Huricane Juan
Toronto Star
  • In the Trump era, the fringe takes over conservative movement

    OXON HILL, MD.—The governor of Kentucky was up on stage talking about cutting red tape. In the hallway outside, a white supremacist was promoting the racist “alt-right,” 20 journalists in a circle around him.

    The bigot, Richard Spencer, was soon tossed out of the building by a security guard. Three days after rescinding a speaking invitation to alt-right icon Milo Yiannopoulos, the organizers of the Conservative Political Action Conference were making another belated statement of principle: The conservative mainstream would not tolerate such odious views.

    But it is tolerating a lot more than it used to.

    This year’s CPAC, which ended Saturday, was less an indication of a battle for the soul of conservatism than evidence that conservatism is now what President Donald Trump says it is. With a conspiracist openly hostile to Muslims running the world, the gap between the kooky fringe and the centre of the movement has vanished. And on issues from Islam to trade to Russia, the centre has shifted to fall in line with Trump’s worldview.

    “By tomorrow this will be TPAC here, no doubt,” Trump counsellor Kellyanne Conway said to open the conference, and it wasn’t much of a joke.

    Read the latest news on U.S. President Donald Trump

    CPAC, held at a hotel in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, is far from the Rust Belt and Bible Belt towns widely depicted as the heart of the Trump base. Libertarians, seniors from liberal-leaning northern Virginia and suspiciously well-coiffed 20-year-olds seeking careers as Republican operatives make up a disproportionate percentage of the crowd.

    Even there, there was no sign of a dissident movement. Trump had 15-per-cent support in the CPAC “straw poll” during the campaign last year. His approval rating in this year’s straw poll was 86 per cent.

    The people filing in on Thursday found on their chairs a free issue of the Weekly Standard, the conservative magazine founded by establishment anti-Trumper Bill Kristol. There was no doubt, however, which publication now ruled the roost: Breitbart News, the website selling “Border Wall Construction Company” T-shirts from a prominent booth in the basement.

    Seven Breitbart figures appeared on CPAC panels. Not including the Breitbart man who now serves as chief strategist to the president.

    As Breitbart’s chief executive, Stephen Bannon used to antagonize the conference organizer, the American Conservative Union, by hosting a counter-event called “the Uninvited” for speakers deemed too incendiary on issues like Islamist extremism. On Thursday, he was interviewed on stage by the head of the ACU – swaggering like a guy who went out and bought the nightclub that once turned him away at the door.

    “Matt, I want to thank you for finally inviting me to CPAC,” Bannon said with a smile.

    “Here’s what we decided to do at CPAC with the uninvited,” Matt Schlapp responded. “We decided to say that everybody’s a part of our conservative family.”

    There were still a few governors and House Representatives on stage, still a few references to Barry Goldwater. There was also Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, the left-baiting Trump devotee. Two years ago, Nigel Farage, then the leader of the anti-immigration U.K. Independence Party, spoke to a nearly empty room. This year, as a Trump ally and triumphant Brexit engineer, he got a standing ovation.

    One of the uninvited in 2013 and 2014 was Frank Gaffney, the anti-Muslim “security” advocate. By last year, Gaffney was moderating panel discussions in a side room at CPAC. His colleague Clare Lopez was allowed to speak this week from the main ballroom stage, where she warned of a supposed Islamist plot to infiltrate Canada.

    “Our friends up there are in trouble right now,” she said. “Our Canadian friends need our help and support.”

    Lopez may not have been the fringiest speaker: Writer Trevor Loudon warned of a century-old alliance between Muslims and Bolsheviks. Even CPAC’s hardline regulars managed to escalate their rhetoric. Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association chief executive known for aggressive speeches, argued at length that every element of the American left is “willing to engage in criminal violence to get what they want”: the destruction of “not just our country but also western civilization.”

    Thousands lined up to hear a Thursday speech by Vice-President Mike Pence, who had spent his pre-Trump career advocating free trade. At the same time, a smaller crowd assembled in a side room to watch a panel discussion titled “Free Trade, Fair Trade or Phony Trade,” where the participants included Breitbart editor Joel Pollak and Ed Schultz, the former MSNBC progressive firebrand who now works for RT, a Russian 24-hour English-language network.

    Both the roster and the title would have been unthinkable in the pre-Trump era. But Trump likes Russia and doesn’t like free trade and millions of Republicans have been persuaded that he is right.

