Vibrant Montreal brings new Canadian rock sound to world scenes
Posted on Thursday, May 10, 2007 (EST)
Montreal, the Canadian city known for its fierce winters, has become an international hotspot for a new wave of indie bands.
The Montreal band "Arcade Fire" during a performance
© AFP/GettyImages/File Kevin Winter
PARIS (AFP) - Led by trailblazers Arcade Fire, guitar-wielding groups have been touring overseas, winning fans and have everyone wondering about the secret of the city’s sudden success.
Alongside the rock scene, electronic acts such as DJ Champion, Kid Koala and Tiga have made "based in Montreal" a fashionable stamp of quality.
In the process, the image of Canadian music, once dominated by pop crooners Bryan Adams and Celine Dion, has been redefined.
"Montreal is an extremely cosmopolitan and open city," said homegrown singer Pierre Lapointe, giving his reasons for the new vibrancy.
"We couldn’t care less about origins. What we look for is good music and interesting ways of doing things," he added during a stop in Paris.
Montreal is home to about two million people, making it the biggest city in the French-speaking eastern province of Quebec.
Music journalist and commentator for Canadian cable channel MusiquePlus, Nicolas Tittley, puts the vitality of the guitar scene down to North American influences.
The Montreal band "Arcade Fire" during a performance
© AFP/GettyImages/File Kevin Winter
"Rock, country, blues, folk. Basically, all the music movements linked to North America are not foreign for 'les Montrealais'," he said in an interview.
Indie rockers Arcade Fire have sold a million albums worldwide, according to their record label, and fellow groups Wolf Parade, The Bell Orchestre, Patrick Watson, Stars, The Besnard Lakes or The Dears are following in their footsteps.
The francophone movement includes Ariane Moffatt, Karkwa, Ghislain Poirier, Les Trois Accords and Malajube.
Malajube is threatening to cross the language divide and break into English-speaking markets after the group’s new album "Trompe-l'oeil" won plaudits from US reviewers.
Although Montreal is a majority francophone city, most people can speak (and sing in) both languages and the city is also home to a large, well-integrated ethnic population.
"The openness that we have in Montreal is quite unique," said Laurent Saulnier, programmer for the Montreal International Jazz Festival and Francofolies de Montreal event.
"Few cities in the world have access to so many sorts of music from everywhere: France, USA, Europe, South America, or Africa."
The cross-over of influences and culture is also seen in the music collaborations.
Pierre Lapointe, The Dears, Les Trois Accords and Loco Locass, a rap group similar to the Beastie Boys, make guest appearances on the Malajube’s album.
Critics snipe that the hype will not last, but for the moment at least, a new, fresh face has been put on Canadian music overseas. ©AFP
DURING the 2000 presidential campaign, the candidate from Texas fielded a question from Canada: “Prime Minister Jean Poutine said you look like the man who should lead the free world into the 21st century. What do you think about that?”
When George W. Bush pledged to “work closely together” with Mr. Poutine, Montrealers fell off their chairs laughing. It wasn’t so much that the Canadian leader was, in fact, Jean Chrétien, but that the “reporter” — Rick Mercer, a television comedian — had invoked the city’s emblematic, problematic, comedic junk food dish: poutine.
A gloppy, caloric layering of French fries, fresh cheese curds (a byproduct of Cheddar making) and gravy, poutine goes deep into the Quebequois psyche. Somehow, Quebec’s rural roots, its split identity (Acadian farmers or Gallic gourmets?) and its earthy sense of humor are all embodied by its unofficial dish.
This may be one reason that until now poutine has not traveled well. True, it was on the menu for years at Shopsin’s, the quirky West Village restaurant that closed this year, but so was nearly every other known foodstuff. But recently, it has materialized in a handful of cities across the United States. In New York City, it is on the menu at three highly divergent establishments, and this time it shows signs of taking hold.
