Death of a Ladies’ Man: a tale of loss, addiction and redemption but not much character change

Matt Bissonnette, “Death of a Ladies’ Man” (2020)

Inspired by the poetry and songs of Canadian poet / novelist / singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, some of whose songs grace the film as its musical soundtrack, “Death of a Ladies’ Man” follows hard-drinking Montreal university professor Sam O’Shea (Gabriel Byrne) whose life starts on a series of strange and unexpected turns beginning with finding his second wife Linda in flagrante delicto with a boyfriend. Their marriage broken down and heading for divorce, O’Shea starts seeing strange things: his long-dead father Ben (Brian Gleeson) turns up for one-on-one chats, he meets Frankenstein’s monster in a bar and a tiger-headed waitress in a restaurant. Perhaps he is under stress or having alcoholic delusions; a visit to his GP reveals a terminal brain tumour and O’Shea realises there are dreams he had been putting off a long time and which now demand fulfilment. Shoving his undergraduate literature classes off onto a colleague, O’Shea contacts and tells his ex-wife Genevieve (Suzanne Clement) and estranged children Layton (Antoine Olivier Pilon) and Josée (Karelle Tremblay) that he’s going back to Ireland to write his first novel. The children themselves need support – Layton has come out as gay and is in his first relationship with a man, and Josée is in a destructive relationship with a heroin junkie – but O’Shea flies off to Ireland and back to his childhood home in a small rural community where he almost promptly takes up with a young woman, Charlotte (Jessica Paré) and incurs the murderous wrath of a local man keen on her.

The giddy plot with its various sub-plots and their unexpected (if not quite plausible) resolutions works thanks in part to Byrne’s rumpled ease and charm as the otherwise self-absorbed and egotistical O’Shea as he leaves behind a trail of damaged relationships with consequences ranging from upset to anger to near murder. The film moves at a steady pace and the action is structured in three chapters that keep the various sub-plots separate so the plot appears more orderly than chaotic. Everything revolves around O’Shea, reflecting his self-absorption, and this means that some sub-plots go only so far and are never fully developed: the brain tumour part remains in the background and Layton’s sexuality and how this affects his relationship with O’Shea also stay dormant. How O’Shea’s family rallies around him and then how O’Shea manages to help Josée deal with her heroin addiction and come back to something resembling a normal life is not explored in much detail.

O’Shea’s chats with Dad reveal a childhood of trauma and loss that may underlie his womanising and alcohol addictions, leading to both his marriage breakdowns and his strained relationship with his children. The pattern of abandonment, trauma and loss has afflicted two generations in O’Shea’s family and threatens Josée’s health and life. Random incidents though work out to O’Shea’s benefit and eventually he is able to resolve most if not all his troubled conflicts and fulfil his ambitions of writing and publishing his first novel. Tying up loose pieces of his life brings reconciliation with his first family but also brings an unexpected sting.

The film labours under several themes: family trauma and loss that repeat through the generations; and the randomness of life and how it can derail order and cause crises but also lead perhaps to insight, purpose and eventually redemption. O’Shea eventually accepts and comes to terms with his delusions and the prospect of death itself. Things though tend to happen in such a way as to suggest that O’Shea is let off the hook for a great many serious occurrences and perhaps any lessons he might learn don’t penetrate very deeply into his consciousness. He may attend Alcoholics Anonymous sessions and swear off chasing pretty young women but the film’s general tenor as musical comedy / drama seems a bit too light-hearted to allow much character development and maturation in our hero. At the end of the film O’Shea still seems the same man he was at the beginning, with no great insights into his character and little understanding of how his childhood of abandonment and loss laid the foundation for his relationships with women and his children. He continually nags his ghost father about what happened to his mother and why she left the family even after his father admits he has no idea, and at no point during the film does O’Shea appear to acknowledge that whatever might have driven his mother to abandon him might be related to whatever drove him to leave Ireland: the lack of opportunity, the claustrophobic, even paranoiac nature of life in rural Ireland for those who didn’t conform to pre-1990s Irish social traditions.

