Tuesday, February 15, 2011

On charity: giving wisely

Every year, Canadians give an estimated $10 billion-plus to charity. But how do you know that your donation is making a difference?

There are more than 160,000 registered charities and non-profits across the country. The vast majority operate honestly -- but some do break the rules. In the last year, nearly 600 Canadian charities have been shut down for failing to keep their books up to date. Another 40 have had their status revoked because they weren't doing the work they were supposed to do.

On tonight's edition of @issue (airing at 8 pm ET/PT), host Karyn Pugliese investigates the challenge of giving wisely. Among her guests: Newfoundland filmmaker Christopher Richardson, whose documentary Where's My Goat? offers a lighthearted but incisive look at the subject. Having adopted the practice of "ethical" gift-giving -- he buys goats for Third World families as a thank-you gift to clients -- Richardson began to question whether his donations were actually helping people on the ground. The film follows him as he travels to Zambia in search of one of the goats he bought online. Here's the trailer:

Tonight's @issue also examines the work of Charity Intelligence Canada, a group that evaluates the effectiveness of charitable organziations operating across the country. Charity Intelligence publishes a list of recommended charities and social enterprises.

The Revenue Canada Charities Directorate is also an invaluable source of information on issues related to charitable giving.

Monday, February 14, 2011

In search of asylum

Most of us suppose that refugees come predominantly from violent, war-torn nations in Africa, the Middle East or Asia. Few would guess that Hungary, a relatively prosperous country in central Europe, produces the third-largest number of refugees to Canada.

As host Kevin O'Keefe discovers on tonight's edition of @issue (at 8 pm ET/PT), the Roma people of Hungary -- often tagged with the inaccurate and offensive term "Gypsies" -- are subject to systemic discrimination in education, housing and employment. According to a report issued last November by Amnesty International, they have also become a target for racially motivated violence.

Canada's response to this growing crisis has hardly been exemplary. Of the 1,600 refugees from Hungary who came to this country last year seeking a better life, barely one percent were accepted.

For more on the Roma in Hungary and Canada, visit the Roma Community Centre in Toronto.

This home in Hungary was the target of an anti-Roma attack.
© Amnesty International

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Where angels fear to tread

Louis Theroux, in a still from the documentary The City Addicted to Crystal Meth, airing March 29

Intrepid British television journalist Louis Theroux has a reputation for burrowing deep into unusual and often hidden subcultures - from neo-Nazis to religious recluses, survivalists to white supremacists. His willingness to immerse himself in these worlds has extended to the point of accepting a (fully clothed) walk-on part in a gay skin flick while investigating the San Fernando Valley porn industry, and undergoing liposuction for a documentary on plastic surgery.

A disarmingly gracious interlocutor, he has a way of getting his subjects to reveal more of themselves than they intend - sometimes to their regret. Jimmy Savile, a flamboyant British entertainer who got the Theroux treatment on the BBC series When Louis Met ... has described him as "the pirhana fish of interviewers."

On Tuesday nights (at 10 pm ET/PT), starting Feb. 22, ichannel is presenting a series of six Louis Theroux documentary specials produced for the BBC. Darker and tougher than any of his past projects, these hour films follow Theroux as he tours the places angels fear to tread - from the crime-ridden streets of Johannesburg to a California institution for dangerous paedophiles.

Here's a sneak peek at the lineup:

Feb 22: "The Most Hated Family in America" - Louis gets to know the family of anti-gay preacher Fred Phelps, founder of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. Along with his followers, Phelps has become notorious for picketing the funerals of U.S. servicemen and others to protest America's tolerance of homosexuality.

March 1: "Law and Disorder in Johannesburg" - Louis travels to Johannesburg, a city increasingly besieged by crime. Despairing of the capability of the police and courts to protect them, many residents have turned to private security firms offering protection for a price. Do these private police, with their sometimes brutal methods, really represent a solution - or are they just another part of the problem?

March 8: "African Hunting Holiday" - Hunting in South Africa is a blossoming tourist industry, with the cost of a trophy ranging from $250 for a baboon to as much as $70,000 for a rhino. Louis Theroux travels to Limpopo Province to enter an elite world of hunters who pay top dollar for the chance to shoot Africa's big game. Along the way he meets a seven-year-old out to bag a springbok, a CEO intent on bringing home the head of a hippopotamus, and an Evangelical who preaches a macho do-or-die gospel of self-actualization through hunting.

March 15: "Under the Knife" - Breast enhancements. Tummy tucks. Muscle implants. California, the birthplace of modern plastic surgery, is the destination in this documentary special. In a place obsessed with self-image, all it takes is a few thousand dollars and the flick of a scalpel to become whoever you want to be. As he gets under the skin of America's plastic surgery business, meeting the doctors and patients caught up in this quest for everlasting youth and beauty, Louis begins to wonder if he too might be a candidate for a nip and tuck.