Andy Bennett, the chef at the Inn LW12 in the meatpacking district, recalled his reaction on being told (by the Canadian faction of the inn’s owners) that poutine must be served. “I said, you’ve got to be kidding me. Then I realized I wasn’t going to be able to get away from it.”
Mr. Bennett, however, was converted. “You have to embrace these things,” he said. “Now it’s our biggest selling item by a long stretch.”
“I think it’s going to be across the city soon,” he said. “It’s going to stick without a doubt.”
Mr. Bennett’s choice of words was apt. Poutine is an extreme stick-to-your-ribs concoction, whose name is said to derive from Quebequois slang. According to the dominant creation myth, in 1957 a restaurateur named Fernand Lachance, when asked by a customer to combine fries and cheese curds, said it would make “une maudite poutine” — an unholy mess. (And this was pre-gravy. Another restaurateur, Jean-Paul Roy of Le Roy Jucep, claims to have first served fries with gravy and curds in 1964.)
Since Mr. Lachance’s death three years ago, poutine’s de facto spokesman has been Bob Rutledge, creator of the Web site MontrealPoutine.com. Mr. Rutledge, a professor of astrophysics at McGill University specializing in neutron stars, black holes and gamma ray bursts, first heard of poutine on moving to Montreal in 2004. He was instantly smitten.
“When I started asking about it, I got one of two responses,” he said. “It was either: ‘Oh here’s my favorite poutine place; you must go...’, or else it was: ‘Oh my God, why do you want to eat that stuff?’ It’s a veritable food phenomenon; half the people are embarrassed it exists.”
Siobhan O’Connor, a journalist who moved to New York from Montreal five years ago, has a different view. “The only people who don’t like poutine are people on a diet,” she said. “It’s the first thing you want when you go back, a real late-night post-drinking thing.”
Ms. O’Connor recently sampled the new batch of New York poutines. The classic version at Sheep Station, an Australian gastropub on the western edge of Park Slope, initially struck her as too dry. But, on discovering that the Quebequois chef, Martine Lafond, had secreted further curds and gravy under crisp, hot fries, she warmed to it, declaring the gravy authentically peppery, salty and meaty, and the curds as fresh as could be expected so far from home.
At Pommes Frites, an East Village storefront that traffics in Belgian fries but now has a sideline in their Canadian cousins, neither the rubbery, yellowish curds nor the lukewarm, flavorless sauce met with Ms. O’Connor’s approval. But Mr. Bennett’s four varieties at the Inn LW12 did, despite distinctly unorthodox stylings.
“I’d come back here just for this,” she declared of the plate with five-spice gravy and chewy strips of pork belly, though she found the Stilton cheese in the rich, toothsome braised beef with red wine version to be overload and the herby marinara sauce on the tomato version — called Italienne back home — disappointing. Though somewhat overshadowed by its glitzy sisters, the classic, too, more than passed muster.
Ms. O’Connor explained that poutine really belonged to the French speakers — her Irish-Montrealer mother, for instance, had never tried it — until “around 2000, when people started messing with it: green peppercorns, Gruyère, truffle oil...”
According to Professor Rutledge, variations on the theme are fine. “They strike me as creative and interesting so I give bonus points,” he said. He is, however, from Southern California. The average Montrealer seems to be more of a purist.
The chef Martin Picard, one of Montreal’s most high-profile culinary figures, embraces poutine at his restaurant Au Pied de Cochon. “That dish becomes an international passport,” he declared. “It’s not haute gastronomie, but it permits Quebec to get more interest from the rest of the world.”
Mr. Picard said he occasionally offers classic poutine as a “clin d’oeil” — a wink — to Quebequois cuisine, but his version with foie gras is what everyone remembers. For this, the regular poutine sauce — a thick, highly seasoned chicken velouté, which Mr. Picard enhances with pork stock — is enriched by foie gras and egg yolks. The dish is crowned with a four-ounce slab of seared goose liver.