The best part of the film is its scenery set in Montreal and rural Ireland which suggests a deeper social context to the dramas playing out in O’Shea’s life: urban Montreal, where comfortable middle-class people struggle to find purpose in dysfunctional lives in a deindustrialised environment and instead find only escapism in addiction, is a significant character in its own right, as is also rural Ireland which at first seems bracing and inviting but turns out to be restrictive and dysfunctional in its own way. That this aspect of the film is more felt than explored may be seen as a weakness but viewers cannot expect the all-too-human cast of characters, with what they already have to cope with, to be able to recognise what is oppressing them and do something about it.

Land: a film of two exiles from society finding friendship and healing

Robin Wright, “Land” (2021)

For her directorial debut, US actor Robin Wright chose to do a challenging character study of a bereaved woman, Edee (played by Wright herself), in shock after losing her husband and son, who isolates herself in a log cabin in the remote Rocky Mountains somewhere in Wyoming state. She intends to start her own vegetable garden and go hunting and fishing if need be. Her plan to go completely off-grid is apparent in the split-second scene where she ditches her cellphone into a rubbish bin, and is reinforced when she tells the man from whom she is buying his father’s log cabin that he can take away her rented car and haulage vehicle. Her attempts at living off the land however meet with failure upon failure and she doesn’t get far coming to terms with new neighbours like a pack of wolves and a huge bear that ransacks her log cabin during a severe winter. In the middle of a terrible blizzard, Edee curls up on the floor of her freezing log cabin, ready to die and be done with life.

In the nick of time arrive local hunter Miguel (Demian Bichir) and nurse Alawa (Sarah Dawn Pledge) who find Edee only days away from starving and freezing to death, and who bring her back to life with medicines, soups and warm clothing. Alawa wants to get Edee down to town and into hospital straight away but Edee refuses. Miguel offers to care for Edee and, surprisingly, teach her how to survive on her own since she is adamant about staying in her log cabin. From then on, Miguel visits Edee frequently to show her how to chop wood, how to hunt, shoot and prepare deer, and cook venison. Hunting her own food and eating meat help to strengthen Edee so she can concentrate on teaching herself from books how to create her vegetable garden. Before long, Edee is doing well for herself and becomes close friends with Miguel. At this point in the film though, Miguel tells her he is going away and leaves his dog with her. Time passes and Edee soon realises something may have happened to Miguel, that he has been away from his own home for too long.

On the surface a film of survivalist self-exile and isolation, “Land” turns out to be a meditation on reconciliation, healing and being able to connect with other people. In his own way Miguel is a damaged human being who has suffered loss because of past irresponsible behaviour; by helping Edee and teaching her how to survive, he finds purpose in living and ultimately grace and redemption. From Miguel, Edee learns to reconnect with people and to reach out to others when she needs help. Eventually she is able to come to terms with her loss and to contact her sister-in-law as equals.

While Wright and Bichir give excellent performances as Edee and Miguel, the script does leave much to be desired: the sudden jump from Edee on her own being hopeless to Edee being capable and self-reliant under Miguel’s tutelage strains credibility, especially in before-Miguel and after-Miguel scenes of Edee chopping wood. While the landscape and the ever-changing seasons are significant to the film’s visual impact and as an important aspect of the plot, even the physical environment seems subordinated to the whims of the plot with the bad weather, the wolves and the bear bothering Edee before she meets Miguel and everything brightening up and the bad animals staying away after she meets Miguel. There is much in the script that seems forced and not a little hokey, especially when Edee meets Miguel for (spoiler alert) the final time and they both reveal to each other the reasons why they did what they believed they had to do, that brought them together in the first place.

Of course the physical environment of the Rockies is essential to making this very minimally styled and structured film work and to give the impression of the passage of time. The dialogue is very sparse which I consider detracts from the realism the film attempts to show: in real life, Edee would have been talking to herself a lot as she encounters one trial after another. Voice-over narration by Wright would have added another, perhaps deeper and thoughtful dimension to the film: Edee would be wondering why Miguel goes out of his way to help her and what he hopes to get out of helping and teaching her. A mystery and not a little frisson of tension could develop as to his intentions toward her. As it is, the film seems very circumscribed by its minimalist scope and the landscapes and cinematography are made to do the work of carrying the film.