    Three years ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin had a 10-per-cent approval rating among Republicans, a YouGov poll found. In December, it was 37 per cent. Two years ago, 51 per cent of Republicans thought free trade had been good for the United States, 39 per cent bad. By August, near the end of Trump’s campaign, 32 per cent said good, 61 per cent said bad.

    Devon Flynn, a George Mason University graduate, had been a supporter of Marco Rubio, the conventional pro-trade, anti-Russia Florida senator once touted as the future of the party. “It was very hard,” he said, “to transition from Rubio to Trump.”

    Like almost everyone else at CPAC, he figured out how to get there.

    “I’m not a full gung-ho Trump supporter, but at the same time, he’s our president and, so far, what he’s put in place, I don’t see a problem with,” said Flynn, 25. “Now that we have Donald Trump as president, a lot of people are jumping on board that have different views — moderates all the way to Tea Party — because we see: What he said he would do, that’s what he’s doing.”

    Around the corner, his peers were standing in a 30-person line to take photos with Ken Bone, the guy in the red sweater who asked a question during the second presidential debate, became an Internet sensation for reasons that are not entirely clear, and is now employed by a software company.

    “Ken Bone! Ken Bone! Ken Bone!” they chanted when he showed up, and this made as much sense as anything else.


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  • Who will win? A look at the odds for Oscar Best Picture nominees

    In theory, any of the nine movies nominated for Best Picture at the Feb. 26 Academy Awards could win the gold.

    They’re all worthy contenders. Reality intrudes, however, when you crunch the numbers and analyze the tea leaves of Oscar season, via advance kudos and punditry. Then hard choices and tough calls must be made.

    By my reckoning, five movies have a serious chance of winning the top prize. In descending order, they are La La Land, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, Arrival and Hacksaw Ridge.

    A sixth film, Hidden Figures, has a chance of overtaking the rest, by dint of its surging popularity. It’s currently leading all the other Best Picture challengers at the box office, including nominations champ La La Land.

    This leaves Lion, Fences and Hell or High Water as the close-but-no-cigar players.

    Lion (Garth Davis): Separated as a child from his birth family in India, a questing Australian (Dev Patel) employs technology and ingenuity in a bid to reconnect with his roots;

    Fences (Denzel Washington): A disillusioned former baseball player (Denzel Washington) and his steadfast wife (Viola Davis) wrestle with social limits and personal demons in 1950s Pittsburgh;

    Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie): Two West Texas brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster), pursued by a wily lawman (Jeff Bridges), take on the bank threatening the family ranch.

    Nominations:Lion (6), Fences (4), Hell or High Water (4).

    Key early kudos: Lion (BAFTA Best Supporting Actor win for Patel); Fences (Golden Globes/SAG/BAFTA Best Supporting Actress wins for Davis, SAG Best Actor for Washington); Hell or High Water (Best Film Editing nom, NBR Best Supporting Actor win for Bridges).

    Box office (domestic, U.S. dollars):Lion ($32.2 million); Fences ($54.3 million); Hell or High Water ($27 million).

    Ladbrokes odds:Lion (50/1); Fences (100/1); Hell or High Water (150/1).

    Paddy Power:Lion (60/1); Fences (66/1); Hell or High Water (100/1).

    Sky Bet:Lion (80/1); Fences (100/1); Hell or High Water (100/1).

    Why they could win: Each exhibits a high level of craftsmanship and each has been well received by audiences and critics alike.

    Why they might not: All three are lacking Best Director noms, usually a fatal omission.

    Howell’s line: When all is said and done, it really is a major achievement just to be nominated.

    Hidden Figures

    Quick pitch: In the early 1960s, NASA is trying to reach for the stars by sending astronaut John Glenn into space — but to get there it needs to respect three African-American mathematicians right here on Earth.

    Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons and Mahershala Ali.

    Directed by: Theodore Melfi

    Nominations: 3

    Key early kudos: SAG Award for Best Cast

    Box office (domestic, U.S. dollars): $135.5 million.

    Ladbrokes odds: 20/1

    Paddy Power: 12/1

    Sky Bet: 20/1

    Why it could win: It’s a genuine crowd-pleaser, currently the box-office champ among the nine Best Picture nominees. And it won SAG’s Best Cast Award, strong indication that the actor-dominated Academy loves it.