Whether Montreal’s embarrassing but adored junk food does take root in New York, it may never attain the status it achieved earlier this year when the CBC revealed the results of a viewer poll on the greatest Canadian inventions of all time. Granted, poutine came in only at No. 10. But it beat, among other things, the electron microscope, the BlackBerry, the paint roller and the caulking gun, lacrosse, plexiglass, radio voice transmission and basketball.
World vibe at Montreal jazz fest
David Rubien, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, June 21, 2007
"Jazz is a tree that has many leaves," says André Ménard, artistic director of the Montreal Jazz Festival -- a terse and apt summation of not only jazz but also his festival and the city of Montreal itself.
The festival -- beginning its 28th annual edition June 28 and running through July 8 -- is the biggest of its kind in the world, an event that features more than 350 free outdoor concerts and 150 paid indoor shows. It is expected to draw more than 200,000 attendees, yet it manages to feel intimate. It's hard to imagine how a music festival that traffics in such numbers could be as sophisticated, smooth running, user friendly -- and inexpensive -- as Montreal's, but it is.
Purists may raise eyebrows over the fact that two of the festival's headliners are Bob Dylan and Van Morrison (both shows are sold out), but this festival long ago got past distinctions of genre. In fact, in booking nonjazz acts, which Montreal started doing about 20 years ago, it pointed the way to survival for every major jazz festival, including San Francisco, whose fall lineup includes nonjazz acts Caetano Veloso and Ravi Shankar, and Monterey, where Los Lobos and DJ Logic will perform.
"In 1986, when we last programmed Van Morrison, people questioned it, but he was on the cover of (jazz magazine) Down Beat three months later," Ménard says. "I wish every jazz album was as spiritually strong as Van Morrison's music. ... And as for Dylan, the way he redoes his songs -- that's a jazz attitude."
Attitude is the right word. It's the thread that connects jazz acts the festival is producing this year, like Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Wayne Shorter and Bill Frisell, with world music acts like Angélique Kidjo, Femi Kuti and Richard Bona, with rock acts like Garth Hudson, Rickie Lee Jones and the Cowboy Junkies. It's not a punk or grunge attitude, obviously, but a dedication to musicianship and exploration -- a willingness to stretch and take chances. A jazz attitude.
The strong world music presence at the festival -- 30 countries are represented, from a Chinese jazz singer covering Patsy Cline, to French new-wave pop, to Italian barrel percussionists, to Malian kora, to Australian didgeridoo, to Garifuna singers -- is appropriate, given the diverse ethnic mix of Montreal, which, as home to 80 nationalities, is considered North America's gateway to Europe and beyond. That is true even though almost everyone younger than 60 speaks English fluently.
Centrally located downtown at the complex of theaters, museums and hotels called Place des Arts, the Montreal Jazz Festival packs all the action into a relatively compact space. Free outdoor shows are on nine small -- and one whopper -- stages, and 12 indoor venues feature the paid nighttime shows. The festival doesn't only stick the little-knowns on the outdoor stages, either. This year, a Brazilian carnival bash with Carlinhos Brown gets things going June 28; last year, it was the Neville Brothers.
With more than 50 performances a day, it's clearly too much to take in, so it's a good thing adventure beckons outside the Place des Arts from any direction you choose. Heading south toward the St. Lawrence River, you'll hit Old Montreal, where you can easily spend an afternoon investigating the cobblestone streets, some with buildings dating to the 17th and 18th centuries. Stop at any of the many bistros offering mussels and pomme frites, usually with a good selection of French and Belgian beers and, of course, wine.
Continue south to the river and at 27 De La Commune, you'll find Boutique Ça Roule, where you can rent bicycles -- a great way to see the city. But if dodging traffic sounds daunting, there's a leisurely ride to be had along the tree-lined Canal de Lachine, where heading west you can stop at the Marché Express, Montreal's equivalent of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, only it's open every day.
