Imagine ~ Friday May 29
"I don't like to be political. I like to be polite." So said George Harrison, guitarist, songwriter, peace-lover. The “quiet Beatle”.
And, so it is for Allison Crowe – and most of us. We carry on with our lives. We do what we must do and we aim to do it well.
Ten days, now, after learning of it - the UK's new anti-terrorist and illegal immigration legislation which targets artists and academics is still alarming to me.
But, I'm not the only one...
Scotland's Northern Times, reporting “North-bound visitor 'treated like a terrorist' ”, quotes John Thurso, MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter: "The rule itself is an affront to the great British tradition of welcoming overseas artists and another example of this government's unyielding zeal for mindless regulation. Security is important, but throwing international performers into a lock-up and being rude to them should be no part of it."
The newspaper article goes on to say: “According to the Home Office there has been a national advertising campaign alerting people to the new law and wide consultation with arts organisations in the UK, but Lily Byron of the Rosehall Arts committee laughed at that suggestion.
'I certainly know nothing about this and we have quite a few overseas people playing in Rosehall,' she said this week.
Lorna Sawyer, chairman of the Carnegie Hall, Clashmore, told the NT: 'I am astounded. We never knew anything about this, but if it's all true then it could have serious implications for venues throughout the Highlands. We have definitely not been consulted.'
Such words are consistent with those I've heard directly from dozens of people in the UK and Canada. None had knowledge of this new legislation prior to Allison and her Canadian 'mates' encounter with the UK's border police. A few, new, contacts made in the last 24 – 48 hours say they know of the legislation, but they know that many people do not.
This appears reflective of the manner, and channels, used to disseminate such info - and underscores the fact that our cultural industries are more diverse in their membership than some players in the mainstream appreciate.
Representative of a range of comments received in recent days are these:
a) from a journalist with a major UK newspaper, who reports on governmental+ matters:
"This sorry story is one more illustration of what I've known for some time: like most authoritarian regimes before it, New 'Labour' is, by accident or design, philistine to the marrow.
What I didn't know before was the existence of this new law, and I now wonder how many more slip under the radar."
b) from an arts/music presenter/promoter active in the UK:
"As for who was consulted about the new regs. Well, the big promoters were – hand selected by the Home Office – and they sit on a task force group – Serious Music, Association of British Orchestras, etc. but they haven’t campaigned for the smaller groups and promoters. In my view, there’s a lot of self-serving-interest amongst certain groups who are talking to the home office, but this is not being extended to the wider artistic and music community.”
c) from an agent/booker who presents tours extensively in the UK:
"Unfortunately the new rules in the
article are true. Although this is the first
time I've heard of someone being detained
like this. Any non-EU artist must gain a
certificate of sponsorship (from a UK agent
or whomever is employing/contracting
them) prior to coming to the UK. That agent
will have registered thier business with the
Uk Border Agency. Basically I think this
"certificate" is a number on a database
which comes up at customs?... I think visas
are involved in there somehow. Unfortunately
the Commonwealth link is now irrelevant. Its
anyone outside the EU who must comply with
It wasn't widely advertised. I knew about it as I was already registered with the Uk Border Agency for other groups,"
d) from the manager of a long-established music venue in the UK:
"I can’t tell you how thoroughly annoyed and frustrated I feel at the whole situation. I have written a letter to my local MP (member of parliament / politician) to air my disgust and dismay at this idiotic legislation, which makes it virtually impossible for some international musicians to play in this country and for (particularly) smaller venues to play host to said artists because of the cost of sponsorship.
Please pass on to Allison and the band our very best wishes and sympathies – we are angered and disgusted by the way they have been treated."
e) and this, most concise, assessment comes from one of the UK's premiere investigators of international crime:
The music industry is not one homogeneous mass. More institutionalized operators may be in the loop, however, there clearly exists a large community of law-abiding, music-loving, industry participants who were neither consulted nor informed about the new legislation.
There are far-reaching concerns - such as those which surround the fingerprinting, retina-scanning, bank account scrutinizing and movement monitoring of those international artists and academics coming from non-EU countries (outside of Canada and Australia). What is the justification for such measures?! Based on the comments of many, many, people who've signed the Visiting Artists and Academics Petition this law needs to be seriously retooled or scrapped entirely.
One can say, “I'm alright, Jack. What should I care if people from other parts of the world are treated this way?” The answer is embodied in the famous words of poet John Donne: "Send not to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee."
Having witnessed the jackboot approach used last week in the 10+ hour detainment of an harmless group of Canadian musicians, one can only feel greater concern as to how these visiting artists and educators from other lands are going to be greeted and treated.
Of course, Canada is not immune to the culture of fear and aggression which envelopes “security” issues. The cases piling up reveal the trend. Perhaps most infamously, our nation knows the painful, shameful, tragedy of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekański – "Tasered" to death by police at Vancouver International Airport for the crime of not speaking English.
“I awakened to the cry
that the people have the power
to redeem the work of fools
upon the meek the graces shower
it's decreed the people rule”
People Have the Power ~ Patti Smith