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My Country, Sweet Land of Liberty?

© By Stephen J. Lyons

I remember those early mornings when I faced the flag, placed my hand over my heart, and pledged allegiance to the flag with my classmates at Bret Harte Elementary School on Chicago’s Southside. During those moments – and for every morning that followed in my twelve-year, rather unspectacular public school career – I was learning the ideals of American democracy that I would carry with me into my adult life.  America was presented as a “sweet land of liberty,” my teachers emphasized – a refuge for those seeking freedom from repressive regimes.  Our doors and our hearts were always open.  The Statue of Liberty stood as safe harbor for our grandparents, our parents, and even some of us in those Chicago classrooms.  My America, a melting pot of a nation founded by immigrants, served as an example to the world.  We cared more than other countries about the suffering of others and our best characteristic was our infinite acts of charity in around the world.

As I grew older, I learned that we were not perhaps as great as I thought, and that our international forays were sometimes more about protecting our interests and expanding our gains than saving souls from oppression.  There were other events that chipped away at my national pride.  But Bull Conner’s lynch mobs, attack dogs, and fire hoses during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s were an exception to our exceptionalism.  We knew as a nation that this was not the way Americans behaved toward each other.  The Kent State shooting during the Vietnam protests was also an outlier, part of our violent, baser, perhaps mammalian, instincts that we failed to keep in check.  I truly believed that despite those horrid examples, we would always find our way back to our better selves.

I am a sixty-one-year-old man now, but in so many ways I am still that hopeful boy in Chicago with his hand over his heart facing the flag and reciting the pledge.  But what is missing today is that childhood optimism.  I watch with disbelief as our nation becomes more hostile, bellicose, and xenophobic, encouraged by President Trump’s example.  I am shocked at how fragile our democracy is and how easily it can be subverted with a tweet.  I admit I took the stability of our democracy for granted.

When I marched earlier this year with thousands of other Americans protesting the new administration, I realized that my revulsion at its policies did not originate from some new political epiphany or the latest protest du jour.  No, the revulsion came from that most apolitical part of my being – my very Americanism, the core of who I am and how I have conducted myself in the world all these years.  It was as if everything I had been taught from first grade was not applicable anymore.  As if my entire American belief system no longer mattered.  Truthfully, I hardly recognize my country anymore.  I am still trying to get my head around the idea that we might no longer be a shining beacon of freedom for immigrants seeking safety from injustice.  Instead of being welcoming, we might require a religious and even a loyalty litmus test for entry to the American Dream.  We might discard the Statue of Liberty as our model to the world.  Instead, we might use the fear of “The Other,” as our guide.  (I wonder what that statue might look like?)  At my age, it is too late to change my fundamental core beliefs.  Besides, why would I want to change?  I have too much invested in my America.  There is nowhere else I want to live out my years.  But is my country now abandoning me?  Is America filing for divorce because of irreconcilable differences?  Are my American values now seen as naïve, idealistic, and antiquated?

We have always been a feisty, opinionated nation that does not shy away from confronting our warts: race relations, unjust wars, social inequality, or equal rights for women.  We have yet to solve our issues, of course, but we do make valiant attempts, and, every now and then, we achieve progress.  No matter how pitched the battle has been, I have always taken comfort in the fact that we would eventually find our back to each other.   Sadly, I now doubt that is possible.

Stephen J. Lyons is the author of four books of essays and journalism, most recently, Going Driftless: Life Lessons from the Heartland for Unraveling Times.”  He is two-time recipient of a fellowship in prose writing from the Illinois Arts Council, and his work has been published in more than a dozen anthologies, as well as The Sun, Newsweek, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Globe & Mail, High Country News, Psychotherapy Networker, Salon, Audubon, USA Today, and dozens more.  He has reviewed books for a number of newspapers, including the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, and Minneapolis Star Tribune.  He received a Notable Essay mention in The Best American Essays of 2016.”

Copyright © 2017 by Stephen J. Lyons.

Editor’s Note:  The author’s early embrace of American patriotism, and its lasting legacy of benevolent idealism, strikes a deeply resonant chord for us, starting with our own childhood in Illinois and going on from there to a lifelong love for the great principals upon which the United States was founded – ideals, indeed, which are the essential cornerstone not only of that great democracy, but also of the West generally.


Why Canada is America’s Xanax

© By Jim Lynch

For many of us living in border states, Canada is our Xanax.  Just knowing you’re up there – and that there’s at least the possibility of joining you – eases our anxieties about our ongoing presidential campaign madness.

As a child, Canada was an exotic getaway my family explored on a small sailboat.  Our summer goal was to make it to British Columbia’s Gulf Islands, which had an ethereal quality, as if we’d trespassed into a more beautiful world where people were thirty percent friendlier.  So began my fascination with Canada.  As a journalist and novelist, I studied post 9/11 tension along the rural western border.  I tired of checkpoint interrogations, coming and going.  If France and Germany drive freely across their border, I wondered, do we really need to enforce ours?  But I couldn’t resist popping in and out of Canada again and again.

These days, I marvel at what odd neighbors we’ve become; how you tend to be as observant of us as we are oblivious of you.  I overheard more vigorous discussions about America in Delaney’s coffee house one morning in Vancouver last month than I’ve heard about Canada in eons of coffee shop chatter in the States.  Part of it is proximity.  Ninety percent of you live within 100 miles of the border compared to less than five percent of us.  So while you’re in the front rows of the balcony overlooking our antics, few of us are watching you and fewer yet could name your prime minister or pass a sixth-grade Canadian civics test.  Your news rarely reaches us.  An erroneous report that 9/11 hijackers entered the States from Canada was one of the few flashes that spun all heads here.  It wasn’t true; but that didn’t stop the Congress from exclaiming, ‘My God, our northern flank is wide open and barely patrolled!’  If Donald Trump ever focuses on our shared border, and the long list of nationalities routinely caught sneaking across it, he may call for a wall, and, no doubt, insist that you pay for it.

Our buffoonery aside, I’ve noticed over the years that you aren’t perfect either.  During conversations in Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vancouver, I’ve heard you take smugness to amazing heights, routinely overlooking the fact that our problems and solutions are complicated by having ten times as many people.  Besides, your beer is way overpriced, Fifty Shades of Gray was just as popular up there as down here, and keeping the Queen on your money looks oddly dated and subservient to people who celebrate our independence from the Crown by blowing things up once a year.  Yet I admit flashes of ‘Canada envy’ whenever I visit your cities that seem to be – in ways I can’t quite pinpoint – better tailored to their inhabitants’ needs and pleasures than ours.  And I wonder, why we can’t be a little more Canadian?

So, back to our presidential campaign freak show and how it’s got us thinking about you.  As much as we look like the Fractured States of America these days, as deranged as some of our candidates appear, it looks quite possible that we may be following our first black president with our first woman president or – take a breath – our first socialist president.   Not only is Bernie Sanders our first viable candidate to call himself a socialist, he may be the first to repeatedly point to Canada as a model for how we should live.  He asks large crowds why Canada and most of the industrialized world can provide free health care and we can’t.  And he slams U.S. pharmaceutical companies for selling their drugs to you for less than they sell them to us.  Which brings us back to Xanax and Mr. Trump:  After Trump won seven states in one night in mid-March, Google searches on how to move to Canada rose 350 percent.  Contributing to that spike, I was excited to see an immigration loophole for independently employed writers.  But, from what I can tell, most of us threatening to move to Canada simply find the notion itself soothing.

Part of me wishes the world’s longest undefended border would be ceremoniously dismantled, at least its checkpoints and their illusions of security.  But I see the downsides to a wide-open border, particularly for you, with almost nothing left to slow the tsunami of American commerce and culture from washing over you. And many of us huddled below the border would miss the role an independent Canada plays in our psyche, how it continually helps us reassess our own towns, states, and country.  And we’d probably even miss the checkpoints and that sensation of formally passing into a subtly different and perhaps saner world.

Jim Lynch lives in Olympia, Washington with his wife and daughter.  He grew up in the Seattle area and worked as a newspaper reporter throughout the United States before turning to fiction full-time a dozen years ago.  He is the author of four novels, the latest being the recently released “Before the Wind” (Bond Street Books, 2016) – a story “about a gifted and volatile family obsessed with sailing,” not to mention “online dating and Albert Einstein.”

Visit the author at:   http://www.jimlynchbooks.com/

Copyright © 2016 by Jim Lynch.


The Truth: Zero New Spaces for Refugees in Canada

© By Jennifer Bond

The story behind last week’s haunting images does not begin with the body of a little boy on a beach in Turkey.  The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has been reporting for years that people are fleeing violence in rapidly increasing numbers.  It reported in June 2015 that last year 42,500 people fled their homes every day.  Every day!  Half were children.  The response?  Aid agencies are overwhelmed.  Camps are overflowing.  Dangerous boats are more crowded than ever.  Bodies are appearing stacked in abandoned trucks and washed up on beaches.  All of this began before #refugeecrisis was trending on twitter.

Incredibly, many governments responded by erecting fences, shutting down transit routes, putting people in detention, and poisoning the response of their own citizens by claiming that these desperate families are “queue-jumpers” or “terrorists.”  Canada has been a part of this.  Our government has recently introduced nine bills and two orders-in-council that collectively make it harder for refugees to get to Canada; to be in Canada; and to stay in Canada.  It has succeeded in implementing its regressive refugee policy.  We are not a world leader on refugee protection according to any metric.

Now that Canadians are seeing the desperation and demanding action, our government is also not telling us the truth about what it has done.  For example, the government claims that we do well on the basis of “UNHCR resettlement” numbers, knowing that these statistics rely on a technical definition of resettlement and capture only a small slice of refugees.  None of the one million Syrians seeking protection in Lebanon are counted as resettlements.  Nor are the tens-of-thousands of people fleeing to Europe; or the 800,000 Germany has recently agreed to take.  Using the UNHCR’s legally narrow statistics to say that Canada is a world leader is both factually wrong and insulting to countries that rank below us on these particular lists but are in reality doing much more.

What the government is not saying is that there have been no increases in our commitment to refugee resettlement over the past five years:  in 2011, we set a maximum target of 14,000 refugees. We admitted 12,946.  In 2016, the maximum is still only 14,000.  Over this same five year period, the number of people who need help has increased exponentially: from 43 million forcibly displaced persons and 15 million refugees in 2011, to 60 million displaced persons and 20 million refugees today.  An additional five million refugees and zero increase in Canada’s response.

Critically, Canada’s recent commitment to resettle 10,000 more Syrian refugees also creates zero new spaces (remember:  our overall resettlement objectives haven’t changed over the past five years).  So, all we have done is say that a certain number of Canada’s existing resettlement spots will now be reserved for people from a particular country (bad news if you’re fleeing violence in Afghanistan or Somalia).  Faced with four million Syrian refugees and 20 million refugees globally, our government’s response has been to play tricks with statistics and claim credit for things it has not done, and has no intention of doing.   (Australia’s government recently tried the same thing.  It was forced to change its position in response to public demands that its commitment to 12,000 Syrian resettlements actually be “extra” spots)In Canada, the key number is zero.  Zero.  That is the number of new refugees Canada has committed to resettle at a time the world is watching and demanding action.  We can do better.  We must do better.  Last week’s images remind us why.

Jennifer Bond is a University of Ottawa law professor who has served with the UNHCR in Syria.