Final Offer: implausible plot made enjoyable by great acting and fast minimal dialogue

Mark Slutsky, “Final Offer” (2018)

The premise is the height of implausibility but great acting from Aaron Abrams and Anna Hopkins as protagonist and antagonist lawyers make the film enjoyable to watch. Henry (Abrams), an alcoholic traffic ticket attorney, is picked up by mystery lady Olivia (Hopkins) at a bar; next thing he knows when he wakes up, he is in a windowless room with Olivia who presents him with the biggest deal in his life. He has been chosen to represent the human species to negotiate and sign away the Earth’s water resources to a giant space-fish species whom Olivia represents. Naturally Henry is horrified and refuses to sign anything but he has no choice: he has only a few minutes to agree and to sign the deal, and the document itself is the size of a legal textbook.

At least Abrams and Hopkins have good chemistry and they also have an advantage in having worked with Slutsky previously. Abrams deftly makes Henry quite plausible as a drunken and rather sleazy attorney down on his luck through the demon drink for much of the film, and then suddenly give his character a razor-sharp mind that finds the crucial flaw in the document that (spoiler alert) scuppers the whole deal. Olivia’s face falls and the space-fish client, seen through a window that opens up in a far wall, rumbles angrily.

The big surprise is that, having defeated Olivia and the alien, Abrams proposes a date with his attractive rival who may or may not be human. This opens up the possibility of a series of short films in which Abrams finds himself doing battle either at the negotiating table or in a courtroom with extraterrestrial judges, lawyers and their equally xenomorphic clients in situations where some aspect of the Earth or its solar system is up for grabs in dubious proposals. Maybe we should stay tuned.

Numb: a powerful short film on the effects of lockdown isolation on young people

Liv McNeil, “Numb” (2020)

Originally an art school project to occupy her for the rest of the school year, Liv McNeil’s three-minute film “Numb” has reached far beyond her original audience at her school in Etobicoke, a district in Toronto, Canada: the film has garnered 100,000 views on Youtube and gained praise from Canadian film director Sarah Polley. Starring 15-year-old McNeil herself, the film is a mostly silent work (save for the music soundtrack, “My Tears are Becoming a Sea” by artist M83) detailing a young person’s experience of COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and the effect that loss of daily structure and enforced social isolation has on her. After a tour of her bedroom, in which the camera fixates on photos of friends and other memorabilia that establish the lone protagonist’s identity, the film settles on the stunning climax: a full one-minute stop-motion collage of McNeil in front of her laptop, surrounded by furniture, school notes and toys, going through weeks and months of her days in her prison, during which she suffers a silent breakdown and screams.

This heartfelt and intensely emotional film should be considered an indictment on governments and public health experts who impose lockdowns and other restrictions on healthy populations, with no thought as to what to actually do during lockdowns to ensure such actions only remain as a last resort, and who fail to protect the most vulnerable groups (in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, the elderly and others resident in nursing care homes, often run by private companies for profit) from the very scourge that supposedly necessitated lockdown in the first place. “Numb” can also be read as a protest against government and corporate actions and restrictions that cause and/or promote long-term economic and psychological pain and damage: jobs are being lost, businesses are shutting down, people are losing hope and taking their frustrations out on family members or even themselves.

A tale of alienation, dehumanisation and exploitation in “Upload:U”

Samuel E Mac, “Upload:U” (2017)

A creepy little short made in very sparing minimalist style, “Upload:U” may be viewed as a metaphor expressing the alienation and dehumanisation of people living isolated existences highly dependent on cyber-technology for social interactions. Disillusioned by her cubicle job at work, unable to connect with a male employee she fancies and cut off from her family, Jane (Lee Marshall) increasingly relies on her recreational virtual reality console, connected to the AI system in her flat, for entertainment and solace. One night, her avatar takes her to a bar where she meets a man – or a few men – and has sex with him (or them). She wakes up in the morning in pain, wounded and bloodied between her legs. A strange light glows white and red within her abdomen.

Reminiscent of the cult sci-fi horror film “Demon Seed” in which a scientist’s wife is held prisoner, raped and impregnated by a computer, this short can be distressing to watch as Jane, trying to get help through her AI which deliberately misunderstands her instructions, weakens and finally dies. At no time at all does Jane appear to realise that the AI has fooled and manipulated her, and in my view this is the film’s downfall. At the very least Jane could have asked or argued with the AI what it had done to her and why. At the very least Jane could have attempted to regain control over her life, perhaps even tried to damage the AI, and this would have given viewers a better indication of her character. As it is, Jane comes across as superficial, passive and undeserving of audience sympathy. The conclusion is predictable but is cut off very quickly so viewers get no idea of the AI’s reaction to the birth of the offspring.