March 22: "A Place for Paedophiles" - Coalinga Mental Hospital in California houses more than 500 convicted paedophiles. Most have already served lengthy prison sentences, but have been deemed unsafe for release. Their choice: remain institutionalized indefinitely, or submit to the hospital's rigorous program of rehabilitation and therapy. Louis visits Coalinga to meet with patients and therapists, and to consider whether these men - many with long histories of sexual violence - can be sufficiently changed to live freely in society.

March 29: "The City Addicted to Crystal Meth" - The impoverished rural towns of California's Central Valley have some of the worst rates of crystal meth addiction in the United States. In this documentary, Louis travels to Fresno, a city ravaged by the cheap and highly addictive drug. There, he meets men and women hopelessly mired in the madness of long-term addiction, police officers fighting a losing battle to keep a lid on the problem, and a group of ex-addicts running a rehab centre that aims to repair the damage crystal meth has done to their community.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Smoke gets in your eyes (2)

In honour of tonight's documentary broadcast WE LOVE CIGARETTES (on ichannel at 9 pm ET/PT), some YouTube goodness.

First, Tex Williams performs the 1947 novelty hit "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)" ...

... followed by this classic bit from the 1996 Frasier episode "Where There's Smoke There's Fired."

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sisters in Spirit

Nearly 600 Aboriginal Canadian women have been murdered or gone missing since the 1960s. At least half of those cases remain unsolved. Are Aboriginal women more vulnerable to violence? Amnesty International and other human rights groups say yes, and are urging government, law enforcement agencies and the media to acknowledge and confront the problem.

Are Canadians turning a blind eye to the suffering of women from indigenous communities? That's the question host Karyn Pugliese investigates on tonight's edition of the ichannel current affairs flagship series @issue (airing at 8 pm ET/PT). Karyn's guests include renowned investigative journalist Stevie Cameron, whose recently published book On The Farm is the definitive account of how serial killer Robert Pickton preyed upon vulnerable women -- many of them Aboriginal Canadians -- from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Families of the victims have insisted for years that police failed to investigate the disappearances with the appropriate diligence and urgency. The provincial government of British Columbia launched an inquiry into the botched investigation last month.

Tonight's @issue also looks at the groundbreaking 2004 Amnesty International report "Stolen Sisters," which shed much-needed light on the problem of discrimination and violence against indigenous women.

Also on tonight's episode:

- Laurie Odjick from the Kitigan Zibi First Nation in Quebec talks to Karyn about the search for daughter Maisy Odjick and her friend Shannon Alexander, who have been missing since September 2008

- Writer Adriana Rolston discusses how the media have handled the story of northern British Columbia's notorious "Highway of Tears." Since 1969, 18 women have been slain or gone missing along Highway 16 in B.C. All of the cases remain unsolved, and critics say that -- as in the case of the Pickton murders -- media coverage has been sparse and indifferent, since many the victims have been Aboriginal women, sex trade workers or otherwise marginalized.

For more information on the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, the Sisters in Spirit research report from the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) is an invaluable resource.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Check Out a Free Preview of ichannel on EastLink in February

Intrepid reporter Louis Theroux returns in a series of documentary specials starting Feb. 22

Here's some good news for EastLink subscribers: ichannel will be available in free preview until March 1. Check us out on EastLink channel 151. And to subscribe, call 1-888-345-1111 or visit www.eastlink.ca.

Here's a taste of what's in store in February:

Today, more than a billion people will light a cigarette. Humanity's strange and deadly romance with tobacco is the subject of the eye-opening BBC documentary WE LOVE CIGARETTES (Tuesday Feb. 8 at 9 pm ET/PT).

Is Canada's public health care system in critical condition? Host Karyn Pugliese tackles this contentious question on ichannel's current affairs flagship @issue (Tuesday Feb. 22 at 8 pm ET/PT).

Intrepid British journalist LOUIS THEROUX goes where angels fear to tread -- from the crime-ridden streets of Johannesburg to the notoriously homophobic Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas -- in his acclaimed series of documentary specials (Tuesdays, starting Feb. 22 at 10 pm ET/PT).

Several characters reach a crossroads in the second season finale of the groundbreaking medical drama series ST. ELSEWHERE, starring Denzel Washington, Mark Harmon and Ed Begley Jr (Thursday Feb. 24 at 10 pm ET).

Friday, January 28, 2011

Smoke gets in your eyes

ichannel Documentary Premiere: WE LOVE CIGARETTES, Tuesday Feb. 8 at 9 pm ET/PT

Today, the world will spend $1.2 billion on tobacco products. More than a billion people will light a cigarette, and more than 10,000 will die of smoking-related illnesses. Our relationship with the cigarette - a seductive yet utterly lethal product - is as strange and passionate a romance as any this planet has ever seen.

This irreverent and unsettling BBC documentary tells the story of a single day in the life of humanity's obsessive but ultimately fatal attraction to the cigarette. A whirlwind journey around the globe, from the heartland of American tobacco industry in North Carolina to the streets of mainland China, We Love Cigarettes offers up unforgettable portraits of men and women whose own lives are bound up with the worldwide addiction to nicotine.