Less than a mile northeast of the festival grounds are enticing residential neighborhoods of many ethnic flavors along Boulevard St.-Laurent and Rue St.-Denis -- including the Latin Quarter, where last summer a spontaneous parade broke out, clogging streets, when Portugal defeated England in the World Cup soccer quarterfinals.
Keep heading north along St. Laurent and you'll hit the Jewish neighborhood that gave the world, believe it or not, William Shatner. Now we can settle for old-school deli sandwiches and soda-fountain drinks at Wilensky's Light Lunch, or superb bagels at La Maison du Bagel or St. Viateur Bagel.
Heading back south to the festival, consider having dinner at what many call the most authentic French bistro in the city, L'Express. There's nothing pretentious about this spot. It's all business, packed with locals who seem ecstatic to be there, digging into bowls of bouillabaisse or scarfing pate foie gras or bone marrow, and tossing back wine that practically dances in the glass.
There's so much more to do: great museums, galleries, beautiful parks, a 20-mile underground city where people spend much of their time in the frigid winter, day trips to the Laurentian mountains.
Once you've spent a day exploring the city, the music back at the festival -- be it danceable, cerebral or both -- offers a way to relax and synthesize your experiences, processing them through the sensual to the aesthetic to the spiritual and back. That's jazz, and that's Montreal.
If you go
All locations are in Montreal. Prices are in Canadian dollars.
From San Francisco, Air Canada flies nonstop to Montreal. A number of airlines offer one-stop connecting flights.
Where to stay
Hyatt Regency Montreal: Online rates for doubles from $244 (about $229 U.S.). 605 modern rooms and suites across from the Place des Arts. 1255 Jeanne-Mance. (514) 982-1234, montreal.hyatt.com.
Hotel Place des Arts: Eight air-conditioned rooms, studios and suites in a renovated Victorian building downtown. $40-$80 ($37.55-$75.10 U.S.). 270 Rue Sherbrooke W. (514) 995-7515, http://www.hotelplacedesarts.com.
Where to eat
L'Express: Bustling traditional French bistro. Entrees $12-$22 ($11.27-$20.65 U.S.). 3927 Rue St.-Denis. (514) 845-5333.
Wilensky's Light Lunch: Tiny shop serving classic deli fare 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. Entrees less than $10 ($9.39 U.S.). 34 Fairmount St. W. (514) 271-0247.
What to do
Montreal Jazz Festival: June 28-July 8. Various venues across the city. $12.50-$87.50 ($11.73-$82.14 U.S.); many free performances. (888) 515-0515, http://www.montrealjazzfest.com.
For more information
Tourisme Montréal: (877) 266-5687, http://www.tourisme-montreal.org.
E-mail David Rubien at [email protected]
This article appeared on page E - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Feast on Montreal's wonderful charm
Erica Johnston / Washington Post
I've been captivated by Montreal since my first trip there almost 20 years ago, drawn in by two things in particular: the bowls of hot chocolate offered at the city's many cafes -- hey, why settle for a measly cup? -- and the people who packed the streets in July and August, soaking in the two-month party they call summer. It seemed as busy as midtown Manhattan at rush hour, but these people were smiling.
So when my oldest and best friend and I realized that our 40th "anniversary" was approaching, I managed to talk her into a celebratory trip over a long weekend. To Montreal, of course.
When I arrived on a summer-like fall afternoon, a day before Kathy, I hit the streets. It had been eight years since my last visit. Had I exaggerated the city's charms?
From our hotel downtown, I walked a mile or so, past the edge of Chinatown and through the Latin Quarter to the Plateau, the neighborhood where my affection for the city first took root.
Along the leafy side streets, spiral staircases wind their way up the outsides of cozy rowhouses. Somehow, it seemed that if I knocked on a few doors, I'd find someone I knew. A few blocks away, Mount Royal, the modest mountain and majestic park on the neighborhood's western flank, rises over the city, offering a constant compass and an instant refuge to anyone who needs one.