While the film’s visual style is light, clear and minimalist, obscuring the horror of its plot, and its cinematography is very good and uses a cheap budget well through the use of unusual angles and points of view, the film overall is let down by a poor story and sketchy characterisation. To get something out of this film, viewers need to bring their own knowledge of human alienation gained from experience or philosophical study. Young viewers without such knowledge, at whom the film targets, are likely to find this film confusing. Viewing “Upload:U” as a metaphor for human alienation, as a first step towards dehumanising people and exploiting them as machines, may be helpful in understanding the film and its flaws.

Metta Via: a story of personal transformation with a strange power and attraction

Warren Flanagan, “Metta Via” (2017)

Visually stunning and ambitious in its concept, this Canadian short work is possessed of unusual power. Superficially it lacks an obvious plot and for all I know it may actually be a proof-of-concept work for a movie inspired by existential themes. In a temple-like spacecraft, a young woman, Evelyn (Stacey Armstrong), awakens as if having been birthed in an artificial womb. Around her, strange machines with flashing coloured disks that may reference the concept of chakras (focal points of energy in the human body in Tantra Buddhism or Hinduism) communicate with one another in an equally odd alien language. These machines clearly expect something of this young woman; they detach the life support systems that have sustained her and push her gasping onto the floor. Apparent memories flash in front of her and for a short while, her earliest memory – of living on a farm in picture-postcard-perfect Switzerland as a small girl, being beckoned by a white-clad figure (Armstrong again) to follow while all around spaceships bearing the symbols of the machines that have kept Evelyn alive hover in the sky – holds her spellbound. Presumably other memories come to the fore, stay a while and flash back into her unconscious mind. Evelyn seems to come to a decision and strides towards a blinding white light, her physical body falling away and the life-force that maintained it becoming pure energy. As she enters through the Blankness, the machines behind her roar approvingly and ask her if she is still present within. Evelyn affirms that she is, and moreover there are others like her within.

The plot is so vague that many meanings and interpretations can be placed upon it. The woman may be in a grey zone between incarnations and her entry into the white Blankness may be her passing into a new universe where she will take up her new body. Only her consciousness will retain anything of past lives in previous universes. Alternately Evelyn may be ascending to another level within the current universe: a level we humans cannot understand, but one where Evelyn and others who have ascended before may look back or look down on us, and perhaps try to intercede to shape a particular direction to global cultures so we humans don’t destroy the planet through our foolish and thoughtless actions. At the very least, a personal transformation is taking place, one from which a person cannot return to a previous state of existence.

The spacecraft settings are lavish yet at the same time rather alien-looking, eerie and reminiscent of ancient pagan temples where animals might be sacrificed and their various organs offered to the gods or used in a divination ritual. A debt is owed to past inspirational films like Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”. Actor Stacey Armstrong, having no monologue or dialogue to express, conveys all the wonder, the surprise, the fear and the determination her character needs in undergoing what might be a traumatic birth or rebirth, or simply coming out of a long period of aestivation, into another state of existence. The animation and special effects are impressive, and one does get the feeling of a mighty alien space civilisation capturing human children, somehow bringing them up and maturing them into adults, and then once those adults have become conscious and aware, using that conscious force for its own ends. Do the machines that bring Evelyn awake have an altruistic agenda in doing so? Or are they planning to use Evelyn and any abilities she may have to persuade her fellow human beings to submit to their power?

Perhaps it is the film’s capacity to be all interpretations while not favouring any one in particular that gives it its power and attraction.