Copyright © 2015 by Jennifer Bond.

The foregoing article originally appeared in the September 11, 2015 edition of The Toronto Star.  It appears in Artsforum with the permission of its author.

Editor’s Note:  The dead child whose body was found on a beach by a Turkish soldier is Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian child of Kurdish ethnicity.  He drowned in the Aegean Sea, along with his brother (Galib) and mother (Rehana), on September 2, 2015 when the small inflatable boat in which they were attempting to reach Greece capsized.  Alan’s father survived the mishap.  (Alan’s aunt lives in Canada.)  The poignancy of the young child’s limp, lifeless body being held by a soldier galvanized public opinion in the West, creating a groundswell in favor of granting haven to those fleeing the brutal civil war in Syria.  Refugee policy quickly became an issue in Canada’s current federal election campaign, with the Conservative Party government of Stephen Harper attracting criticism for its slowness in approving more refugees.


Recognizing the Armenian Genocide

© By Umut Özsu

As an adolescent, I shared a close bond with my Turkish grandmother.  Born to a large family in an impoverished village in western Anatolia, she had come of age during the early years of the Republic of Turkey, established in 1923 as a secular nation-state on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.  While sociable and loquacious, my grandmother could be touchy on certain matters.  Few such matters, though, disturbed her as much as the Armenian genocide.

On the few occasions that I broached the topic, my grandmother bristled, visibly upset by the fact that I had so clearly made a point of raising it.  To her credit, she did not deny the events outright – “much evil was done”, she would say, embarrassed and looking downward.  But as with so many of her compatriots, she prickled at my use of the term “genocide,” maintained that Turks and other Muslims had also suffered, and suggested that the West should face up to its own past before accusing Turkey of crimes.  (France’s suppression of the Algerian struggle for independence was her favourite example here.)

April 24, 2015 marked the centennial of the Armenian genocide.  One of the bloodiest events of the First World War, the genocide was the culmination of decades of discrimination against, and heavy-handed persecution of, Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.  In May 1915, determined to “cleanse” eastern Anatolia of “fifth columns,” so as to forestall a Russian occupation and finalize a process of ethno-religious homogenization, the Ottoman Empire’s ‘Young Turk’ government ordered the systematic deportation of Armenians.  The process unfolded brutally during the months that followed, with hundreds of thousands being rounded up and forcibly transferred to Deir ez-Zor, a barren swath of territory (currently controlled by ISIS) in what is now northeastern Syria.  Armenian property was confiscated, rape and massacre occurred regularly, and forced marches through the desert, often without food or water, increased the mortality rate exponentially.  Those who survived often did so through conversion to Islam or marriage to local Muslims.

The Turkish state continues to deny that these events constitute genocide.  While it admits that atrocities were committed, it argues that they were not part of a consciously designed plan to exterminate Armenians.  Noting that the word “genocide” was coined during the Second World War, Turkey also argues that it is anachronistic and legally unjustifiable to apply the term retroactively.  The two arguments are structurally linked, since the 1948 Genocide Convention – the first, and still the most important, legal instrument concerning genocide – stresses the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group,” and it is precisely this “intent” that Turkey denies.

These arguments are misleading and disingenuous.  Although the Ottoman archives were purged long ago of many of the most incriminating documents, historians have demonstrated a high degree of operational coordination in regard to the genocide on the part of the Young Turks.  Indeed, it is well-established that Talat Pasha and similarly high-ranking Ottoman authorities were instrumental in facilitating the atrocities that were committed during the course of the deportations.  It is true, of course, that Turks and others also suffered dearly during the inter-communal strife that marked the Ottoman Empire’s final years.  But this does not change the fact that roughly 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians died as a direct result of the Young Turks’ actions and policies.  No word but “genocide” captures the scale and depth of this destruction.  It is high time for the Turkish state to admit what many of its citizens have long acknowledged in private conversation – that the Armenian genocide was indeed a genocide, and that it demands recognition as such, by Turkey no less than other states.

My grandmother was not prepared to make this admission.  And in that respect, she was plainly wrong.  She did have a point, though, when she suggested that genocide and related forms of violence are not specific to any one time or place.  Perhaps this is ultimately the most important message of all, and one from which we Canadians can also benefit, not least because our current government – a government that has officially recognized the Armenian genocide – refuses to grapple meaningfully with this country’s history of conquering and exploiting aboriginal peoples.

Umut Özsu is an assistant professor of law at the University of Manitoba.  He is the author of “Formalizing Displacement: International Law and Population Transfers,” recently published by Oxford University Press.

Copyright © 2015 by Umut Özsu.

The foregoing was originally published in The Toronto Star on April 20, 2015.  It appears in Artsforum Magazine with the permission of its author.


CBC’s leaders bring it to the brink of an existential crisis

© By Tony Burman

If there was any doubt that Canada’s public broadcaster is confronting an unprecedented existential crisis, it vanished on June 26, when CBC president Hubert Lacroix unveiled the corporation’s latest five-year plan at a “town hall” meeting of staff in a performance that was as disingenuous as it was depressing.  CBC’s enemies are not only circling their prey from the outside – the most notable being the current Conservative government with its unrelenting budget cuts.   Its enemies are also working from within.   The CBC has a compliant board of directors, overwhelmingly stacked with Conservative party donors, and a president, also Conservative, who appears ready to implement any budget cut in virtual silence.

Lacroix delivered for them yesterday.  Although confirming the CBC will cut up to 1500 more jobs in the next five years, including CBC’s renowned Documentary Unit that produced Canada: A People’s History and other groundbreaking programs, he described it as “a good day, it’s an important day.  This is a plan that is going to work.”  But what this “plan” will actually accomplish in the long-term is the burning issue, not only for CBC staff but, more importantly, for Canadians everywhere who value public broadcasting.  Let us not be fooled.   In the dead of night across this country, cut by cut, in small towns and large cities, in newsrooms and documentary edit suites, Canada’s public broadcaster is being destroyed.

According to the new CBC plan, priorities will be shifted from television and radio to digital and mobile services.  This will reduce staff and affect a variety of programs, including local TV newscasts in many regions.  Although an increased emphasis on digital mobile services makes sense – and it’s a direction that was started 10 years ago when I was still at the CBC – this plan is really code for deep cuts.   It is part of the determined march toward a more privatized, outsourced CBC.

Beyond the digital theme, what is depressing about the new plan is the CBC’s continuing resistance to the radical change that would make it a genuine public broadcaster again.  Why wouldn’t the CBC completely dump commercials like its counterparts elsewhere in the world?  Why should its English TV service still look like a cheap version of its commercial rivals, or a fading sports channel?  The only promising part of yesterday’s CBC meeting was the aggressive pushback by staff.  Lacroix was pressed on why the CBC would kill its award-winning Documentary Unit, which has produced programs that, for many Canadians, justify why there is a CBC.  And he was criticized for being woefully ineffective in building public support for the CBC, and instead acting as an “enabler” for Conservative government budget cutting.

I have only met Hubert Lacroix once.  In 2010, when I was the head of Al Jazeera English, I attended a media conference in New York City.  On the first day, while waiting at the elevator, I was flipping through the list of who else was attending, and there I saw Lacroix’s name – and his picture.  “So that’s what he looks like,” I thought to myself.  I then looked up, and there he was.  We immediately went to lunch together.  He quizzed me about working with Richard Stursberg, former executive vice-president of CBC Television.  Lacroix had fired him a few months earlier.  He said that he had heard that Stursberg and I didn’t get along. My only problem with Stursberg, I told Lacroix, was that he was a “wannabe commercial broadcaster” who, sadly perhaps, was working for a public broadcaster.  I told him the CBC needs to have genuine, passionate, innovative public broadcasters in leadership, or it is doomed.  But I had the impression then that Lacroix didn’t have a clue what I meant.  After the lunch, I saw him walking across the street slapping his head as if he was muttering to himself, “Why did I have to meet this guy?”  Listening to Lacroix yesterday, at the CBC “town hall” meeting, made me conclude that he hasn’t learned much in the intervening four years.

But that’s his problem.  Our problem is much worse.  More than ever, our challenge now, as Canadians, is to grab back the future of our CBC before Lacroix and his patrons destroy it.  There is not much time left.

Tony Burman is the former head of CBC News and of Al Jazeera English.  He currently teaches journalism at Ryerson University.

Copyright © 2014 by Tony Burman.

The preceding article was originally published in The Toronto Star on June 27, 2014.  It appears in Artsforum with the permission of its author.


Let us beware of politicized policing….

© By George Elliott Clarke

On June 12, 2014, Ontarians were asked to pass judgment on the Ontario Liberal Party government and could have denied Premier Kathleen Wynne the seats to maintain her hold on power. But they did not. This outcome was a happy one, in my opinion, for it neutralized the apparent, undue influence on the electorate that may have been intended by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) announcement, six days before the vote, that the force sought documents from Ontario Legislative Assembly staffers to resolve allegations that potential evidence of misdeeds (on the part of the chief-of-staff of former premier Dalton McGuinty) had been deleted or destroyed.

Although the OPP investigation into ex-premier McGuinty’s costly 2011 and 2012 cancellations of contracts to build two gas plants in Mississauga and Oakville – and the potential wiping clean of computer hard drives associated with that decision – has been ongoing for the last year, the timing of the pre-election day court order revelation was, at best, mischievous. Perhaps the OPP reminder of its continuing investigation had been intended to balance or offset the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party complaints over the OPP association’s election advertising, which was damning of the Tory platform.

Yet, it is one thing for a de facto union to promote a point of view regarding public policy, and quite another for a police force to hint at criminal wrongdoing, in the political realm, during an election campaign (by definition, a time of intense partisanship), and without laying charges. Indeed, the timing of the OPP legal action – the court order for new documents – revealed so close to the June 12th vote, should remind one of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) ill-timed – if not infamous – intervention in the 2005-06 federal election campaign.

Worse, that intervention likely helped the Conservative (I say “Republican”) Party of Stephen Harper achieve a minority government. Certainly, when then-RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli authored a press release, in the middle of the election, announcing a criminal investigation of the governing Liberals for having allegedly leaked – to Bay Street players – plans for taxation of income trusts, it coincided with an overnight plunge in Liberal Party support. The public announcement of the Mountie investigation, between Christmas and New Year’s Day, during a holiday week of suspended campaign activity, seems to have precipitated the defeat of Prime Minister Paul Martin’s minority government less than a month later.

Former B.C. premier and attorney-general Ujjal Dosanjh, the minister of health in Martin’s cabinet, described the yuletide RCMP announcement as “political interference.” Dosanjh himself may have experienced a sense of déjà vu, for his own premiership was the indirect result of the resignation of B.C. premier Glen Clark, in August 1999, following RCMP searches of his home and office, conducted under the glare of TV cameras, in relation to his alleged granting of a casino licence in exchange for “free” (they weren’t) renovations to his property. As with the probe of the supposed Liberal income trust “scandal,” in which only one bureaucrat was convicted of a crime, the police investigation of Clark also generated more heat than light. Though Clark was charged with breach of trust, he was acquitted.