    Why it might not: It has just three Oscar nominations, none of them in the directing and editing categories that usually point to a winner.

    Howell’s line:The Hidden Figures skyrocket reached the stars just by getting nominated.


    Hacksaw Ridge

    Quick pitch: The Second World War rages on, and pacifist U.S. army medic Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) is willing to do what he can to help win it and save lives — but only if he doesn’t have to pick up a gun.

    Starring: Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Hugo Weaving and Rachel Griffiths.

    Nominations: 6

    Key early kudos: BAFTA Best Editing, AACTA Best Director

    Box office (domestic, U.S. dollars): $66.8 million.

    Ladbrokes odds: 100/1

    Paddy Power: 66/1

    Sky Bet: 66/1

    Why it could win: It’s a rousing drama set in the past, which Oscar loves, and it has accompanying nominations for actor (Garfield), director and editing, often a portent for Best Picture glory.

    Why it might not: A war movie in the bellicose time of Trump goes against the popular mood, and likely also the liberal instincts of the Academy.

    Howell’s line: Academy redemption for Mel Gibson and respect for Hacksaw Ridge, but no Best Picture gold for either.



    Quick pitch: After squid-like aliens from another world arrive on Earth in pill-shaped spacecraft, the U.S. army tasks an expert linguist (Amy Adams) to attempt contact and seek intent. Are these visitors friend or foe?

    Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlbarg.

    Directed by: Denis Villeneuve.

    Nominations: 8

    Key early kudos: BAFTA Best Sound Award; American Cinema Editors Best Edited Feature Film — Dramatic.

    Box office (domestic, U.S. dollars): $100 million.

    Ladbrokes odds: 100/1

    Paddy Power: 100/1

    Sky Bet: 100/1

    Why it could win: It speaks to the need for patience and understanding regarding strangers in our midst, an urgent message for Trumpian times.

    Why it might not: No sci-fi movie has ever won Best Picture. The lack of a Best Actress nomination for Adams suggests the Academy views this picture as a technical achievement, not a dramatic one.

    Howell’s line:Arrival opens minds — but Academy ones are still snapped shut.


    Manchester by the Sea

    Quick pitch: Haunted by tragedies old and new, a depressed handyman (Casey Affleck) reluctantly returns to the seaside town he once called home. He’s been made legal guardian of his teenage nephew (Lucas Hedges).

    Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges and Kyle Chandler.

    Directed by: Kenneth Lonergan

    Nominations: 6

    Key early kudos: BAFTA, Golden Globes Best Actor (Affleck); BAFTA Best Screenplay (Lonergan).

    Box office (domestic, U.S. dollars): $46.2 million.

    Ladbrokes odds: 20/1

    Paddy Power: 12/1

    Sky Bet: 25/1

    Why it could win: There’s heartbreak but also humour in writer/director Lonergan’s commanding screenplay and direction, with stellar acting backing him in every frame.

    Why it might not: The story might be too bleak for an Academy that seems ready to swoon for the wistful charms of La La Land.

    Howell’s line: Majestic efforts make for masterful drama, but probably not Oscar gold.



    Quick pitch: Sexual awakening and life reckonings mark the passage from boyhood to adulthood for a closeted gay Miami man, played at different ages by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes.

    Starring: Mahershala Ali, Trevante Rhodes, Janelle Monáe, André Holland, Alex Hibbert and Ashton Sanders.

    Directed by: Barry Jenkins

    Nominations: 8

    Key early kudos: Golden Globes Best Picture — Drama; SAG Best Supporting Actor (Ali).

    Box office (domestic, U.S. dollars): $21.3 million.

    Ladbrokes odds: 7/1

    Paddy Power: 13/2

    Sky Bet: 8/1

    Why it could win: It’s a compassionate and wise coming-of-age story that speaks to the urgent need to dig below the surface to find truth.

    Why it might not: The La La Land juggernaut might prove too big for a movie this intimate to overcome.

    Howell’s line:Moonlight’s glow will endure, with or without Oscar’s gold.


    La La Land

    Quick pitch: A dedicated jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) and an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) find love and musical inspiration in a Hollywood much like the movies — but reality and ambition challenge romance.

    Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, J.K. Simmons and Rosemarie Dewitt.