Iteration 1: a dystopian human future equivalent to a maze teaching flatworms to learn from experience

Jesse Lupini, “Iteration 1” (2016)

Made for a Canadian film festival in which the objective was to shoot a film and complete its post-production in the space of 8 days, “Iteration 1” is a very good-looking work that perhaps mirrors how AI bots learn or how flatworms are trained to find their way through a maze. In a dystopian future where she might be a prisoner, Anna (Katherine Isabelle) gets up out of bed and has 60 seconds to find her way out of her minimalist-styled prison or get zapped dead if she makes a mistake or time runs out. The next time she is born, she has to go through the whole process of escaping her prison within 60 seconds again. Viewers can see where this is going so there is no point of trying to count the number of times Anna becomes aware and being zapped before she is eventually able to escape her bedroom prison, only to enter another prison where she is surrounded by balloons of which she must break one to find a key that will allow her to escape the second prison … into a third prison where there is a huge tree and a small axe. Each time she wakes up, her attitude changes (indicating that she is learning from past experiences) and previous incarnations assist her so perhaps yes, Anna is indeed some kind of AI bot. In every incarnation, Anna is warned by an unseen supervisor (France Perras) speaking to her through some sort of PA system whenever she makes a mistake.

Viewers may think there is no plot or story, and certainly there appears to be no ending, but the plot itself is a series of endless repetitions which might symbolise the journey of life for individual humans or humanity as a collective … the purpose of humankind, individually and collectively, is to achieve and overcome obstacles, and learn from such experiences, to advance the species and enable its survival. What the end goal from such a series of quests is, remains elusive.

For a film quickly put together, the sets are very good, the acting is impressive without being excessive and the special effects are also spot-on and well done.

Hybrids: a hybrid short film of too many cliches and stereotypes

Patrick Kalyn, “Hybrids” (2013)

This sci-fi live action short seems to have been made as a proof-of-concept film to promote an idea for a television series to film studio executives. In six minutes, a devoted mother (Daniella Evangelista), stunned to discover her daughter Abby (Kaitlyn Bernard) mutilated to death by mysterious strangers only moments after the girl kissed Mum goodbye in their garden, has become a vigilante soldier dedicated to wiping out the horde of insectoid critters responsible for the child’s death in a post-apocalyptic urban environment. Most of the film is taken up by the mother being attacked by and beating the living daylights out of the monsters with a variety of weapons. Using some ingenious hologram technology, the mother tricks a swarm of creatures into attacking her image and blows them up. She knows however that there are far, far more of those monsters where they came from and the next day will be like the previous day: she will continue hunting them and killing them until one day they will all be dead.

For a short film, the special effects and the cinematography are quite good, and what acting does appear looks adequate for the task. The music is the usual cliched Hollywood orchestral schmaltz so the less said about it, the better. Unfortunately the narrative is very stereotyped and derivative: Mum is clearly modelled on the Sarah Connor character made famous by Linda Hamilton in The Terminator series of movies. How the mother came to be such a mighty warrior skilled in handling a variety of firearms, throwing knives and swords, and karate-chopping her enemies isn’t explained very well. The monsters don’t seem very intelligent: they are looking for a “key” that is possessed only by humans and which appears to be part of their genetic make-up so they insist on killing humans to extract what they need. If one assumes the monsters came from outer space, they surely would have the intelligence (or at least the intelligence that enabled them to build the spacecraft to travel to Earth) to try to co-operate with humans to identify the “key” and try to reproduce it themselves.

The final shot of the film presents an ambiguity: some of the monsters are clearly working with humans and at this point, the realisation dawns on this viewer that the monsters already contain some human genetic material combined with other non-human genetic material. Whether the female soldier is allied with these monsters and armed humans or not remains unknown. The whole film though presents an idea that is not at all original, relies too much on physical conflict and violence, and the special effects to make this happen, and uses a plot filled with cliches about family, revenge and survival in a quarantined city. The notion of humans and extraterrestrial creatures working in tandem to eliminate other humans – perhaps because those humans don’t wish to serve as slaves to an elite in a hierarchical society – is also not original. There are too many tired stereotypes and recycled ideas in this film short and the concept it promotes most likely needs retiring.

Borderless: European refugee / migrant crisis harbours a sinister agenda

Caolan Robertson and George Llewellyn-John, “Borderless” (2019)

Lauren Southern is a political activist and independent journalist notorious for expressing views considered to be white-nationalist and borderline racist / xenophobic. However this documentary on the European refugee and immigration crisis is free of ideology and criticism, and Southern (together with her 2-person camera crew) interviews as many people involved in the crisis as possible to get an understanding of the scale of the crisis: these people include refugees and migrants in camps in Morocco, and in Lesvos and other parts of Greece; a homeless migrant from Mali in Paris; EU citizens including a Greek farmer whose farm was overrun by people traffickers and smugglers; people working for NGOs (non-government organisations) in refugee camps supposedly assisting refugees; vigilante militia members in Bulgaria on the lookout for illegal migrants; and an Irish investigative journalist who speaks frankly about the profits that smuggling networks can earn from illegal migration for the people who control them. Southern’s work takes her and her crew across southern Europe and northwest Africa, and to Ireland and Paris.