Among them: British author, smoking aficionado and smoker's rights champion James Leavey; Duke University researcher Jed Rose, inventor of the nicotine patch, who is studying how this drug nicotine works upon the human body; Dr. Chris Proctor, head of science for a British tobacco manufacturer - and an ex-smoker who quit because of "health risks"; British cardiac specialist Dr. Stephen Westaby, who has operated on the hearts of more than 4,000 smokers; corporate whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand (memorably portrayed by Russell Crowe in The Insider), who has spent years waging a quixotic one-man crusade against the tobacco industry; and famed British painter David Hockney, who dismisses the campaign against smoking as a totalitarian war on pleasure.

In much of the Western world, our love affair with the tobacco has soured since the 1960s. In developing nations, however, the romance is still in its first flush. As many as 70 percent of the world's smokers now reside in poorer countries, and nearly a third of all cigarettes today are smoked in China. Love it or hate it - and many of us, frankly, do both - the cigarette isn't going to be out of our lives any time soon.

Bill Nighy (Notes on a Scandal, Love Actually) narrates.

More ichannel Documentary Highlights for the Week of Feb. 7

THE MURDERED BRIDE - Monday Feb. 7 at 9 pm ET/PT
Repeats Saturday, Feb. 12 at 9 pm ET/PT
On June 9, 2000, the body of a young Sikh-Canadian woman was found in an irrigation ditch near the village of Kaonke Khosa in Punjab. Her throat had been slit. A month later, more than a dozen people were charged in connection with the murder of Jaswinder Kaur Sidhu - among them her mother and uncle in Canada. Investigators concluded that Jassi's wealthy family plotted her death after she defied their wishes and was married in secret to a man they deemed unsuitable: an impoverished rickshaw driver named Mitto Singh Sidhu. This documentary tells the tragic story of Jassi Kaur Sidhu's life and death, and sheds light on the brutal custom of "honour killing," a remnant of ancient tribal custom that persists, troublingly, among some members of Canada's South Asian and Middle Eastern immigrant communities.

HOW DOES YOUR MEMORY WORK? - Wednesday Feb. 9 at 9 pm ET/PT
Your memory is you. The catalogue of your past experiences is the raw material from which your identity is shaped. The more science understands about memory, the more remarkable it seems. How is it that something as complex as a memory can be conjured from the connections between brain cells? This 2008 BBC documentary takes a fascinating look at recent advances in neuroscience that are helping us to grasp the essential nature of memory - from studies that reveal how young children begin to form their memories to research that is shedding new light on the loss of memory that accompanies old age. And the hour-long film profiles ordinary people whose stories illustrate the profound complexity of human memory: among them a 30-year-old British man whose damaged brain is unable to form autobiographical memories, leaving him trapped in an eternal present, and a young sexual assault survivor from Montreal who is helping researchers test a promising new treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

THE SECRET LIFE OF THE DOG - Wednesday Feb. 9 at 10 pm ET/PT
Dogs have been domesticated for longer than any other animal on the planet. They are close relatives of fearsome wild wolves - yet we treat them as members of our families. Why have canines forged such a close bond with human beings, and what can we learn from this unique relationship? This 2010 documentary from the BBC looks at new research that is helping us to understand, better than ever, how man's best friend truly thinks and feels.

VILLAGE OF SPIRITS: LILY DALE - Thursday Feb. 10 at 9 pm ET/PT
The tiny hamlet of Lily Dale in northern New York State attracts thousands of visitors each year, all with the same purpose: to hear messages from departed loved ones. The largest surviving Spiritualist community in the world, Lily Dale is home more than three dozen registered mediums. In July and August, this gated community opens itself to outsiders, becoming a kind of "Spiritualist summer camp." People come from all over the world to experience readings and spiritual healing sessions, and to connect with friends and family long gone from the world. This 2006 documentary follows Saskatchewan filmmaker Jackie Dzuba as she meets some of the mediums and spiritual healers who call Lily Dale home, speaks to other visitors about their reasons for coming, and - with some trepidation - embarks on an emotional quest to make contact with her own deceased father.

GLOBALIZATION IS GOOD  - Friday Feb. 11 at 9 pm ET/PT
Call it Yes Logo. As controversial today as it was when it first premiered in 2003 on Britain's Channel Four, this hour-long documentary makes a provocative case in support of globalization. Young Swedish writer Johan Norberg takes the viewer on a journey around the world to assess the impact of globalization - and its absence - and to examine the role of multinational corporations. His conclusion, after investigating conditions in countries such as Taiwan, Vietnam and Kenya: the unequal distribution of wealth in the world is the result of the unequal distribution of capitalism - those who have capitalism grow rich, while those who don't stay poor. The "ignorant and dangerous" anti-globalization movement, he warns, is inadvertently helping to keep the world's poor trapped in poverty.