    Directed by: Damien Chazelle

    Nominations: 14

    Key early kudos: BAFTA/Golden Globes/Critics’ Choice Best Film

    Box office (domestic, U.S. dollars): $134.7 million.

    Ladbrokes odds: 1/8

    Paddy Power: 1/7

    Sky Bet: 1/10

    Why it could win: It has the most nominations and strongest pre-Oscar kudos of all the contenders, usually a sign it will go all the way. And it’s beloved by both critics and regular moviegoers.

    Why it might not:La La Land burnout has become a serious issue and the preferential Oscar ballot means a close rival like Moonlight could triumph.

    Howell’s line:La La Land has the heat, but does it have enough momentum to dance into the winner’s circle?


  • Pierre Gregoire was source of joy, but later pain, as he struggled with addiction

    It was a mild winter when Pierre Gregoire, just 3 ½ years old, and his infant sister came to the two-storey house that would become one of his many homes.

    The boy with the infectious smile and gentle heart immediately won over Joe and Gloria Curotte, the foster parents who loved and bonded with the child they would come to consider a son.

    “He had the biggest grin,” his mother, Gloria, said, remembering that first day.

    “This little boy is not going to give us a hard time, look how happy he is.”

    For the next 25 years, Gregoire was a source of enormous joy and pride, as well as pain, as his struggle with addiction and his desire to wander took him away from that house, to Labrador and Montreal and finally to Toronto.

    “Pierre never left us. In my mind, at least, he thought of us every night,” Gloria said, speaking to the Star from their home on the Kahnawake reserve south of Montreal.

    “Pierre was our boy. Pierre belonged here with us.”

    Gregoire died on Feb. 15, in a bathroom at a KFC in Toronto, shortly after injecting heroin police suspect contained fentanyl. The powerful drug is linked to a rising number of deaths among intravenous drug users across the country.

    He was 28.

    His story, but not his name, was published amid what activists and allies have identified as an ongoing crisis of shelter capacity and addiction services in Toronto. He was said to have walked away from a downtown drop-in centre, where he was fed by welcoming staff, but told it was too full to allow him to lie down and sleep.

    On Wednesday morning, a memorial service was held at West Neighbourhood House, a drop-in centre and community hub at the corner of Queen and Bathurst Sts. Nearly 50 people gathered in a circle of burgundy-cushioned chairs under large feathered dream catchers hanging overhead.

    A worker handed out printed programs with Gregoire’s beaming face. One man, who arrived early, pressed it to his lips.

    Elder Vern Harper asked everyone to come forward as he explained the importance of the circle, a place where they were all invited to step in, to heal and to honour Gregoire.

    Harper started with a prayer, everyone rising to their feet, the final words echoing around the circle in murmured response.

    By his father’s account, Gregoire’s time with them was filled with love and support, games of hacky sack and summers in a pool Joe put in the backyard.

    “We had anywhere from 10 to 12 kids in the yard constantly,” Joe told the Star, on the phone from the house he built. “To me, he was a typical boy growing up, he had a good life, he had lots of friends and, like I said, as a parent it is hard to see this.”

    At the memorial, Joe was the first to stand. “I raised him,” he said, then described a boy who could “run like the wind,” loved hockey, baseball and excelled at lacrosse.

    He also loved riding dirt bikes, often breaking them and bringing them home for his father to fix. He snuck alcohol as a teen, as many kids do, but didn’t really begin to struggle until a few years later, they said.

    Gregoire was one of nine children the Curotte family, who are Mohawk, fostered over a decade, some of whom they adopted.

    “God knew there were children out there that needed a mother, and I was Pierre’s mother. He gave him to me,” Gloria said. “I got my wish. I had my children and I am proud of them.”

    Reuniting Gregoire with his birth mother, Angela Gregoire, whom he loved deeply, was always the goal, Gloria said.

    About four years after he arrived at their house he did go back to live with Angela, but they were separated again. He was then placed with a second foster family, close to Joe and Gloria’s house, and then back with the Curotte family.

    Gregoire was part of the Innu Nation and many members of his large family live on the Sheshatshiu reserve, in Labrador, including Angela, who spoke with the Star on Saturday, the day of her son’s funeral.

    “We love him very much and will miss him very much. I have never forgotten him. We are lighting a candle for him since he passed,” she said.