In a bakery, a boy of about 4 offered me his friendliest "Allo!" I did my best to respond in kind: "Allo."
"Oh," he responded. His smile never broke. "Hello!"
And that seems to sum up the language issue -- for tourists, anyway. It's far more complicated for residents -- in the place generally acknowledged to be the world's second-biggest French-speaking city. French? English? Whatever. We can work with you.
Nearly everyone who crossed our path was unrelentingly friendly. Even the illuminated "man" in the crossing signals has a spring in his step; check it out. Along Rue St. Denis, a beautifully dressed woman stepped out of an elegant bakery with an elaborately wrapped sandwich and handed it with a smile to a homeless stranger. By the time a Metro toll taker wished us a good life -- and seemed to mean it -- we weren't especially impressed.
We walked along the lovely Rue Laurier from east to west, from a low-key weekend street market to the decidedly upmarket blocks of fancy shops west of Rue St. Laurent. That street, also called "The Main," has historically served as the unofficial line separating the city's French culture from its English-speaking stronghold.
Today's Montreal is often a wonderful jumble, with strong strands of distinct cultures living amongst one another. It's been called a salad bowl -- the concept of Canadian diversity as separate components complementing each other, as compared with the American ideal of the melting pot.
In few places is this more true than in Mile End, a historically Jewish enclave that was one of my favorite discoveries of the trip.
Mile End, the boyhood home of the late novelist Mordechai Richler (along with his famous protagonist, Duddy Kravitz), is gentrifying rapidly. But though the challenge of change in the neighborhood just north of the swanky part of Rue Laurier riles some, others revel in it.
To the outsider, the place offers a kaleidoscopic array: The Asian teenager with an Orthodox Jew's side locks ambles along Rue St. Viateur. At a street corner, black-clad Goth girls check out South American pan flutists. Butcher shops of seemingly every Eastern European persuasion line the streets.
Here's where you get your Montreal bagels, smaller, denser and sweeter than their American counterparts. Their supporters insist that these rounds, boiled in honeyed water before baking, are the real deal; the recipe allegedly was brought over by Romanian Jews in the early 1900s.
From there, we continued on a mile or so north, to the Little Italy neighborhood and -- more to the point -- the Jean-Talon Market, a huge, year-round public market for regionally grown meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables. Such spots often serve as my museums, telling me more about a place than most collections of art or artifacts ever could.
It was a Saturday, and the joint was jammed with more than 100 stalls and thousands of Montrealers, all pondering the same age-old question: What's for dinner?
On Sunday night, as our time wound down, we followed our trip to its logical conclusion: dinner at Au Pied de Cochon, a boisterous bistro that offers an unabashed homage to all creatures fat and fowl, a cuisine that is profoundly, jubilantly Quebecois. Chef Martin Picard, a darling of the back-to-the-land school of cooking, looks like a lumberjack, and kind of cooks like one, too. On the menu: "The Big Happy Pig's Chop," "the Pig's Foot" and steak that tends to be venison, when it's in season. If forced to choose, I'd say our favorite meal was at La Montee de Lait, a smallish refuge tucked into a quiet corner of the Plateau that offers a fixed-price parade of exquisite small plates.
And then, sadly, the time came to put down our forks and back away slowly. The air had turned seasonably chilly, and we marveled at the Montrealers sitting at sidewalk cafes. For us, it was freezing, and unthinkable. But they were enjoying it while they could, knowing that everything -- even the temperature -- is relative. And the bowls of hot chocolate couldn't have hurt, either.
Du site de BBC News - 2 articles sur la conférence à McGill en fin de semaine, in "the Canadian city of Montreal" - lol
Forum tackles genocide prevention
Local people in front of burnt out buildings in Darfur
Delegates said atrocities continued to this day in Darfur
A conference in the Canadian city of Montreal has been discussing ways to try to prevent genocide.
Delegates heard from survivors of the Nazi Holocaust, as well as genocidal campaigns in Rwanda and Cambodia.