Nevertheless, as with Martin’s Liberals in 2005-06, the RCMP suggestion of criminality and scandal inflicted immediate political wounds. And not just to Clark, or to Martin’s Liberals, but to the principle that police must not use powers of investigation as political “weapons” against persons or parties with whose policies they may disagree. Moreover, the police actions may have served to deprive the people of B.C. of a relatively decent premier and the people of Canada of a relatively decent prime minister. If so, the police interventions were tantamount to a kind of quiet, very Canadian, very polite coup – by press release. Indeed, the Clark and Martin government investigations, conducted with such malicious publicity, shredded the vital, democratic principle of police neutrality. Surely the image of such objectivity was lost when newly minted Prime Minister Harper shared his first photo-op with then-RCMP commissioner Zaccardelli, whose suggestions of Liberal impropriety had arguably benefited the once-Opposition leader.

So, to return to the June 12th vote in Ontario, news of the OPP investigation had to have been taken with much more than ‘a grain of salt.’ If the Liberals had lost, it should have been due to definite sins committed (many to choose from), not unproven allegations, subject to a police probe that remains, definitively, incomplete.

George Elliott Clarke is the William Lyon Mackenzie King Visiting Professor in Canadian Studies at Harvard University, 2013-14. He is not an adherent of – or donor to – any political party, federally or provincially.

Copyright © 2014 by George Elliott Clarke.


The Ethical Case against Quebec’s Proposed Legalization of Euthanasia

© By Margaret Somerville

A recent editorial in The Globe and Mail, “A well-reasoned bill on the right to die” (February 20, 2014), makes the strongest case that can be made for supporting Quebec’s Bill 52 and legalizing euthanasia.  Like Bill 52, the editorial focuses only on the individual person who wants euthanasia, and, moreover, is in “unbearable pain.”  The editors see the goal of Bill 52 as seeking “to sensibly regulate how a physician can deliberately end a patient’s life.”  And they accept that doing so is “a medical and not a criminal matter.”  They take comfort in recognizing  that “Quebec’s criteria [governing euthanasia] closely resemble the rigorous six-part test offered in the Netherlands” and reassure us  that “Quebec has given no indication that it seeks to emulate Belgium’s approach” of recently extending euthanasia to children.

I will critique these points in order.  Because good ethics depend on good facts, we need to get our facts straight.   First, the title: The terminology of a “right to die” is problematic.  If you have a “right to die,” someone else has an obligation to kill you.  Rather, as is fully recognized in Canadian criminal and civil law, and in medical ethics, you have a right to be allowed to die by refusing medical treatment.  This is a natural death, not euthanasia.

The discussion of the consequences of euthanasia must go beyond its impact on the individual person, important as that person is.  Legalizing euthanasia is also a major issue for society as a whole, and the institutions of medicine and law, which, in a secular society, such as Canada, carry the societal value of respect for life.

With respect to “unbearable pain,” we must kill the pain, not the person with the pain.  As the internationally recognized ‘Declaration of Montreal’ recognizes, for healthcare professionals to unreasonably fail to offer fully adequate pain management to a person who needs it is a breach of that person’s human rights.

Regarding “sensible regulation,” we should keep in mind that we don’t regulate that which we believe to be inherently wrong, we prohibit it.  For thousands of years we’ve prohibited intentional killing of another human being, except where it is the only feasible way to protect innocent human life, as in self-defence.  Euthanasia crosses that clear line — that we must not intentionally kill — and, once crossed, there is no obvious stopping point, as both the Netherlands and Belgium so manifestly show us.   As Margaret Wente’s recent article, “Assisted suicide – what could go wrong?” (The Globe and Mail , February 20, 2014), documents, contrary to the Globe’s editors’ assurance that all is well in those jurisdictions, neither the logical slippery slope – the extension of euthanasia to a much wider range of people than were initially included – nor the practical slippery slope – the abuse of euthanasia and its use outside the legal requirements – have been avoided.  In short, once introduced, euthanasia cannot be controlled, despite the best of intentions to do so.  And those most at risk are vulnerable people — people with disabilities, and those who are old and fragile, including those with dementia.

Moreover, even before Bill 52 becomes law, its extension is being raised.  For instance, just this week, Dr. Yves Robert of the Quebec College of Physicians and Surgeons, which has strongly supported the Bill, is reported as saying its extension to children will need to be considered.  In the future, might its application to people with dementia also be contemplated?  The reasoning in the two cases for doing so is the same:  If mentally competent people can have their suffering relieved through euthanasia, it’s wrong not to offer the same benefit to mentally incompetent people.

It is legally wrong to say euthanasia is “a medical and not a criminal matter.”  It’s a criminal matter because, under the Criminal Code, it is first degree murder – the physician has an intention to cause death and does so through a “planned and deliberate” act.  The penalty for that is life imprisonment, not “14 years in prison,” as the editorial states.  (The latter is the penalty for assisting in a suicide, but it is unclear whether Bill 52 contemplates allowing that.)  Bill 52’s emphasis on euthanasia being ‘a medical act’ is the Quebec government’s attempt to claim jurisdiction to legislate on euthanasia.

I believe that history will view the current euthanasia debate as having been the most important values debate of 21st century.  Whatever its outcome, it will be seen, in retrospect, as a critical point in determining the shared values handed on to future generations to become the values upon which they will base their Canadian society.  The euthanasia debate focuses attention on the importance to humanity of putting into practice the belief that all human life has dignity and deserves respect and protection.  What that belief requires we must either not do or do is where the pro-euthanasia and anti-euthanasia adherents disagree.

Margaret Somerville is professor of law and founding director of the Center for Medicine, Ethics, and Law at McGillUniversity.

Copyright © 2014 By Margaret Somerville.

A much shorter version of the foregoing comment appeared as a letter to the editor in the February 24, 2014 edition of The Globe and Mail.  It appears in Artsforum with the permission of its author.


Harper in Peru: What the Media Failed to Report

PM committed Canadian tax dollars to aid conflict-ridden mining opposed by locals.

© By Stephanie Boyd

CUSCO, PERU — Canada’s press corps was so focused on the Duffy corruption scandal during Stephen Harper’s recent trip to South America that no one bothered to challenge our fearless leader’s new “foreign aid” program to help Canadian mining companies get richer in countries where mining has led to major human rights violations.  Don’t get me wrong:  Harper needs to be grilled, fried and publicly boiled over the Duffy issue.  But at least one of the intrepid reporters who followed Harper down to Peru might have questioned what he was doing there.  It was the first ever visit by a standing Canadian PM to this once-ignored South American nation, and Harper certainly didn’t come to polish-up on his salsa.

Peru’s wealth of mineral resources and lax environmental and social standards have attracted a small army of Canadian mining companies to the country, including many Vancouver-based firms.  Twenty years ago, Peru was an investment wasteland, racked with hyper-inflation and a civil war with leftist guerrillas.  Now, it’s become Canada’s second largest trading partner in Latin America and the Caribbean.  Last year, Canadian direct investment in Peru was $6.9 billion, most of this in mining, oil and gas.  It’s no wonder that Harper was given royal treatment when he arrived in Lima last Wednesday [May 22, 2013].  He strode up the red carpet and greeted Peru’s President Ollanta Humala with an awkward handshake, his pot-belly almost reaching Humala’s shoulders, as a military band groaned out a few bars of “Oh Canada.”  After schmoozing with Humala and mining executives, he flew off to Cali to attend a meeting of the Pacific Alliance, formed by Peru and its right-wing buddies: Mexico, Chile, and Colombia.  Alliance leaders and their new friend, Stephen Harper, sang the praises of democracy, social inclusion and environmental protection and patted each other on the back for promoting socially responsible capitalism.

No one wanted to ruin the smiling group photos by mentioning the 15 civilians who have been killed during protests with Peruvian police forces since President Humala took power nearly two years ago, the majority in conflicts related to oil, mining and gas projects.  Nor did anyone mention the married couple in Chihuahua, Mexico, who opposed a mine being developed by Vancouver’s MAG Silver and were gunned down by unknown assailants last year.  Or the ongoing environmental violations at Barrick Gold’s Pascua Lama mine in Chile, and threats against community leaders standing up to paramilitary groups in Colombia.

Millions from Canadians to promote mining

If Harper was really concerned with promoting development among the Pacific Alliance countries, he could have used his visit to pressure member nations about human rights violations connected to the extractive industries.  (Better yet, his government could support initiatives back home to make Canadian companies accountable for their actions overseas).  Instead, he chose to award the Peruvian government, one of the region’s worst human rights violators, with a $53 million aid package.  The catch is that the funds must be used to promote development projects linked to mining and education (like sending Peruvians to UBC’s new Institute for Extractive Industries and Development so they can learn to work at Canadian-owned mines?)  Underneath the rhetoric, Harper’s “aid” is directed at helping Canadian mining corporations get richer with Canadian taxpayers picking up the tab.

In case you believe the government’s doublespeak about ‘mining leading to development,’ take a look at the evidence.  Peru’s economic policy has been focused on mining as the motor of development for the past 20 years, turning the country into the darling of the World Bank and IMF.  On paper, the math looks spectacular: in 10 years Peru’s economy almost doubled in size and last year’s growth rate of 6.3 per cent makes it one of fastest growing countries in the region.  The wealth hasn’t reached Peru’s mining communities, however, which remain among the country’s poorest areas.  In rural zones, where most of the country’s mining projects are found, 53 per cent of the population still lives in poverty.  Mining communities say the promised benefits have failed to trickle down and they’re left with contamination, labor unrest and social decay.  And they’re responding in protest with strikes, blockades of mining installations and community referendums.  There are currently 229 social conflicts in Peru and over half of these are related to mining, oil and gas projects, according to Peru’s government Ombudsman’s office.  Canadian companies have distinguished themselves as leaders in this new and growing field of social conflict.

Nearly unanimous community opposition

“Many of Peru’s historic and current mining conflicts are related to Canadian companies,” says Jose de Echave, who served as vice-minister of the Environment during President Humala’s first cabinet.  One of the most recent involves Vancouver-based Candente Copper, which hopes to build a copper mine in one of northern Peru’s fragile tropical forests.  Leaders from the nearby indigenous community of Cañaris say the proposed mine would destroy their source of water and livelihood.  Last year the community held a referendum in which 95 per cent voted against the mine, but the company has ignored the results and is pushing ahead with the project.

Peruvian law requires the government to consult indigenous communities before giving out concessions on their land, but human rights groups have criticized loopholes in the regulations.  Most notably, the law isn’t binding, meaning the government must consult the community, and is then free to go ahead and do what it wants.  In the case of Cañaris, Peru’s government is also trying to deny the community’s “indigenous” status, despite the fact that Cañaris holds official government certification as an indigenous community.  Violence broke out this past January when a peaceful demonstration against the mine was attacked by Peruvian police who fired on about 400 Quechua-speaking farmers and used tear gas to disperse the crowd. Peru’s La Republica newspaper reported that at least 25 people were injured, four of them with serious wounds from gunshots and rubber bullets.  A dialogue process was set-up to resolve the dispute, made-up of representatives from the company, Peruvian government and local communities.  However, at the most recent dialogue meeting in April, representatives from Cañaris say they were not allowed to participate and were “thrown out of our own house.”

In Peru’s southern Andes, another conflict is brewing at the country’s first uranium project, owned by Macusani Yellowcake, a small Toronto-based company.  The proposed mine was given the go-ahead last month despite criticisms that Peru has no regulations to govern radio-active material like uranium.  “The government is treating the project as though it were an ordinary mine, without any special provisions regarding uranium mining” says Jose de Echave, adding, “And the local community is completely unaware of the possible impacts.”