    Angela spoke of a deep bond with her eldest son, whom she named after her father and who carried a Bible she gave him. She thanked Joe and Gloria and his Toronto friends for caring for him.

    As a young man, Gregoire did return to Labrador and during that time, they “got back that connection,” Angela said. Still, he decided to move to Toronto to go to school and pursue his dream of becoming a chef.

    Gregoire’s life in the city did not turn out as he had wanted, but he hadn’t given up hope.

    In a video about life on the street posted last fall by an independent filmmaker, Gregoire said he tried to seek help for his addictions but there was “too much Jesus.”

    He said firmly he had never been driven from home and blamed himself for “doing wrong.” He described what it means to be homeless and survive and that he saw the cup as “always half full.”

    “Even when you meet the bad people, there’s always that good person that’s like right behind them that’s willing to talk to you.”

    He dreamed of being heard one day as a musician.

    “You’re going to see me in like three years, maybe two if I work really hard. But yeah, you’re going to see me,” he said.

    “I’ll push forward to do it because I already feel it.”

    When asked to recount his childhood and the people who raised him, Gregoire talked about Joe and Gloria.

    “They’re my foster parents, but yeah, they’re my parents,” he said.

    They were good to him, he said. “Amazing.” And he knew they loved him “with all their hearts.”

    “You loved them?” the interviewer asked.

    “Yes,” he replied without hesitation.

    Several years after Gregoire left, Gloria planted a red maple for him in her yard. It grew perfectly straight.

    During one of his visits, it was clear he had been drinking. She walked him over and placed his hand on the trunk.

    “This is your tree,” she told him. “I planted it for you. I want you to go straight like this tree.”

    They tried many times to reach him, she said.

    Gregoire wrote his family three letters that his mother calls a “true confession” and in which he shared his deep love for them and apologized for taking money, or drinking, and pledged to make good.

    “He did have a good home,” Gloria said. “He never wanted for anything. He was given it, because he deserved it.”

    That included guitar lessons to encourage a musical talent she described as a true gift.

    One Christmas, Gregoire arrived with nothing, just a bag of small gifts.

    “Those are the moments that stand out. What he was about. That was his quality,” she said.

    During the memorial, Gloria looked around the room at friends her son had made. Her son, Iohahi:io, and daughter Lisa (Watshennon:ni) were next to her. There were front-line workers there too in the crowd from St. Felix, the drop-in centre that provided soup and shelter on many occasions. Maybe you knew about us, she said, that he had a family.

    Heads around the circle nodded.

    When those friends shared emotional memories, Gloria encouraged them if they struggled to speak, guided them through their stories or offered comfort if they became overwhelmed.

    “He is with you in spirit. Ask him to help you,” she said to one young man.

    In turn, they shared how Gregoire had become part of their family on the street, sharing conversation, laughs and a “brotherhood” with two young men.

    “A beautiful kid,” one friend said, raising his voice so that Gloria could hear him.

    “He’s no different than me,” he said. “It could have been me.”

    Gloria said she at first had been scared to speak to the crowd.

    “I wanted to say the right things,” she said. “I didn’t want to offend anybody in that room because I am looking at faces I don’t know, but I was looking at Pierre in that room.”

    Throughout that day, independent of one another, three women — one black, one white, one indigenous — approached to tell her their names.

    “She told me that she was Pierre’s street mom,” Gloria said of one encounter. “Then another, she did the same.”

    So, says the woman who raised the little boy with the wide smile: “Pierre had a lot of mothers. Pierre had a mother of every colour, of every nation. They took care of him, too, however which way they did.”

    At the end of the service, Elder Harper tried to articulate the pain of losing a son, speaking of his own losses, and of the devastating legacy of residential schools and government actions meant to “de-feather” them.

    “Our children should not go ahead of us,” he said. “But we don’t have a say on that.”

    When it was over, those gathered helped dismantle the circle of chairs and set up long tables to share a meal.

    On Sunday, his family in Kahnawake will hold a feast to mark the 10 days after his death — the time, they said, Gregoire had to visit his loved ones and finish his business on Earth.

    They will set a place at the head of the family table, serve his favourite foods and fill a plate for him.

    Gregoire would be there in spirit, his father said.

    Then they will tell him it is okay now to leave.

Arts & Letters
Sunday, 12 August 2007