Initially the film is slow and appears quite amateurish as Southern waits late at night for refugees and migrants to arrive at a beach in northwestern Turkey where people smugglers will take them on a possibly hazardous voyage in flimsy dinghy boats to Lesvos island. After that episode, when the film cuts to Morocco, the pace picks up and the film has more focus and direction, though the unnecessarily dramatic music is intrusive and jarring. From this point on, viewers begin to get a sense of what Southern is working towards: that the refugee and migration crisis, in which huge numbers of people are forced to move from war-torn and/or impoverished areas in the Middle East, western Asia and sub-Saharan Africa into a Europe struggling with its own problems of austerity economics, high unemployment, excessive property speculation and homelessness, appears to be part of a sinister plan created and engineered by an unseen cabal of people who actually profit financially and otherwise (such as perhaps stealing vacated land sitting atop natural gas and oil deposits) by huge shifts of populations, with no regard for how different groups of people with very different histories, cultures, values and traditions can live and work together in crowded conditions and with limited resources.

Alarming moments abound through the documentary: in northern Greece, migrants from as far away as Afghanistan tell of daily fights and violence in their camp and one man says that ISIS fighters have infiltrated the camp by pretending to be refugees and are on the lookout for him (he is an atheist) and others like Christians or Kurdish people who refuse to submit to their Wahhabi brand of Islam; members of NGOs funded by the UN or the EU admit teaching migrants how to fudge their personal details and commit fraud in order to enter Europe, and how they themselves benefit financially from aiding and abetting the human trafficking; African refugees and migrants in Morocco pour out their hopes and dreams of work and success in the European countries they strive to enter; and several migrants in camps in Greece and Morocco admit that they wished they had stayed home. Where migrants find the thousands of euros or their equivalent to pay smugglers to take them abroad is never mentioned but from the way some migrants speak and the way they try to dress and comport themselves, one suspects they may have come from middle class backgrounds or pulled some strings. One odd thing about the migrants that might strike viewers is how very few women, children and elderly people there are in the camps; another odd thing is that some migrants have come from as far away as Afghanistan.

In Brussels, MEPs Southern interviews admit that the EU wastes huge amounts of money in driving an agenda that forces open border policies on EU member nations with no thought for how individual countries cope with housing migrants, feeding them and giving them work at the same time that many of their own citizens are homeless, suffer food insecurity and cannot find work in conditions already strained by austerity policies that have shrunk economic and business activity. Southern travels to Wicklow, a rural town in Ireland, which is trying to cope with an influx of asylum seekers holed up in a hotel. The Wicklow locals lament the irreversible changes forced on them by a local government council that refuses to listen to them, and the asylum seekers themselves see the homelessness, the lack of work, the despair and the suspicion surrounding them.

While the film’s conclusion is an untidy mix of images from previous parts of the documentary accompanied by the tiresome muzak soundtrack, Southern’s address to the audience, in which she admits her astonishment at the scale and complexiy of the crisis and the greed, manipulation and criminality involved in what is virtually a giant global human-trafficking operation, on par with (and superseding) the trans-Atlantic slave trade from Ireland and Africa during the 17th to 19th centuries, and her realisation that refugees, migrants and the peoples of the host nations alike have been deceived and played for fools by a small group of what she calls “evil men” (in reality, governments and their puppet masters), is remarkable in its stark honesty. Southern herself has come a long way in her own research and discoveries, and while she may still express views considered antithetical to the bland and shallow values under the Identity Politics / Diversity umbrella, at least these views are informed by reality on the ground.