Civil strife hotspots

Despite the company’s glowing assertion on its web page that the area has “superb infrastructure” including “roads, power, water, etc.,” Macusani is one of the country’s most forgotten areas.  Most roads are unpaved, bumpy affairs that twist and curve around sheer mountain cliffs, electricity is intermittent and water is a scarce resource.  Sounds like a perfect scenario for transporting a radio-active substance like uranium.  The project is located in Peru’s windswept department of Puno, where Quechua-speaking farmers dedicated to herding llamas and cultivating potatoes still eke out a subsistence livelihood.  Macusani is stunningly beautiful, with pristine mountain lakes, open skies and tall, waving ichu, the tough grass that manages to survive here, at over 4,300 meters above sea level.  Residents are understandably concerned about the possible health effects from the mine.  Although some community leaders have signed agreements with the company, the provincial ‘Ronderos’, the farmer’s self-defense organization, has called for a referendum on the mine.  There’s also a simmering conflict at Barrick’s Lagunas Norte gold mine, in northern Peru, and the list of Canuck-inspired civil strife goes on and on.

But why should the Canadian public care about protests and wounded and contamination in remote farming villages at the other end of the Americas?  Even if you don’t feel it’s our responsibility as global citizens to monitor the behaviour of Canadian corporations overseas, here’s the new rub: every Canadian taxpayer is now financing the human rights abuses of our mining companies in foreign countries. The conservative government has turned Canada’s International Development Agency into the public relations wing of the mining industry, with the prime minister himself as head PR wonk.  The blood is literally on our hands.

Stephanie Boyd is a Canadian journalist and documentary filmmaker who has been living and working in Peru for the past 16 years.  Her films have been shown on television and at festivals around the world and won over 20 awards. The Devil Operation” her latest film, chronicles a spy operation against activists and farming leaders linked to South America‘s largest gold mine.  To learn more, visit: www.guarango.org/diablo

Copyright © 2013 by Stephanie Boyd.

The foregoing article appears in Artsforum with the permission of its author.  It was originally published, on May 30, 2013, in The Tyee, an independent daily online magazine based in British Columbia:  “We’re independent and not owned by any big corporation.  We’re dedicated to publishing lively, informative news and views, not dumbed down fluff.  We, like the tyee salmon for which we are named, roam free and go where we wish.” Visit The Tyee at: http://thetyee.ca/


The “Under 40” Crowd and the Democratic Deficit

© By Lynn McDonald

Who are these “under 40s” and what do they do to our democratic system?  They are the 39.6% of voters who elected a majority Conservative government in 2011.  There is nothing wrong with them voting as they want to, of course.  But to get a majority government that acts as if it had 90% of the vote?  Then there are the 36.9% of voters in Calgary Centre, who elected a Conservative MP in a by-election in 2012, thanks to vote splitting by the over 60% crowd.  The under 40-percenters are holding sway thanks to our antiquated first-past-the-post electoral system.  But there is a practical alternative, one recommended by the Law Commission of Canada in its 2004 report, “Voting Counts: Electoral Reform for Canada.”  This is proportional representation (PR), and, specifically (since there are numerous forms of it), the “mixed member proportional” (MMP) version.

MMP is in place in a number of countries, such as Scotland, Germany, and New Zealand.  The Law Commission of Canada’s proposal is a typically Canadian compromise — to keep two thirds of M.P.s elected by the familiar first-past-the-post system, so that people will continue to have an M.P. they consider their own.  On the same ballot paper, there would also be a list by party; so, we would vote twice.  From this list the other third of M.P.s would be elected, keeping the total number of M.P.s the same, while increasing riding size by one third — not an inordinate change.

The “list M.P.s” allow for parties that are under-represented by first-past-the-post to boost their numbers, so that the total share of MPs by party would be about the same as their popular vote.  Everyone’s vote would be worth the same.  In Scotland, the list share is 43%, in Germany 50%, and New Zealand 42%.  The system works well.  How to get there?  The problem is that parties in power, like the Conservatives, which benefit from first-past-the-post, do not want change.  Since becoming a “third party” the Liberals have officially adopted “alternative voting” as their chosen reform, but it is not proportional.  (A petition in favour of PR is in circulation within the Liberal Party, and one leadership candidate, Joyce Murray, M.P., supports it.)  The NDP, which has typically been disadvantaged by the current system, adopted PR, but is not actively pursuing it.  It did well, exceptionally, in 2011 with first-past-the-post.  The Greens support PR.

Clearly PR will not happen without a change in government.  The “Canadian Electoral Alliance proposes an electoral alliance for the next federal election, scheduled for 2015.  That is, it urges all the non-government parties to agree to target the most vulnerable Conservative ridings, say the 50 won with the narrowest margin, and run a common candidate. This is complicated by the fact that riding boundaries will be different in 2015, but it is possible to redistribute previous votes by the new boundaries to identify the best ridings to target.

An electoral alliance is not a merger.  It is intended to be a one-election measure, after which a new Parliament, perhaps a minority or coalition government, would bring in PR.  It is essential that PR become operational for the next election after that, or the whole idea could be lost.  With an effective PR system, such as MMP, strategic voting would no longer be necessary: everybody could vote as they wished, and each party would get its fair share of the seats.

The cost of maintaining our present voting system is not just abstract unfairness.  Rather we routinely see laws enacted and our tax dollars spent contrary to the values and concerns of the 60% majority.  A government truly representing that 60% would:

• bring in a comprehensive climate action strategy;

• maintain and enhance environmental protection measures;

• end fossil fuel and nuclear subsidies;

• stop promoting pipelines for tar sands bitumen;

• restore funding for home improvements for energy efficiency

• adopt a national child care plan;

• end child poverty;

• bring in fairer taxes;

• adopt tougher gun controls;

• stop the prison building program;

• repeal the new minimum prison sentences;

• abandon the $35 billion purchase of fighter bombers;

• implement proposals of the royal commission on First Nations; and

• possibly decriminalize cannabis possession?

Procedurally, it could adopt reforms to promote cross-party cooperation in the House of Commons — in committees and private members’ business.  It could also go on to Senate abolition or reform — although neither is a matter to be dealt with quickly.

The first step must be fair representation.  That solved, we will be able to address the other faults of our democratic system.  This is not mere wishful thinking, for the many PR systems in operation in the world have shown that they work better.  Countries with them have: a higher voter turn-out; greater citizen confidence in their democratic institutions; and, they elect more women and minorities, enact better environmental protection laws, and achieve more efficient energy use.

These are all policies which a majority of Canadians favour.  Let’s get on with it!

Lynn McDonald is a professor emerita at the University of Guelph and an active environmentalist; she is co-founder of “JustEarth: A Coalition for Environmental Justice;” and she serves on the board of directors of “Climate Action Network.”  She is a former NDP Member of Parliament and a former president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women.

For more on the proposal for electoral cooperation between Canada’s progressive parties, visit:   {URL removed temporarily because it appeared to be ‘infected’}

Copyright © 2013 by Lynn McDonald.


For Want of Responsible Government

© By John Arkelian

In 1653, Oliver Cromwell bid his followers to, “Take away that fool’s bauble, the mace.” The mace to which he referred was the ceremonial mace that represented the authority of the English Parliament.  But the so-called Rump Parliament that earned Cromwell’s scorn was not governing responsibly, or well.  359 years later, much the same can be said about too many of the governments of our own day.  Take the national Parliament and provincial Legislative Assemblies of Canada, for example.  Too often, they seem to be ignoring the vital interests of this nation in pursuit of short-term economic gain.  Environmental concerns are dismissed in favor of oil pipelines irresponsibly touted for ecologically sensitive areas, and the wide scale devastation caused by the Tar Sands is overlooked in favor of the jobs and money it generates.  Instead of rejecting out of hand the bid of a state-owned company — a company which is controlled by a one-party dictatorship that is implacably hostile to our most fundamental principles (‘little things’ like liberty, democracy, and inalienable human rights) — to acquire an important interest in Canada’s energy sector, our leaders prefer to curry favor with the tyrants of Beijing.

And, now, our feckless leaders dismiss the clear and present danger of cyber-espionage and covert data stealing posed by the Chinese telecom giants Huawei and ZTE, in the shortsighted name (again) of investment and trade.  In October 2012, the U.S. House Intelligence Committee found that Huawei and ZTE pose grave risks to the national security of the United States and its allies.  The U.S. and Australia have already banned Huawei from involvement in major contracts.  Banning Chinese telecom firms from owning or investing in telecom networks on these shores should be next, as should an outright ban on the use of any components manufactured by them.  The U.S. House Intelligence Committee has turned over allegations of bribery and corruption involving the Chinese telecom giants to the FBI for criminal investigation.  And, north of the border, a former Nortel network security expert has alleged that a key factor leading to the collapse of that major Canadian telecom company was the wholesale theft of its intellectual property by Chinese competitors who infiltrated its supposedly secure network.

So, how do governments in Canada react?  Why, by dismissing U.S. concerns and soft-pedaling the glaringly obvious security threat posed by China.  Huawei already has deals with such Canadian counterparts as Bell, Telus, Sasktel, and Wind Mobile.  Indeed, the Premiers of Ontario and Saskatchewan wooed Huawei here — in Ontario’s case, with $6.5 million in taxpayers’ money.  And now Huawei — which was founded in 1987 by a high-tech expert from China’s People’s Liberation Army, a force for oppression and tyranny if ever one there was — is bidding to build a new so-called “secure network” for Canada’s federal government.  Secure? In a proverbial pig’s eye!  Yet, we have the likes of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty defending the infiltration of our telecom industry — a sector of our economy that is of vital importance to our national security — by a hostile power.

A Canadian naval officer recently pleaded guilty to betraying his country by selling secrets to Russia.  What of our elected officials trading our national security and national sovereignty to a tyranny that’s as inimical to our values as it happens to be rich?  Such governance — our governance — is not “responsible.” It is not responsible in the sense of being truly accountable to its citizens, thanks to a first-past-the-post electoral system that routinely delivers results that do not reflect popular will, and thanks also to the pervasive disingenuousness of political platforms and election promises.  Nor is it responsible in the sense of being in the long term best interests of this country.  It’s enough to make us exclaim, as Cromwell did to the irresponsible Parliament of his day, “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing.  Depart, I say, and let us have done with you.  In the name of God, go!”

John Arkelian is a lawyer and an international relations analyst.  He represented Canada as a diplomat in London and Prague.

Copyright © October 2012 by John Arkelian.


War Cry

© By Tina Ivany

Early morning on Friday, July 13, 2012 gave rise to another sweltering day, but it was beyond chilly inside Scarborough’s Don Montgomery Arena.  While my husband drove the big ‘Zamboni,’ preparing the ice, I helped our cousin, Paul, and his two sons, James and Alexander, lace up their skates.  This was a thrilling adventure for the boys, their first opportunity to take to the ice and try to stay upright on the precarious surface beneath their feet; also their last chance to spend precious moments with their father before embarking, that evening, on the 24-hour trip back to their home in Zimbabwe.  The boys would return to the Harare International School in the capital, while their father, Dr. Paul Thistle and their mother, Pedrinah, continued their journey to HowardHospital, in rural Chiwese province, some 80 kilometers to the southeast.  After their skate, as we hugged and waved good-bye to father and sons, and wished them a safe journey home, we had no idea that Friday the 13th would indeed be the harbinger of bad things to come.

