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A master of the art calls on Canadians to protest

"Beware of Dog," says the sign as you make your way past the mailbox adorned with crushed beer and pop cans, past the "No Trespassing" warnings and up the overgrown path that leads to the ancient log cabin that is home and studio to Mendelson Joe.

There is no dog; but that does not mean there is no bite.

The "65.8"-year-old musician and artist who has long been one of Canada's most active activists is in full form this sunny afternoon at his cabin 20 kilometres north of Huntsville. He flails at everyone from the Pope to the President of the United States to the Prime Minister of Canada as well as, somewhat surprisingly, Canadians themselves. As protesters prepare to descend on the G8 summit, we've come to consult the oracle of complaint.

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A lifetime ago, he was a member of McKenna Mendelson Mainline, a popular Toronto-based band in the early 1970s. But around 1975 he found several tubes of paint in someone's trash - "I've always been a garbage picker" - bought a brush and has never looked back. Some of the leaders who will be coming to the G8 he has already painted. He has even put on exhibitions, including his rather famous portraits of former Canadian prime ministers Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien with bare buttocks where their faces should be. He has recently painted current Prime Minister Stephen Harper with vacant eyes - the work is entitled "Parts Missing."

He sees himself as an artist in the style of Edvard Munch's The Scream - only in Mendelson Joe's case it is the beholder likely to be screaming.

He makes a living from self-produced music albums - his latest song Deemo Crassy is a slam at the G8 summit as "costly lunch" - and from his paintings, which can be viewed at www.karenrobinsongallery.com. But it is a bare-bones existence.

"I'll sell a lot when I die," he predicts. "I'll make a good living then. But that's the way it is with people who rock the boat."

Mendelson Joe has rocked the boat virtually since birth, a bright, rebellious youngster who flipped his name in order to distance himself from family and who eventually came to regard all religion - "the God Gangs," he calls them - as the source of most of the world's troubles.

And while he condemns Mr. Harper for failing to include the right to abortion as a necessary component of improving women's health around the world, he does not waste his attack on a single target.

"I don't blame Stephen Harper," he says. "I loathe what he stands for - his only ambition is to rule - but I don't blame him. I blame the people of Canada."

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He believes the world is run almost exclusively by sociopaths - or, as he puts it, "high-level psychopaths with charm" - and their sole purpose is to manipulate matters in order to stay in office. Harper, he says, is no different than a Tony Blair, a George Bush, or most of the current leaders who will come to Canada this month. Where he separates Canada from the pack, he says, is that Canadians are even more apathetic than their fellow world citizens.

"I view us as a people in decline," he says. "We are a society that is very lost and completely uninvolved with democracy."

He himself has been involved in the past, becoming a card-carrying Progressive Conservative working for Prairie populist David Orchard in the 2003 leadership race won by Peter MacKay.

"I was betrayed by Peter MacKay," he says, referring to the deal between MacKay and Orchard in which MacKay promised, if he became leader with Orchard's backing, not to seek a union with the Canadian Alliance. The deal was eventually broken when the PCs joined the new Conservative Party with Harper as its leader.

His disenchantment since has only deepened. Canadians, he says, have become "anesthetized - they're asleep about their country. We're in a war, but they have no idea why we're there. How do you fight people who will commit suicide for their God?"

He holds little hope for the G8, saying at best the leaders will pay "lip service" to such matters as poverty, will ignore "The Great Big Mummy" that is the environment and will fail women.

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"Women are the only hope," he says. "Women have to become politically active. They alone can change the temperature and the direction of this country."

If the G8 accomplishes anything, he says, it will be to force Canadians to reflect upon themselves and their country - "an opportunity here to realize that the real problem here in Canada is them. If they'd show the enthusiasm for government that they have for hockey, they'd explore the betrayals, they'd expose the lies and the broken promises."

As for his own involvement, Mendelson Joe's days of protesting in the streets ended when he was run over by a police horse many years ago in Toronto. But still, he has no intention of joining the apathetic.

"My protestation is every day," says Canada's champion letter-writer to newspapers and politicians. "There's not a day goes by that I am not protesting in the mails. I never let up. And," he adds with a smile, "when you write a politician, you don't pay postage."

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About the Author

Roy MacGregor was born in the small village of Whitney, Ont., in 1948. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2002, he worked for the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, Maclean's magazine (three separate times), the Toronto Star and The Canadian Magazine. More

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