Many delegates referred to the current crisis in Darfur, Sudan, which has been described as "genocide in slow motion".
"It seems that for the most part the vow of 'never again' was not taken seriously," Payam Akhavan, the conference chair, told AFP news agency.
Esther Mujawayo, a Rwandan woman who lost her mother, father and husband in the 1994 genocide, said she was sceptical about the world's willingness to prevent atrocities.
"Don't tell me you didn't know. The world did know. The world looked away. You knew but did not have the will," said Mrs Mujawayo.
"When the people were evacuating, the French, the Belgians, the Americans, all the expatriates, they even evacuated their dogs and their cats," while Rwandans were left behind, she said.
Much of the discussion at the conference, sponsored by McGill University's law faculty, has centred on how to prevent common aspects of genocides, like media outlets demonising potential victims and foreign bureaucratic inertia preventing intervention.
But a controversial thesis was also presented by the French scholar, Gerard Prunier.
He said the only way to stop government sponsored mass killings was to give military backing to opponents of that government.
"If we decide that in fact what is going to happen is of a genocidal dimension, we have to support, including militarily, the people who are fighting against it," he said.
He told the BBC that would mean arming and assisting the rebels fighting against government-backed militia in Darfur.
Some two million people have been displaced and at least 200,000 have died during the four-year conflict in western Sudan.
Can the world stop genocide?
Can the world stop genocide?
A conference in the Canadian city of Montreal has been discussing ways to prevent genocide. BBC world affairs correspondent Mark Doyle, attending the meeting, asks whether this can be done.
Remains of victims of the Rwandan genocide laid to rest at the Murambi Genocide Memorial.
Some 800,000 Rwandans were slaughtered in 100 days in 1994
The 75-year-old woman sat on stage in front of hundreds of United Nations officials, legal experts and academics.
The day before, Marika Nene had travelled from Hungary to Canada - the first plane she had ever taken on her first journey outside Hungary.
She was not intimidated by the gathering. Her long hair was lit up by a stage light and her facial features were strong.
But the strongest thing about Marika Nene, a Roma - or Gypsy - woman who was trapped in the anti-Gypsy pogroms during World War II, was her determination to tell her story.
"I had no choice. I had to give myself up to the soldiers," Marika Nene said through a translator.
"I was a very pretty little gypsy woman and of course the soldiers took me very often to the room with a bed in it where they violated me. I still have nightmares about it".
Many members of Marika Nene's Roma family died in the work camps and the ghettos.
She had travelled to Montreal to give a reality check to the experts and UN officials at the "Global Conference on the Prevention of Genocide".
We do not need to have a legal finding that genocide has been committed in order to take preventive action
Former war crimes prosecutor
She was joined by other survivors - from Rwanda, Cambodia and the Jewish holocaust. They all told their horrific stories bravely.
But there was something especially extraordinary about the elderly Roma who had transported herself from a village in eastern Hungary into the glare of an international conference in one of the most modern cities in the world.
It was an example of what Nigerian Nobel Prize-winning author Wole Soyinka would later describe to me as one of those points where people meet each other in a spirit of "egalitarian awareness".
Six million Jews or one million Tutsis are just numbers. But this strong Roma woman was a human being who was not ashamed to tell her story.
The Montreal conference drew personalities from the UN, academia and the legal profession.
Romeo Dallaire could do little to prevent the Rwandan genocide
The general aim was to build pressure on politicians to take mass killings - even in far-off places about which we know little and sometimes care less - far more seriously.
If that sounds like a fuzzy and vague ambition, Canadian Gen Romeo Dallaire, who commanded a UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, begged to differ.
Gen Dallaire led a force in Rwanda which was betrayed by UN headquarters in New York - his mission was starved of resources and so forced to observe genocide rather than stop it.
Since that failed mission, he has made a career out of lobbying politicians to do better on issues like peacekeeping, abolishing the use of child soldiers and nuclear disarmament.