Back in Zimbabwe, life for Paul and Pedrinah continued as usual, working 70 hours plus a week, and looking forward to weekends, when their sons, who board with their uncle in Harare during the week, would be home.  But all that changed on August 4th when Paul received the news that would alter his life.  A letter from Salvation Army International Headquarters in London, England informed Paul that his time at Howard Hospital was over and that he was being re-assigned to Canada effective September lst.  The reason for his removal? When his nursing staff had not been paid, long-held suspicions found their voice.  Paul had committed the ultimate sin, challenging the local church authorities to explain what had happened to all of the donations from Canadian supporters.

The first inkling of this situation came to us in an e-mail from Paul announcing his profound shock and disappointment at having to leave his life’s work and return to Canada.  He would not, however, go gentle into the good night because what followed was a mass protest by his staff and locals, ending with the arrest of eight of his nurses and a dozen others, charged with “inciting violence.”  The nurses were released after being questioned by local authorities, and Paul retreated to Harare, vowing to remain in the country pending their trial, scheduled for September 24th.

It could rightly be said that Howard Hospital, a Salvation Army facility, operates on a wing and a prayer—its main support being donations garnered through the hard work and generosity of Canadian donors like the Rotary Club in Whitby, the Stephen Lewis Foundation and the fund-raising efforts of private citizens in Peterborough, Ontario.  As Chief Medical Director, Paul was responsible for providing care to a population of 270,000 people within the region.  He is a University of Toronto graduate, a specialist in Obstetrics/Gynecology, focused on maternal, newborn and child care; but during his 16 years at Howard he has come face to face with every type of medical and moral challenge.  A man of deep faith, who was born and raised in Scarborough in the traditions of the Salvation Army, Paul’s work is a natural fit.  To the people of Chiwese district, he is not only their healer, but their father-confessor, their spiritual guide and the spark of hope for a better life.  His wife, Pedrinah, born and raised in Zimbabwe, is a gold-medalist in nursing and midwifery, who was responsible for training the hospital’s nurses and assistants.  With their total immersion in the well-being of the local community and their unwavering faith, Paul and Pedrinah elected to make it official by becoming Salvation Army officers a few years ago.

Paul’s annual six-week furlough to Canada should have been a well-earned rest.  Instead, he spent that time recruiting funding from Canadian donors to keep the hospital afloat, including a $30,000 yearly contribution from Peterborough.  The Army has contributed little, except paying for the shipment of containers stocked with medicine and supplies from Canadian sources.  Years ago, a Salvation Army donor reportedly left millions of dollars to build a new hospital right beside the old one, but after wiring, plumbing and painting were completed, the money ran out.  The new hospital, whose construction began years ago, stands empty.  Such was the level of neglect and decay that in 2006, Zimbabwean authorities declared it unfit for use.  This year, $50,000 raised in Peterborough, Ontario offered hope for the new hospital’s completion, with about half of the money earmarked to build a facility that would house visiting health professional volunteers.  That money has disappeared.  Approximately $18,000 worth of building materials, sitting on the grounds waiting for construction to begin, has been looted.  Two volunteer anesthetists from Norway, Doctors Marit Kalvo and Annlaug Teigene, who have worked at Howard Hospital since 2002, have alleged that they “witnessed the administrators and other S.A. officers stealing from the hospital.”  The United Church of Canada, another generous supporter, has asked for the money they contributed for the running of the hospital to be returned.

The consequences of Paul’s dismissal have spread far beyond disrupting his career and family, exposing massive flaws in the Salvation Army’s operation, but the greatest loss is to the patients of Howard Hospital.  Dr. Thistle is the only obstetrician/gynecologist and one of two general surgeons in Chiwese, a province of one million people.  Now there is only one, but he is in Harare, which might as well be the Moon to people who can barely make it to Howard Hospital.  With 300 patients a day passing through its doors and 2,500 births per year, plus those receiving HIV/AIDS treatment on a continuing basis, Dr. Thistle’s removal has put the entire welfare of the province in jeopardy.  The two doctors who remain at the hospital treat patients on an out-patient basis and are not surgeons. As well as obstetrics and gynecology, Paul has extra training in general, oncology and urology surgery.  On average, Howard Hospital performed 10 to 15 operations each day.  Many of them are complex surgeries that require a level of skill and experience that only a surgeon of Dr. Thistle’s calibre could perform.  His absence has left the people of Chiwese devoid of the only qualified health care and life-saving procedures they could count on for the past 16 years.

Paul was the doctor who, in 2005, with the most rudimentary ultrasound equipment, identified conjoined twins in their mother’s womb and weeks later, successfully delivered them.  Following an appeal to the Herbie Fund, he mobilized funds to have them sent for evaluation and life-saving surgery at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, where the twins were successfully separated.  Seven years later, Tinotenda and Tinashe are thriving, healthy boys who able to enjoy soccer and field hockey with all their young friends, including Paul’s own two sons.

Although Howard Hospital has garnered worldwide recognition for exceptional care, the head of the Salvation Army in Zimbabwe, Commissioner Vinece Cigariro, and the person Paul challenged, has threatened him with ex-communication if he refuses to comply with her directive.  However, as Paul points out, Commissioner Cigariro has the authority to ask him to leave the premises and accept repatriation to Canada, but she has no authority to order him to leave the country.  Nor has the Zimbabwean government, who outwardly praise and support Paul’s efforts, asked him to leave; although it is hard to gauge their commitment to health care given the trickle of funds—the $7,000 (or three cents per person per year)—they provide each year to Howard Hospital.

A prominent name in the Salvation Army’s Zimbabwean branch is Joice Mujuru, the Vice President of Zimbabwe and a possible successor to Robert Mugabe, that country’s autocratic President.  She also happens to be a captain in the Salvation Army.  Mujuru lives on a 3,500 acre farm south of Harare, which the Zimbabwe Supreme Court found to be illegally seized from the farm’s owner.  According to the BBC, Mujuru was purported to be implicated in a scheme to sell gold from the Democratic Republic of Congo to a European company, contravening European Union sanctions.  She and her late husband are among the wealthiest and most powerful people in Zimbabwe with extensive interests in mining.  According to BBC News, she is one of 200 Zimbabweans hit with European Union sanctions, accusing them of human rights abuses.

Then there is General Linda Bond, head of the entire Salvation Army, with headquarters in London, England, who issued the letter advising Paul of his removal and who continues to foster the lie that his “re-assignment” is all part and parcel of normal procedure within Salvation Army ranks.  Allan Bacon, the 75-year-old former Director of Overseas Development for the Salvation Army Canada and Bermuda Territories begs to differ, stating in a letter to International Headquarters, that Dr. Thistle’s “re-assignment” is far from normal procedure, particularly in the case of medical personnel, because the Army has no one to replace them.  In a scathing indictment of church leaders, Retired Officer Bacon says there has been a complete abrogation of leadership and that he is so disgusted with his church that he can’t bear to wear his uniform.

E-mails sent to the Army’s International Headquarters protesting Dr. Thistle’s removal are not dealt with in London, but automatically re-directed to the Army’s Canadian territorial headquarters.  Comments posted on their website confirm unwavering support for Dr. Thistle and condemnation for the Army’s handling of this matter.  General Bond, a Canadian who rose through the ranks to become head of the Salvation Army, declares that “systems of internal and external audit are in place and that a team under her direction will be heading to Howard Hospital as soon as possible to review and analyze the situation further,” but this investigation (if indeed there is one) should have happened as soon as Paul raised concerns, not after he was summarily dismissed.  The Army’s official press release states that their first priority is to welcome the Thistles back to Canada.  Nowhere does it mention where the money went, nor what they intend to do about getting it back.

Despite several attempts to force him onto a plane, Paul has refused to go.  Although he left the hospital grounds within 24 hours of his dismissal, he remains with family in Harare.  As he told his mother, he will not leave Zimbabwe until he knows the fate of his nurses and the Army provides answers to the other vital questions:  where is the money raised in Canada and where does the Army intend to place him?  Until he has solid answers about his own future and the fate of his nurses, he stands resolute in his beliefs, determined to help and support the people of this land he has grown to love.

Reports of corruption and missing funds are all too familiar in places like Africa, especially in dictatorships run by despots, but we expect religious and charitable organizations to live up to their principles and deal with the offenders instead of hiding behind their Red Shield.  In their shameful handling of this disgraceful affair, the Salvation Army has made a huge mistake, tarnishing its good name and jeopardizing future fund raising.  All of the hierarchy of this organization who failed to stand up for Dr. Paul and Captain Pedrinah Thistle need to give their heads a firm moral shake and hang up their uniforms.

Tina Ivany is a writer and regular contributor to Artsforum Magazine, who enjoys battling absurdity brandishing the sword of words.

Author’s note: Source files for this article include: BBC World News; CBC News World; The National Post, The Peterborough Examiner; The Salvation Army’s Canada and Bermuda Territory website; The Times (Zimbabwe Edition); and The Zimbabwean.

Copyright © October 2012 by Tina Ivany.


The Naked Judge: Why Lori Douglas is not a Victim

© By Georgialee Lang

Most people would rather have a root canal than be caught up in a court proceeding. Courts and judges are mysterious, scary, and expensive.  But imagine appearing before a judge whose photos on the internet, according to reports, depict her nude, with her legs wide open, performing fellatio on a man, urinating on her lawn, or tied up with a dog collar and a chain around her neck. Yes, that would be Winnipeg’s Madam Justice Lori Douglas, and the scenes described are merely a few of the 150  poses captured by her lawyer husband, Jack King, and posted by him on the world wide web, for all to enjoy.

I have followed Lori Douglas’ public excoriation from the outset and can’t imagine how she expects to carry on as a judge, and why she did not resign in 2010 with some of her dignity intact.  I say she is not fit to occupy a judicial position because her shameful situation, whether she is to blame or not, flies in the face of the ethical principles set out by the Canadian Judicial Council, the august body that investigates complaints from the public regarding judges.

Yes, I reject Judge Douglas’ claims that she is a victim.  She is not.  She has the education and sophistication of a worldly woman who knew when she applied for a judicial position that she would be held to a higher standard of conduct than the pole dancers at Winnipeg’s popular Teaser’s Burlesque Cabaret.  She knew, or ought to have known, that where her personal life intruded on her judicial duties, any complaint about her situation could and would be investigated by her governing body, which has a statutory duty to investigate all complaints.

To the legions that have fallen for her lawyer’s suggestion that Judge Douglas is akin to a rape victim and are angry that her behavior is even being investigated, it should be said that the Council’s mandate compels them to act.  The Council publishes guidelines for judges, including the admonition that judges are expected to behave in a manner that attracts no criticism to their office or diminishes public respect for a particular judge or for the judiciary in general.  Judges must understand and accept restrictions on their activities, even if those activities would be acceptable for ‘Jane Doe.’  More importantly, a judge must disclose any matter that reflects upon the credibility and repute of the judiciary as a whole.

