The following story is an abridged open letter which I sent to the Mayor and Council of Jasper on July 8, 2017. Their email addresses are at the bottom, if you care to write to them. There is much irony in this story, especially in light of the fact that the award pictured here was given to me by the very organization which denied me a busking permit.
A Chronology of Promises & Broken Promises, Steps & Missteps
This story begins about 5 years ago. I made a presentation to Town Council that busking should be allowed in Jasper. It was not legal to busk at the time. I made the case that this little mountain town within a national park and world heritage site was a perfect place for busking, and that it would be a win-win-win situation. It would be good for the musicians, good for the tourists, and good for the town aesthetic. My presentation was well received, and the councillors enthusiastically assured me they would work on making it happen.
It took some time, but finally in 2016, the busking program was launched. To be specific it was Busking Pilot Project #2. Pilot Project #1 occurred during the Arts Days weekend late September 2015, and I took part in that. My band, the “Fiddle River Band”, played on the Saturday afternoon, and it was a great success. People were dancing on the sidewalk.
The 2016 Pilot Project was the first time that busking licences would be sold, and musicians could busk all summer, with a few guidelines stipulating where, when and how long.
Imagine my surprise then when I went to buy my licence, and was sent the curt email,
in light of your recently publicly proclaimed non-inclusive beliefs we have decided to decline a permit to you at this time.
There it was, clearly stated, that it was because of my thoughts that I was not going to be allowed to play my violin on the streets of Jasper.
That was last year. What came next? A season of surveys, meetings, emails, new process, newspaper articles, auditions, vetting buskers, guidelines, and rules.
Winter of 2016 – 2017
In response to numerous queries last summer by both myself and Prof Tony Hall from the University of Lethbridge, the town manager responded that there would be a survey in the fall to determine the success and what problems, if any, arose from the busking project, and then they would be in a position to answer our questions.
Autumn came and went, and there was not much action. There was a general satisfaction survey which included two questions on busking, and another survey for the business community more specifically related to busking.
On February 14th, 2017, busking was on the agenda of the Committee-of-the-Whole Council meeting. I requested a spot on the agenda. Marianne Garrah and Dave Baker of the Habitat for the Arts were also in attendance and made a presentation before mine.
I took note of Marianne Garrah’s comment that the vetting process for buskers should be based on talent and musical ability. This was noted in the minutes. To my understanding, that statement by Garrah was a tacit admission that they had erred the previous summer when they denied me a busking license based on my thoughts. This gave me confidence that this summer would be different.
At the same time, Councillor Gilbert Wall declared openly that I should not be allowed on the streets to busk, and that he could not separate my violin playing from my ideas. It was written about in both newspapers, as being “the elephant in the room” and “given what we know…” – how ominous – Councillor Wall made it clear that there must be “an out”, for them to be able to shut me out.
April 11 2017 Committee of the Whole minutes state that the management of the Busking Pilot Project for 2017 would once again be handed over to the Habitat for the Arts. They also stated that the selection committee should be comprised of people who are qualified to assess musical abilities.
During subsequent meetings, a clear outline of process was made for the busker vetting and selection process. There would be a panel of 5 judges. A point system would be used. Habitat for the Arts would choose a song from the auditionee’s set lists. If the performer “seems shaky on one song you may ask them to perform another song”. The performance would be recorded and sent to other judges who presumably could not all come together at the same time because of busy schedules.
This process implies open visibility of the panel. Several of the guidelines make it clear that this was to be a live audition process. For example, one guideline states
Judges are encouraged to interact with performers (but not for too long, just enough to make them feel comfortable).” Another states: “If a performer doesn’t show up, move on to the next performer on the list.”
After the May 2nd meeting, I immediately struck up a correspondence with the Habitat people to indicate my interest in auditioning for the purpose of acquiring a busking licence. I went in person, and I emailed.
When will the auditions take place?
Where should I show up?
How will I find out when they take place?
Will there be an announcement in the paper?
Will they email me? Phone me?
Responses to my attempts at communication were either absent or slow.
Finally I was told that I could simply send them a clip electronically. Pardon me???
What happened to the whole “select a song and if they are shaky pick another one, and please interact but not too much….” scenario? What was going to be a live audition in front of a panel of judges turned into an anonymous “send in your tape”.
I asked Marianne Garrah in person, “This process is open and transparent, correct? The judges’ identities should be public, yes?” She agreed. I asked who the judges are. She started to name them and after naming two, she hesitated, reconsidered, and said,
uhhhhh, I can’t remember who the others are, it’s not really my thing. This is not my project…
End of May, still no buskers on the streets of Jasper.
June – I left town for about two weeks, and when I returned, there were indeed buskers on the street, but only just.