"This conference is aimed especially at young people," said Gen Dallaire from a hotel surrounded by the campus buildings of McGill University, which organised the conference.
"If these young people became politically active," he continued, "they could dictate a whole new concept of what national interest should be and what humanity should be."
What is genocide?
Payam Akhavan, professor of international law at McGill and a former prosecutor at the UN war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, said defining genocide mattered from a legal point of view - but that analysing how it could be prevented was the real point.
Pol Pot in the 1970s, and shortly before his death in the 1990s
Pol Pot, who led Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, was never brought to justice
"The legal definition of genocide is contained in the 1948 Genocide convention," he told me.
"In simple terms, it is the intentional, collective destruction of an entire human group based on national, racial, religious or ethnic identity."
"But the key point", Mr Akhavan continued, "is that we do not need to have a legal finding that genocide has been committed in order to take preventive action."
That is because, of course, by the time the lawyers have decided a mass killing fits their definition, it is usually too late to act.
The Iranian-born professor said it was necessary to think about the ingredients of genocide, which he listed as:
* incitement to ethnic hatred
* demonisation of the target group
* radicalisation along ethnic or religious lines
* distribution of weapons to extremist groups
* preparation of lists of those to be exterminated
As someone who personally witnessed and reported on the Rwandan genocide, I found it quite disturbing to read about other mass killings.
Genocides can only be stopped by the people directly involved
It was not the details which I found shocking, but the spooky similarities that kept cropping up across the world.
The lists prepared by the Hutu extremists in Rwanda, for example, were mirrored by the obsessive recording of the details of victims by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
The yellow identity stars Jews were forced to wear in World War II were the equivalent of the ethnic identity cards every Rwandan had to carry.
This is the grim opposite of Wole Soyinka's "egalitarian awareness". It is the social science of genocide, which appears to have common features across history.
The conference aimed to isolate and analyse Mr Akhavan's "early warning" factors to raise awareness.
But what to do with the information?
As speaker after speaker reminded the Montreal conference, the US government, among others, has asserted that genocide is being committed right now in the Darfur region of Sudan.
It was continuing even as we sipped our coffee in softly carpeted rooms and nibbled our Canadian canapes.
Everyone has known about it for several years but virtually nothing had been done to stop it.
A dissident voice
So all the talk about "early warnings" and "United Nations peacekeeping forces" and "the will of the international community" could be said to amount to little.
Local people in front of burnt out buildings in Darfur
The US and others have said a genocide is unfolding in Darfur
At this point, a controversial scholar intervened with comments which challenged the entire conference.
French author Gerard Prunier, like the proverbial ghost at a wedding, said genocides could not be prevented by the international community.
"When you see a dictatorial regime heating up, everyone starts talking, talking, talking ... and by the time the talking stops, either matters have quietened down or they have happened."
And that is the crux of the matter, according to Mr Prunier - it is difficult for politicians or the military to intervene in a situation that has not yet evolved into a crisis.
Give war a chance?
So what is Mr Prunier's solution?
"Genocides can only be stopped by the people directly involved - and usually that means people involved in the war that accompanies most mass killings."
And if it is the government committing the genocide, the solution is "arm the rebels", he says.
"It won't be clean - it will be messy," the French author said, "but it is more likely to stop the mass killing than international intervention."
To a large extent, Mr Prunier has history on his side. The Holocaust only ended when the allies destroyed Hitler's regime.
The killing fields of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge were only stopped when the Vietnamese army moved in. And the genocide in Rwanda only ended when the Tutsi rebels overthrew the extremist Hutu regime.
Against this, it could be argued that some interventions have worked - for example the Nigerian intervention in Liberia, which was followed up by a UN peacekeeping mission.
It seems that resolving dramatic human rights abuses may require some of the diplomacy and the "international good will" that flowed so freely in Montreal.
But as well as what Winston Churchill called "Jaw Jaw", some situations, it seems, may only be resolved by "War War".