This is where Judge Douglas will face intense scrutiny.  She apparently admits that when she applied for a position on the bench, she did not disclose the published pornographic images, her allegedly unwilling involvement in a website called “Dark Cavern,” or the sharing of cocktails with her husband’s client, the complainant, Alex Chapman.  Her excuse?  She says that everyone who needed to know already knew about the earlier scandal involving her, her husband, and Chapman.  Admittedly, as a member of the bar when the events occurred, her only restraint was her personal moral values, which were her business alone.  However, once she became a public officer with the immense power and authority flowing from her judicial office, she ought to have realized that she was obliged to make nothing less than full written disclosure, as required by the judicial application form she filled out.  The question to which she apparently answered “no” was: “Is there anything in your past or present which could reflect negatively on yourself or the judiciary and which should be disclosed?” How is it possible that Judge Douglas did not consider that the events involving the publication of pornographic photos of her and the related fall-out involving her husband and Alex Chapman would not reflect negatively on her or the judiciary as a whole?

Lori Douglas is not, however, the only judge in Canada who has failed to disclose personal information on a judicial application.  Most notably, Mr. Justice Richard Therrien of the Court of Quebec made several applications for the Quebec bench, divulging a criminal record and a year of imprisonment related to the FLQ crisis in Quebec in the early 1970’s.  Therrien was a minor and a first year law student whose sister sheltered the terrorists who abducted Pierre Laporte.* He spent several days in his sister’s home running errands for the men who were later convicted of kidnapping.  On the occasions when he answered the form truthfully, Therrien’s applications were denied as a result of his criminal conviction.  In 1996 he reapplied; but, this time, he hid the events that occurred many years earlier and was finally appointed a Judge of the Court of Quebec.  Shortly thereafter, the matter of his criminal record was discovered and an investigation was initiated which led to his removal from the bench.  His “defence” was that he believed a pardon he received in 1987 did not require him to admit to a criminal record and he was certain that Quebec’s Minister of Justice would be aware of his history.

Judge Douglas’ “excuse” for non-disclosure sounds remarkably like former Judge Therrien’s.  While the Judicial Council hearings are presently focused on whether she was an active participant in her husband’s seduction of Alex Chapman, her bigger problem is her deliberate decision to conceal a matter in her past that could reflect negatively on her or her judicial colleagues.  I suspect she believed, like Richard Therrien, that her only chance for a prestigious judicial appointment was to pretend it never happened.  After all, the easiest person to deceive is one’s own self.

Georgialee Lang is a Vancouver lawyer and former adjunct professor at UBC law school.  She has spent 24 years as trial and appellate counsel, and she authors an award-winning blog at http://lawdiva.wordpress.com/

Copyright © July 2012 by Georgialee Lang.

*Editor’s note: Pierre Laporte was a prominent cabinet minister in the Quebec government of Liberal Premier Robert Bourassa when he was kidnapped and murdered by the FLQ (the so-called ‘Front de Libération du Québec’) during the October Crisis of 1970.



When the ‘Cure’ Causes the Disease:
Zostavax Vaccine Can Cause the Very Disease (Shingles) it was Designed to Prevent

© By John Arkelian

In January 2012, on the recommendation of her doctor, a healthy Canadian woman (let’s call her Jane Doe) was given an injection of Merck’s “Zostavax” vaccine as a prophylactic measure to prevent her from contracting shingles.  (Shingles, or “zoster,” is a viral disease which attacks the nerve cells.  It can occur later in life among some of those exposed to childhood chickenpox.)  Instead of protecting her from acquiring that illness, however, the vaccine gave her the very malady it was intended to prevent.  She contracted shingles from the vaccine and was immobilized with severe, painful symptoms for many weeks.  Those facts were documented by the physicians who saw her and by the district public health unit.

Until Jane Doe was injected with Zostavax, she had never had shingles.  Had she not been exposed to this seemingly faulty and dangerous product, she might have gone through life without ever contracting the illness.  But Merck’s print advertising promoting Zostavax employs a scare-campaign to induce healthy individuals to use the product by using language like this:  “excruciating is a word that can be used to describe shingles pain” “extremely painful and long-lasting,” “pain which can be debilitating,” “potentially serious complications,” ”you could be at risk,” “the risk increases,” “95% of Canadians… are at risk for shingles,” and “the long-term pain is called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN)… For many PHN sufferers, even the touch of soft clothing brushing against the skin can be excruciatingly painful.”  Merck’s promotional materials certainly got the severity of shingles right.  What they neglected to mention, however, is that Zostavax, by using live vaccine, can actually cause the disease in some individuals.  Merck’s advertisements urge people to “protect yourself” by taking the Zostavax vaccine.  Instead, the vaccine gave Jane Doe the very illness it was supposed to prevent. And, as Merck’s promotional materials state:

“Shingles pain can profoundly interfere with basic life activities such as dressing, bathing and housework, and lead to difficulty in sleeping, loss of appetite and even depression, all of which may reduce quality of life.”

Merck’s summary of the ruinous effects of shingles proved to be all too accurate for Jane Doe.  She was subjected to severe, unrelenting pain that not even a prescription narcotic could quell.  She is an active person, yet she was housebound for many weeks.  In addition to said severe pain, red welts, and other symptoms, Jane Doe (who is right-handed) also lost nearly all use of her right hand for many weeks as a result of the Zostavax-induced shingles.  It took many weeks for the shingles symptoms to begin to abate, and, over six months later, the symptoms have still not completely disappeared.  All of that transpired because Jane Doe and her doctor trusted Merck’s seemingly flawed product.

A vaccine designed to prevent a serious illness ought not to give that same illness to the person receiving the vaccine!  But that is precisely what happened to Jane Doe.  If it happened to her, it seems likely that it has happened to others, also.  How many of those vaccinated with Zostavax have contracted shingles from the vaccine is a mystery.  If Merck and/or officials with the governments of Canada and Ontario know, they are not saying.  Indeed, governments and private industry alike seem to be singing from the same songbook.  Formal queries addressed to Cyril Schiever, President & Managing Director of Merck Canada; Leona Aglukkaq, M.P., Canada’s Minister of Health; and Deb Matthews, M.P.P., Ontario’s Minister of Health & Long-Term Care about Jane Doe’s case were all relegated to lower-ranking subordinates.  In all three instances, replies were slow in coming; and, in the end, the drug’s manufacturer and both levels of government disinterestedly brushed aside the catastrophic effects of Zostavax on Jane Doe — without addressing the salient questions to which her case gave rise.  None of the three took Jane Doe up on her offer of detailed notes about the symptoms she experienced as a consequence of her drug-induced illness.

What are the questions that need to be addressed?  Well, simply these:

(1) How did the Zostavax vaccine cause the very illness it was intended to prevent?  Was it a bad (or tainted) batch of vaccine?  Should the vaccine only be given to persons who are known for certain to have had childhood chickenpox?  If so, why don’t Merck’s promotional materials say so?

(2) How many other persons have contracted shingles through the Zostavax vaccine designed to prevent shingles?

(3)  Should Zostavax be withdrawn from use pending much more rigorous studies of its potential hazards, given that it clearly poses a grave risk of severe illness to some subset of thepeople who receive it?

(4)  Should government require that all publicity materials about Zostavax (whether such materials are intended for physicians or for consumers) be henceforth accompanied by strong warnings (and that does not mean hiding such warnings in micro-print) which clearly state that in some unknown number of cases, Merck’s drug can cause the very illness it is supposed to prevent?

(5)  Should Merck be required to immediately consult with  public health and safety officials in the federal and provincial governments about the apparent problem with Zostavax; and should Merck likewise to required to inform physicians in all jurisdictions where Zostavax is available that there is a danger of it causing some recipients to contract the illness it claims to prevent?

There are supposed to be safeguards in place to ensure that drugs are safe and that severe adverse effects of drugs are thoroughly investigated and promptly rectified.  The general tone of apathy and inaction that greeted Jane Doe’s severely adverse experience with Zostavax puts in doubt the notion that either multinational pharmaceutical corporations or the governments we elect are adequately safeguarding the public interest in the area of drug safety.

Copyright © July 2012 by John Arkelian.


Whither the CBC —
Building a Nation through Public Broadcasting

© By Andy Barrie

For fifteen years, I was the host of CBC Toronto’s Metro Morning.  But when I think about the CBC, I do so not first as a former employee, but as an immigrant, a not-so-new Canadian who can remember how important the CBC was in easing my way into a new land, a role that has never been more important than it is now.

I arrived in Canada in 1969, hoping to find work in broadcasting.  After I’d lost out on one audition, I was told to come back when I didn’t sound so American.  So I spent the next four months listening to the CBC, and taking notes. (It’s oot not out, say Newfoundland like “understand,” it’s Antigonish, not Anti-gonnish.  And what is a riding?)  I’d come from the U.S., so at least I had some cultural cues to fall back on.  But, like most newbies, I wanted to become Canadian, and I relied most on the CBC to tell me how.

Today, more than ever, I am convinced that in the CBC, we have the only cultural and educational institution capable of teaching new arrivals (or for that matter, those of us long here) about our country.  It is the one powerful conduit for the millions arriving here wanting to live and speak Canadian.  That’s the job of our national broadcaster.  Let’s get this straight:  private broadcasters are in the business of selling listeners to advertisers, by whatever means necessary.  Without public broadcasting, the job of giving voice to a nation just doesn’t get done.  This is something every country in the developed world understands.  All except one.

The fact that we share our continent with the only nation in the industrialized world that has neither a national public broadcaster nor universal health insurance leads us to compare ourselves, sometimes smugly, to our neighbors, rather than risk somewhat less flattering comparisons with the real world.  So, as we compare the CBC to NPR [National Public Radio] and PBS [Public Broadcasting Service], it would be tempting to imagine the CBC is rolling in dough.  But looking at eighteen OECD countries’ government spending on public broadcasting, we see, as expected, the U.S. at the very bottom, spending a miserable four bucks per capita (all figures 2009).  Next to them, Canada’s $34 per capita seems absolutely munificent (and that’s before the latest round of cuts) – until you compare it to some of our other OECD partners.

Compare Canada’s spending to Japan’s $62 per capita, France’s $78, Finland’s $107, Denmark’s $136, all the way up to the Norwegians, at $164 per capita.  None of these nations share a border with a country that speaks the same language.  It’s not like little Norway, spending more than four times what we do per capita, is worried about a neighbour swamping them with Norwegian-language programming.  Yet the Norwegians have six public radio services and four public television channels.  (One of their stations does nothing but translate another into sign language!)  The BBC recently fought a big battle over whether it could afford a seventh radio service.  The other six, each serving different domestic audiences, are considered untouchable.  Meanwhile, living as we do next to the planet’s most dominant culture, our Radio One and Two stand a lonely guard for thee and me.

The United States alone saw broadcasting, from the very beginning, as a business.  Everywhere else in the world, this new technology was seen as a tool for nation building, education and, yes, cultural uplift.  To this I’d add the forging of a common denominator in an increasingly multicultural world.   My experience at Metro Morning suggests a vast well of good feeling has replaced the xenophobia of years gone by; that we are truly curious about our differences.   We don’t just tolerate those differences; we embrace them.  Literally.  The stunning rise in Canadian intermarriage – between cultures, religions and races – will create a generation of listeners who will expect and deserve a national broadcaster that can reflect this delicious diversity back to them and trumpet its success to the world.