Cynicism and citizenship for sale in “Operation Mr Chen: The Hidden Face of Quebec’s Golden Visas”

Francis Plourde, “Operation Mr Chen: The Hidden Face of Quebec’s Golden Visas” (Enquete, September 2018)

In 1986 the Canadian federal government and the Quebec provincial government pioneered investment programs encouraging wealthy migrants with at least $2 million in assets to settle in Canada and Quebec province respectively, provided that, among other conditions they had to meet as immigrants, they invested a minimum amount of $1.2 million (as a loan to the respective governments) into the country or province to generate business, revenues and jobs. Since 1986, thousands of immigrants have gained permanent residency in Canada through these programs. In 2014, the federal program shut down over concerns about its effectiveness but the Quebec Immigrant Investor Program (hereafter QIIP) continues. An investigation by Radio-Canada’s current affairs program Enquete in 2018 reveals that QIIP has degenerated into a financial scam that encourages tax evasion, money laundering and the Canadian economy’s dependence on money – much of it from China and Hong Kong – sloshing through banks and other financial institutions to prop up excessive property speculation in Vancouver and other major cities.

The Enquete investigation takes a multi-pronged approach to covering all aspects of this investment scheme and its consequences for Canada’s economy including hiring a Hong Kong man to pose as wealthy prospective businessman investor Mr Chen, with plenty of money and a shady history of businesses and tax evasion to match his wealth, who approaches an immigration consultancy to inquire about obtaining permanent residency in Quebec and a Canadian passport. What journalist Francis Plourde discovers through “Mr Chen” and his “secretary” using hidden cameras is that immigration consultants and lawyers connected with QIIP are prepared to overlook the huge gaps in the would-be migrant’s business and tax affairs and even suggest that he change his name to “Bruce Lee” (ha!) and acquire citizenship in a dodgy Caribbean tax haven place to evade both Canadian and Chinese tax authorities by establishing a trust fund based there.

Interviews with Quebec government public servants who worked in Hong Kong dealing with QIIP applications and the immigrant consultants and lawyers who represented or were asked to vet wealthy clients wanting permanent residency status in Canada reveal the extent of the corruption involved; the undercover operation using the fake investor Mr Chen confirms the sloppy way in which applications were processed and how consultants turned a blind eye to applicants’ shady financial pasts. The officials who worked in Hong Kong speak of not having enough time to do full due diligence work on applicants’ documents and of being pressed by the Quebec government to accept applicants in spite of not having the time or the resources to check and authenticate their papers.

The investigation also examines whether the QIIP program has delivered economic benefits to Quebec in the generation of new business and jobs in that province. While bureaucrats and new small to medium-sized firms in Quebec are enthusiastic about government programs that fund their growth and development, what the investigators found that the money loaned by investors (interest-free, for five years) to Quebec was placed with Investissement Quebec (hereafter IQ) which invested the money in funds at market rates. The interest earned would be invested in actual businesses. Further investigation with an economist found that the number of jobs generated by investment by IQ was far less than IQ itself claims. On top of this, the revenue earned from IQ’s investments has been low due to very low interest rates over the past decade (2008 – 2018). If this were not enough, much of the revenue has to be paid to immigration consultants in commissions for referring prospective immigrants to QIIP so the amount invested in new businesses is much, much less than it could be.

A further consequence of QIIP is that most Chinese immigrants – they make up the majority of the QIIP immigrants – end up in cities like Vancouver and Toronto where they drive up the prices of properties and help create property speculation bubbles. Many immigrants commute between Canada, China and Hong Kong, and rarely or even never set foot in Quebec. They pay very little income tax in Canada – indeed, buying property is itself a form of tax evasion – while Vancouver suffers from an overheated property market in which local people are effectively barred from buying their own homes, and Vancouver city authorities suffer the burden of supplying education and health services to foreign families that contribute very little to Canada.

In effect, the whole QIIP project has created a financial monster in which the main beneficiaries are financial institutions and people gaming the project as if it were a giant casino. The program has created opportunities for money laundering and taxation evasion. It appears that neither the Canadian nor the Quebec government seems to care very much about the adverse economic and social consequences that QIIP creates for communities in Vancouver and other cities where wealthy immigrants have flocked to buy up mansions and expensive apartments and to educate their children in private schools, as long as money is flowing into the country. In the process, an elite transnational class of people dependent on rentier income derived from property speculation and with no concept of national loyalty is created.

Above all, the notion that citizenship can be bought at a price, and the conditions attached to the purchase of citizenship can be disregarded, as long as the buyer brings plenty of money, is cynical and says quite a bit about the grubby motivations and aims of the people who dreamt up the idea of fast-tracking residency status and citizenship on the basis of material wealth.