MINOTAURS, OHBIJOU, MALOO and others as part of the CANADIAN ARTISTS FOR CIVIL LIBERTIES LAUNCH PARTY at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Saturday (December 1), doors 9 pm. $15. HS, RT, SS, TM. See listing.
Your average Canadian musician doesn't think twice about using lyrics, interviews, videos or concerts as platforms to, say, blast the Harper government's cuts to arts funding, address G20 violence or protest environmental destruction. But their freedom to do so isn't necessarily guaranteed, says Nathan Lawr.
That's why the Minotaurs musician and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) are launching the Canadian Artists for Civil Liberties initiative with an event at Lee's Palace featuring Minotaurs, Ohbijou, Maloo, spoken word artist Dwayne Morgan, poet George Elliott Clarke, Great Canadian Burlesque and journalist/political activist Judy Rebick.
"It's a way to remind artists that what they do relies heavily on their ability to express their ideas without restriction," Lawr explains. "And we're not necessarily talking about political opinions. Peaches, for example, is the kind of artist who in another time and place would have had a very difficult time saying what she says."
The project is also a way for artists to spread the word about CCLA, which works tirelessly in the areas of censorship, police powers and capital punishment, to name a few, through litigation, public education, monitoring and research. Leslie Feist, Dan Snaith, Sarah Harmer, Dave Bidini and John K. Samson are among the 100 artists who have signed on as supporters.
Getting artists involved is "more or less a publicity tool to get people talking about the issues," says Lawr. "The CCLA can now say that Feist and Chad VanGaalen support its aims. That brings the issues to people" - that is, their fans - "who maybe haven't thought about them before. And it helps demonstrate that people who take to the streets aren't the only ones who feel passionate about human rights."
But it was the protesters who took to the streets during the G20 riots in Toronto who spurred Lawr to found Canadian Artists for Civil Liberties as a way of doing something concrete to maintain our rights and freedoms. As well, his years studying Canadian history - specifically the country's involvement in the world wars and the 1970 October Crisis - informed his decision.
"What struck me most [during my studies] was that the idea of Canada as a ‘peaceable kingdom' is false. A myth. There is nothing inherently ‘good' about us. We're just as prone to hatred and fear as anyone else. Given the right circumstances, anything could happen. Part of the CCLA's message is that our rights need constant tending to. It's a project that's never finished."
One of the things Lawr would love to see is improved relations between Toronto musicians and police officers, a goal he says he shares with the Occupy movement. He's working to put together a hockey game between the two groups in the spring.
The long-time musician and former drummer for Feist, Royal City and the Constantines is also getting set to release a new album with Minotaurs, his nine-member Fela Kuti-inspired indie rock band, which isn't afraid of a good protest song. New Believers is set for release in late January.
"Freedom of expression is the lifeblood of art," Lawr says. "I know that not all artists are interested in being political in their work, and I understand that we still need love songs and paintings of trees and birds.
"But I also think it's important for artists to remember that the freedom we enjoy in this country to basically say whatever we want, politically or otherwise, is not necessarily guaranteed. And while not everyone wants to get involved or speak about these issues directly, I think a basic awareness does society as a whole a lot of good."