I have no doubt that any real move to do away with the CBC would be met by an absolute uproar.   But in the death of a thousand cuts, with the marginalization of any service, citizens find themselves depending less and less on what they used to take for granted, until one day, they greet its last gasp with indifference.   Were that to happen to our national broadcaster, we would lose the only remaining institution in our country that embraces fully who and what we are, have been, and are becoming – in all of our delicious diversity.  Neglecting the Mother Corp has always been a bi-partisan past-time.  Jean Chretien’s Liberals won their first mandate with a Red Book promise of secure funding for the CBC.  In power, the promise was forgotten.  The last fifteen years have seen a forty per cent drop, in real dollars, in CBC’s funding.  The Conservatives, like every government before them, thinks of the national broadcaster as their CBC.  Wrong.  It’s ours.  And if we allow it to wither into nothing, we’ll lose the last coast-to-coast connection we have.

Like an adoptive parent who tells his child that she was chosen, I chose this country, as almost every one of us, or our ancestors, did.  On their behalf, I hope our public broadcaster, as stewards of the constantly evolving Canadian fact, can broadcast the seeds of national engagement as widely as possible, and that they can take root in the lives of the millions yet to come.

Andy Barrie is one of Canada’s leading journalists and broadcasters; he served as host of CBC Radio’s highly-rated Metro Morning for fifteen years.

Copyright © 2012 by Andy Barrie.


Pension Reform?  Do as We Dictate, Not as We Do!

© By Gregory Thomas

It might be understandable if a number of Canadians didn’t appreciate Prime Minister Stephen Harper talking recently about reforming public sector pensions and Old Age Security (OAS) social assistance payments.  After all, nobody likes the idea of their retirement plans changing, whether it is by way of a downturn in the market or a change in a government policy.  This is likely especially true recently, with Mr. Harper’s musings coming on the heels of two reports on MP pensions, one by the not-for-profit Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the other from the esteemed C.D. Howe Institute. What these reports made abundantly clear; Prime Minister Harper must reform MPs pensions first, if he has any hope of looking at anyone else’s.

Ultimately, Harper is quite right to tackle Canada’s demographic dilemma: The tsunami of aging baby boomers does indeed threaten to swamp the national safety net.  A bit over $6,000 annually for OAS payments might not seem like a whole lot of money, but multiply it by 4.7 million retired Canadians, add in the guaranteed income supplement, spousal and widow allowances and survivor benefits, and you’re looking at $36 billion of taxpayer cash.  By 2030, if something isn’t done, Old Age Security payments are expected to balloon from $36 billion to $108 billion – that’s quite a chunk of change when you consider that the entire federal budget is about $274 billion this year.

So how does the Prime Minister start tightening the tap on entitlements for the elderly, when taxpayers contributed $23.30 for every dollar put into the Parliamentary pension plan by MPs? Taxpayers paid $102.7 million last year, while MPs and Senators chipped in $4.4 million.  How do you explain to someone scraping for their retirement that Canada can’t afford $508 a month for a 65-year-old, when defeated 60-year-old backbench MP Yasmin Ratansi got $2,758 a month after just seven years on the job?  Or the defeated [separatist] Bloc Quebecois leader, 64-year-old Gilles Duceppe and his $11,730 monthly pension – the gift of a grateful nation for 21 years of devoted service.  Even Mr. Harper himself is in line for an annual pension payout of $223,517 if he packs it in at the end of his current term. Of course, the PM will only be 55 years old by then, and presumably, capable of doing something else to make ends meet.  But if Harper were to find himself, retired with no other means of support, $223,517 does buy a lot of cat food and kerosene to make it through a chilly Calgary winter.  It’s a good thing – having studied piano rather than the guitar or the violin, the PM would face limited options as a street busker.

You can’t defend these payments.   And smart politicians are not even trying.  Since the Canadian Taxpayers Federation published its report on MP pensions, we’ve heard some promising news from both sides of the House of Commons.  It started with the Prime Minister’s own words – Harper said in an interview that the issue of parliamentary pensions “will have to be looked at.”  Then, Treasury Board President Tony Clement revealed that he was “tasked with putting some options forward” on MP pensions, saying the government needs “to be fair to the taxpayer.”  “I think to have any legitimacy on that file, MPs are going to have to lead by example,” said Alberta Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber, displaying both political savvy and moral fortitude from the government side of the House.  Green Party leader Elizabeth May said MP pensions should be reviewed “in order to bring them more into line with norms for other Canadians,” calling it “the fair thing to do.”  NDP industry critic Guy Caron said his party is willing to look at proposals to bring the MP pension plan “more in conformity, more realistic in relation to the people they lead.”  And Liberal MP Marc Garneau, the former astronaut, said the CTF report was a “fair observation” of the pension landscape.

Canadians have been phoning, writing, and emailing their politicians in huge numbers, letting them know how they feel about platinum-plated MP pensions.  With the next federal budget coming soon, taxpayers need to turn up the heat, and make sure the pork-laden MP pension plan is put on the chopping block, front and centre, with a big carving knife close at hand for Mr. Harper.  It’s the necessary first step in a long, but ultimately needed, process.

Gregory Thomas is Federal and Ontario Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.  You can visit that organization at http://taxpayer.com/

© February 2012 by Gregory Thomas.

Editor’s Note: The unbridled, self-serving hypocrisy of far too many of those whom we elect to public office simply boggles the mind.  The fact is that no elected officials — be they at the federal, provincial, or municipal levels of government — ought to have any authority over the terms and conditions of their own employment.  Decisions about their remuneration, the reimbursement of certain expenses for official business (if it be genuine official business), pensions and other benefits, and much more stringent conflict of interest rules should be made by the electorate, through the mechanism of binding referenda appended to ballots in general elections.  While we’re at it, the public-at-large should outlaw the misuse of government jets and helicopters for personal (or merely partisan) travel by MPs and other government officials, as well as the proclivity of too many in government to treat themselves to first-class transport, princely accommodations, and regal dining when traveling on actual official business.  Frugality starts at home, though you would never know it from the shameless self-indulgence our supposed “representatives” engage in at our expense.


“The Unbearable Lightness of Being Canadian During a National Election”

© By John Arkelian

A thoughtful person, let alone a patriot, who endured Canada’s spring 2011 election might be forgiven for dismissing the assorted partisan contestants and the truly perverse result of May 2nd with an angry, exasperated cry of, “A plague on all their houses!”

None of the parties bothered to address the glaring democratic deficit that threatens to further undermine public confidence in the institutions of government in this country.  No one raised the longstanding trend of centralizing power in the hands of the Prime Minister and his minions at the PMO and Privy Council Office as an issue.  That steady erosion of the division of power between the legislature and executive did not begin under Stephen Harper’s Conservative regime, but he has certainly accelerated it and has taken it further than it has ever gone before.  Why did none of the parties vying for our votes raise that vital issue?  And why did none of them offer iron-clad promises to reverse that insidious trend?  Likewise, the opposition parties have criticized Harper for attacking the independence of various public ombudsmen and regulators, who are supposed to operate at arm’s length from the government of the day.  But, none of them proposed measures to guarantee such independence — measures like making the hiring and firing of such governmental watch-dogs a matter for Parliament to decide, not subject to Prime Ministerial discretion.  No one offered a tangible promise to initiate an experiment in ‘proportional representation,’ with a view to having the composition of Parliament more accurately reflect the wishes of the electorate.  No one proposed abolishing the Senate and canceling the lifetime pensions to which its current and past incumbents (the lot of them unelected) are presently entitled.  No one proposed abolishing the position of Governor General, despite the fact that the practice of having the Prime Minister appoint that ceremonial alternate for the monarch is archaic, undemocratic, and a pointless waste of money.   There is no persuasive reason to separate the functions of ‘head of government’ and ‘head of state’ in this (or any other) country.  No one suggested, let alone embraced, either of the two obvious measures that would redress the gross imbalance between elected parliamentarians (either federally or provincially) and their leaders.  The first option would be to legally bar the obligation of legislators to vote along party lines when ordered to do so.  The second option would be to leave the obligation to vote along party-dictated lines untouched but to dramatically alter the way that said party-line is established by enshrining in law a new parliamentary procedure, whereby the policy of a party in the legislature is mandated not by its leader but by the binding majority vote of its party’s caucus.

The opposition parties quite properly made a great deal of fuss over Harper’s serial misuse of the Prime Ministerial power to “prorogue” Parliament (that is, to adjourn or suspend the sitting of the legislature for a fixed period of time).  Harper invoked prorogation in order first to avoid a non-confidence vote and subsequent attempt by a perfectly lawful coalition of opposition parties to try to form the government in his stead and later to close down committee hearings into his government’s negligence in ensuring the safety of Afghan detainees handed over by Canadian military forces in Afghanistan to the suspect care and control of our indigenous so-called ‘allies’ there.  While perhaps technically ‘lawful,’ the fact is that using the power to prorogue for such suspect ends constitutes an egregious abuse of process.  So, why did none of the parties promise to severely restrict, by law, the ability of any PM in future to prorogue Parliament at all?

No one suggested making judicial appointments subject to the approval of Parliament, after hearings, the way such appointments are handled in the United States, rather than leaving them to the PM’s unbridled discretion.  No one suggested creating a “recall provision,” that would empower the electorate to recall any MP (or MPP) and subject them to a forced by-election.  No one suggested using binding referenda for certain types of nation-altering issues, to ensure that citizens can make their own decisions about key issues (like the past issue of free trade) directly, and not through intermediaries (in the form of their elected representatives).  No one advocated requiring the approval of Parliament for Canada’s involvement in wars or war-like actions abroad, rather than abdicating that role, as we now do, to the executive branch of government.  No one advocated the creation of strong personal privacy legislation (to protect Canadians from intrusions by government and by the private sector, urgently including internet-based businesses); whistleblower protection legislation; or much more effective anti-combines legislation.

And how can one react, save with profound despair, at the abject failure of any of  the parties to stand up for a strong national government and to unambiguously reject the twin siren calls of decentralization and Quebec secessionism that threaten to incrementally dismember Canada?  Why will no one condemn separatism as the insular, parochial, retrograde concept it is?   Defining nationality as ethno-linguistic conformity, that is, as a collective, rather than as the political union of individuals who are bound together by common principles like liberty, democratic governance, inalienable human rights, the rule of law, the separation of church and state, and respect for minorities is a practice and an idea that is alien to North America — and it should remain so.  Why will no one among Canada’s political parties say so anymore?  Why will none of them categorically reject the perniciously false proposition that the Canadian union is dissoluble, or that any of its constituent parts has a right (in theory or in practice) to detach itself from the whole?  Canadians who prefer to live in another country are free to pack their bags and emigrate; they have no right to take any part of Canada’s real estate with them.  Instead, federal politicians of all parties play games with separatists, lending their cause undeserved legitimacy by dubbing the least radical of them “Quebec nationalists,” and dubbing Quebec “a nation” within Canada without any authority from the Canadian electorate to do so.  The fact is:  There is only one nation north of the 49th Parallel, and that nation, which stretches without interruption between the Atlantic, Pacific, and ArcticOceans, is called Canada. Why do none of the established parties state the obvious — that it was a dire, potentially fatal, mistake to ever allow the province of Quebec to assume the mantle of protector of the French language.  That responsibility to protect linguistic rights — of English and French speaking Canadians, wherever they happen to reside in Canada— ought to be the exclusive reserve of the federal government.   Instead, we had the spectacle in the 2011 federal leaders debates of Gilles Duceppe, the leader of the separatist Bloc Québecois Party (until his party was decimated and he himself lost his seat on May 2nd), decrying the fact that certain federally-regulated workplaces were exempt from the provisions of “Bill 101,” the Quebec provincial legislation enacted in 1977 and grandiosely dubbed its “Charter of the French Language”) which mandated the use of French in Quebec and severely curtailed the rights of English-speaking Quebecers and new immigrants to that province.   Parts of Bill 101 were ruled unconstitutional in 1988 by the Supreme Court of Canada, but provincial governments in Quebec since then (both the too often weakly federalist Liberals and the staunchly separatist Parti Québecois) have perpetuated the travesty that is Bill 101 by repeatedly invoking the “notwithstanding clause” (section 33) in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms that perversely allows governments to override our basic rights, should they expressly choose to do so by legislation.  Each such invocation of the override provision expires after five years; but it has been invoked afresh (and thereby renewed) by Quebec governments of both stripes each time it expired.  Party leaders at the 2011 federal debates sidestepped Duceppe’s cynical demand that the federal government should voluntarily accede to the jurisdiction of Bill 101 in federally regulated workplaces in Quebec; but none of them denounced Bill 101 as pernicious, incompatible with a nation of individuals governed equally under the law, and provincial in every insular sense of that word.