I tried to visit the Habitat several times, to no avail, as nobody was there. I emailed, and asked when I could please pick up my permit, assuming of course that there would be no problem passing the audition process, having sent them the link to my music samples. They all had assured me that they knew I could play very well. And they did say it was based on talent and musical ability.
Imagine once again my surprise when I received the following unsigned email.
For 2017 the Jasper Busking program has been designed such that a ‘no meet’ e-committee of community minded individuals are given sound/youtube/audition files provided by the artists. Those files are listened to with the intent of realizing three things: skill of the artist (5potential criteria points), potential enjoyment by the listener (5potential criteria points), and to gain a preception [sic] of the artists stage presence (5potential criteria points). Those criteria points are calculated over the 5 community members and to be warranted a licence the total must equal at least 55 (or 11 out of 15 from each response).
Unfortunately the results that came back to Habitat from the committee did not reflect that total for you. Your application for 2017 has been declined.
Habitat for the Arts
for the Jasper Municipal 2017 Busking Pilot Project
Who are these faceless nameless “community minded individuals”? They made rules and guidelines, then broke them all. Live audition process turned into electronic transmission to who knows who, and whoever they are, they reached their objective to keep Monika out. No accountability. No transparency. No legitimate reason was given. They got their way and evaded responsibility. Anonymous judges, faceless nameless individuals, awarding insufficient (zero?) points to one of the best-known musicians in this little town, is rather Kafkaesque, is it not?
What did all of this amount to? New process after endless deliberations and meetings, it was all a big facade and nothing more. They did not quite know what to do with Monika Schaefer. They knew they could not openly deny me a license based on lack of musical abilities. They stated it many times, that it was not my music that bothered them, rather, it was my thoughts. My musical background and involvement in this community is extensive and well-known. In fact, some would say I had acquired local celebrity status as a violinist and fiddler, who was in much demand at community functions and fundraisers, both as performer and occasionally also as judge during competitions.
They must have struggled with this problem, because in spite of declaring at the May 2nd council meeting that they would like to see buskers on the streets of Jasper by the May long weekend, they did not appear until some time during the second week of June. I happened to be out of town then – how convenient.
False Diversity Project
Jasper advertises its Diversity Project while advancing ideological exclusiveness.
The Fitzhugh newspaper reported (March 16, 2017 article page 3 and editorial page 6) that I was the subject of debate in deliberations about a proclamation designating Jasper an “inclusive community”. The Mayor warned that the proclamation could have unforeseen consequences.
It seems to me that inevitably we will run into the elephant in the room that councillor Gilbert Wall spoke about a week ago, that is when you proclaim to be inclusive without limitation then you are forced to confront those with whom you might have the most profound disagreements. ~Mayor Richard Ireland
All the while there is the absolute assumption that I am guilty of a crime – a thought crime. Regardless of whether I am right or wrong – should that even be relevant for the acquisition of a busking licence? Did we once pride ourselves on having freedom of speech in Canada?
Various agencies in the town of Jasper have designated themselves judge, jury and enforcers against the alleged thought crimes of Monika Schaefer. All the while, there is never so much as a glimmer of introspection, not the slightest interest in making enquiries into the issues which I have raised. In fact, the opposite is true. The ferocious attack against me is designed to frighten anyone else from looking.
There is simply a blanket acceptance of the prevailing dogma, and anyone who dares question is guilty of “racial incitement”. The very act of questioning is criminalized. The nasty little label “hate speech” is applied, and that’s that. Evidence is not required when something is “self-evident”. The Doctrine of Judicial Notice allows courts to recognize as “fact” matters that are “common knowledge”. The victors write the history books, so when they say it is so, then it is so. They determine what becomes “common knowledge”.
Inclusive community is a fraudulent concept in Jasper. Diversity in Jasper does not include thoughts.
Dear Mayor and Councillors, is this what you call due process? Is this not an EXACT fulfillment of some of my concerns expressed earlier in the winter? I thought we had reached an understanding that playing music should have NOTHING to do with a person’s views. Are you going to stand by and support the Habitat in their fraudulent project? Is this your legacy, turning the righteous town of Jasper, all-inclusive Jasper, into a narrow thought-policing agency?
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the UN Declaration of Human Rights are not being respected here in this little town in the midst of a National Park and a World Heritage Site.
The Jasper Diversity Project is a sham. The Jasper busking program is a farce. The proclamation of Inclusive Community is a joke. And most especially, the Habitat for the Arts Values and Principles Statement, all about “learning never stops…, embrace new challenges and ideas…, grow through knowledge exchange and support…” earns all three descriptors: sham, farce and a joke.
sent to Mayor and Council:
as well as to the Habitat for the Arts: email@example.com