face particular hardship in terms of protection, privacy and access to basic services, including health care.”

Here are some positive developments towards gender equality in recent news:

The United States renewed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) last week, a federal law with the purpose of investigating and prosecuting violent crimes against women, and establishing the Office on Violence Against Women in the country’s Department of Justice. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law yesterday after facing opposition in the House of Representatives by conservative leaders who objected to extending the protections to LGBTQ victims and Native American women. The law was originally drafted by Vice President Joe Biden when he was a Delaware senator, which passed in 1994.

South Korea elected Park Geun-hye has the first female president of the country on December 19, 2012, and who was inauguarated last week on February 25, 2013. While Park, 61, was voted in by 51% of South Koreans, she remains divisive as the daughter of Park Chung-hee, considered a father of modern Korea who ruled the country for 18 years before being assassinated in 1979. Best of luck to President Park.

Lastly and on a lighter note, comedians Tina Fey and Amy Poehler continue to be awesome ambassador for the modern feminist movement, seen in their kerfuffle with country queen Taylor Swift. Swift, in a recent interview with the magazine Vanity Fair, was asked about Fey and Poehler’s joke at the Golden Globes awards where the ceremony’s co-hosts poked fun at Swift’s proclivity to write songs about her exes. Taylor, who does not consider herself a feminist, replied, “You know, Katie Couric is one of my favorite people, because she said to me she had heard a quote that she loved, that said, ‘There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.’ ” In response, Poehler said, “I feel bad if she [Swift] was upset. I am a feminist, and she is a young and talented girl. That being said, I do agree I am going to hell. But for other reasons. Mostly boring tax stuff.” What is interesting about this minor celebrity clashing of heads is that Fey and Poehler, who are proud feminists, think that Taylor should just take a joke while Taylor, who has publicly dismissed feminism, is invoking feminism only when it is convenient for her. C’mon, Taylor Swift. Are you truly against equality between the sexes — when she clearly is not — because you do not like the feminist label?

Here is to another year in our attempts to achieve equality between the sexes and gender. And do not forget that International Men’s Day is coming up in a few months on November 19th.