Canada is currently involved in active combat in one-and-a-half wars (in Afghanistan and Libya), without a clear and direct mandate from the Canadian people and without a full and frank public analysis of the costs and benefits of those wars to Canadians.  Yet, none of the parties chose to make ‘war and peace’ an issue in the election.  Just as bad, the once hotly debated issue of the criminally negligent treatment of Afghan prisoners, who were abused, tortured, or killed by the very people our soldiers handed them over to, was wholly absent from the election campaign.

There was a lack of serious discussion about the government’s contempt for Parliament, the finding of which was the ostensible catalyst for this election in the first place.   Once the election was underway, there were only shrill accusations on one side, bored shrugs on the other.  Yet the constellation of issues connected with the contempt ruling smacked of outright deceit by the same government that is supposed to be there to represent all of us.  An MP appears to have lied about who cancelled support for an NGO (and why); leaked preliminary drafts of a report by the Auditor General suggest that the government deliberately misused funds appropriated in connection with 2010’s G-8 and G-20 meetings; and the government appears to have dissembled about the acquisition and maintenance costs of new fighter jets which they ordered at enormous cost without any competitive bidding process.  Why were none of the parties promising, for example, to outlaw any and all‘untendered contracts’ in future?

As to the G-8/G-20 meeting held in summer 2010 in Ontario, it constituted an outrageous waste of taxpayers’ money (in the quantum of one billion dollars or more for a couple of days worth of meetings) — and it came with an even worse cost, in the deplorable violations of human rights in the country’s busiest city by the army of police officers who inexplicably failed to apprehend a few hooligans one day and made up for it the next by coming down on peaceful demonstrators like a proverbial ton of bricks!   Where were the condemnations of those abuses — to the public purse and our fundamental rights — during the election campaign?  Nowhere to be seen, alas.

Economically, Canada, like the United States is suffering the ruinous effects of deindustrialization, a dangerous erosion of our middle class, and the creeping intrusion of ideology into public life.  Who is benefiting from so-called ‘free trade’ and its even more suspect cousin ‘globalization?’  Surely not the common man, judging by the growing disparity between rich and poor and the disproportionate influence in public policy decision-making of  big business.  But, who was raising those issues in the election?  And our social safety net did not fare much better.  Some of the opposition parties made an attempt to use threats to Canada’s public health care system to frighten voters late in the campaign.  But no one offered a convincing denunciation of (let alone persuasive antidote to) the creep toward ever more privatization of the public health care system that is so cherished by Canadians.

Instead of daring to point out that official multiculturalism is a questionable idea whose ‘time’ (if ever there was one) is long past, we witnessed the sorry spectacle of candidates getting way too cozy with hyphenated-Canadians who are still fighting the ugly sectarian battles of their countries of origin.  Indeed, some candidates (even party leaders have done so in recent years) took part in photo-opportunities with ethno-religious community figures who represent radical views and/or proudly celebrate acts of terrorism abroad!  We should be encouraging newcomers to embrace Canadian identity, not cling to the language, ideology, and garb of other places — attributes that too often smack of sectarian strife, intolerance, and a mind-set straight out of the dark ages.

Shame on Stephen Harper for cynically ringing alarums about a potential coalition of opposition parties — as though there were anything legally or constitutionally improper about such a thing in a parliamentary system.  (One need look no further than the United Kingdom or Germany to see examples of coalition governments in action.)  Harper himself proposed what amounted to a coalition when it suited him a few short years ago, but that did not stop him from shamelessly spreading the ‘big lie’ that coalitions are somehow subversive.  His active dishonesty about this clear-cut principle of democratic government in a parliamentary system was a cynical attempt to hoodwink the public; as such, it undermined the proper functioning of our democracy — and Harper’s own legitimacy.

For their part, the Liberals and NDP were quick to warn about the supposed danger of reelecting the Conservatives, but they conspicuously failed to do the one thing that might have averted that very outcome.  They ought to have cooperated in certain ridings by selectively opting not to run against each in ridings where doing so would have the effect of canceling each other out and effectively handing that riding to the Conservatives.  Such an arrangement, in certain select ridings, would not have amounted to an outright coalition (not that anything would be amiss if it did).  Rather, it would have constituted targeted cooperation to achieve an objective they both insisted was important, namely, denying the Conservatives a majority of seats.  One could call such a strategy “strategic candidacies,” after the better known, and less effective, strategy we know as “strategic voting.”  By failing to do the obvious thing to forestall a Conservative victory, the opposition parties leave us with the unmistakable conclusion that they are naught but partisan blowhards who lack the courage of their loudly professed convictions.

Much that should have been on the table in the 2011 election was not.  Canada is a much poorer country for it; and we have no one to blame but our petty politicians — and ourselves for tolerating them.  We deserve better!

John Arkelian is an author, journalist, lawyer, and educator, who has represented Canada abroad as a diplomat.  He was a candidate for Parliament in 1993 for the short-lived National Party of Canada.

© Copyright 2011 by John Arkelian.


Ontario’s Law Society in Need of Pervasive Reinvention

© By John Arkelian

The Law Society of Upper Canada is a self-governing organization set up by provincial legislation to govern the conduct and competence of lawyers in Ontario.   Like other professional regulatory bodies, it operates outside the ken of the general public.  Alas, it is just as impenetrable to its own members – the roughly 47,000 lawyers in Ontario over whom it holds sway, whether they like it or not.   Perhaps it’s time the Law Society gives more than perfunctory lip-service to its inapt motto, “Let Right Prevail.”  Here’s how it could start.

The Need for the Law Society to Reinvent Itself

The face the Law Society projects to its members is one of unaccountable and undemocratic governance — the face of an organization that is too often impenetrable, heavy-handed, bureaucratic, curt (rather than courteous), and coldly unreceptive to input by its members.  The Society ought to reinvent itself to present a more humane, collegial face.

A New, Broader Mandate

To start, the Society should request the provincial government to amend the Society’s mandate.  In addition to protecting the public interest, the revised mandate should also direct the Society to protect the interests of both the legal profession and Law Society members.  A paramountcy clause would stipulate that in the event of a conflict between those objectives, protection of the public interest would always take priority.

Making Benchers Accountable

The Society’s charter should also explicitly state that a key function of all Benchers [‘Benchers’ are elected members of the Law Society’s governing council, known as ‘Convocation’] is to serve as elected representatives of the Society’s members, accountable to them (perhaps through some kind of forced recall provision) and readily accessible to their concerns.

A Restored Right to Petition Convocation

At present, Society members are without any meaningful input into their own governance.  Provision used to exist for any member to easily petition Convocation on issues of concern to that member.  However, it appears that said “Petition to Convocation” procedure was quietly discontinued years ago, leaving members without any mechanism for getting a complaint, concern, request, or proposal before the body empowered to govern them.  How is it compatible with democratic governance to leave members utterly bereft of any way to put a matter before their own governing body?  Every member should have an absolute right to communicate any matter directly to Convocation, to thereby have Convocation seized of said matter, and to promptly have said matter deliberated upon and decided by Convocation.

Establishing External Accountability

The Society should welcome any and all measures to increase its transparency and accountability.  For that reason, the Law Society should voluntarily submit itself, on a permanent basis, to the jurisdiction of both the Ontario Ombudsman and the Ontario Privacy Commissioner; and, its accession to the jurisdiction of those agencies should be entrenched in the Society’s charter.

Establishing an Internal Ombudsman

The Society should also create an internal Ombudsman to act as an advocate for members in their dealings with the Society.

Abandoning the Archaic Use of Full Christening Names

The Society should discontinue its practice of recording the names of members as they appear at christening and instead rely on members to provide, in good faith, the form of their names by which they are actually known.  (A member’s common-use name, combined with their date and place of birth and unique membership number, is ample to distinguish one member from another.)

Reducing the Cost of Membership Fees and Malpractice Insurance Premiums

The cost of Society membership fees and malpractice insurance is excessive.  Every function of the Society ought to be carefully scrutinized in an effort to reduce the size and cost of the Society’s bureaucracy.  (For example, maybe the Society could utilize a collective management model and do without a CEO and Treasurer.)   Also, at present, practices governing fees and malpractice insurance do not favor a member working part-time.   Those practices should be amended to make it easy and affordable for members to work part-time.

New Term Limits for Benchers

In an effort to get more members involved in their own governance, a new term limit should restrict any member from serving as a Bencher for more than two terms over the course of their career.

Developing ‘Best Practices’ to Govern How the Society Bureaucracy Operates

The Society should undertake an intensive examination of its practices, with a view to developing “best practices” for the operation of the Society.  That means ensuring that members are never treated as ‘guilty until proven innocent’ by the Society; according members and the public the most open and accommodating access to due process that human ingenuity can devise; and ensuring strict confidentiality (so a member can write in confidence to a Society staffer or officer and have that confidence respected).

Replacing Compulsory Practices with Optional Ones, Where Possible

The Society should avoid adopting compulsory “one size fits all” practices when it is possible instead to give members the freedom to choose the approach that suits them best — a case in point being the unnecessary imposition of mandatory “e-filing,” without regard to the well-founded qualms some members may have about the reliability and privacy of anything done online.

Separating Administrative Suspension Procedures and Disbarment Procedures

The existing bridge between ‘administrative suspension’ (for failing to file forms or pay fees on time, for instance) and ‘disbarment’ should be eliminated. Currently, members who are under administrative suspension can be automatically disbarred, without a separate process or hearing, if they remain under administrative suspension for a year or more.  There should be no causal link between administrative suspension and disbarment.  Disbarment should be a separate process — restricted to disciplinary offenses and resorted to only after a full and fair hearing.  For its part, an administrative breach should result in no more than an open-ended suspension of a member’s license, a suspension that would remain in effect indefinitely — until the breach that activated it is resolved.  There should, accordingly, be an impenetrable barrier between administrative breaches (and the suspension in which they can result) and disciplinary offenses (and the disbarment in which they can result).

Waiver of Fees for Retired and Otherwise Unemployed Members

Instead of paying annual membership fees set at 25% of the full fees, as is now the case, members who are retired and not working in any remunerated capacity and all members who are unemployed for any reason should be exempt from membership fees for as long as they remain unemployed.

Putting Policy Changes to Membership through Binding Referenda

In an effort to involve members in their own governance, Law Society policy changes that affect members should henceforth ordinarily be put to members in the form of referenda, the result of which should be binding on the Society.

Create Incentives to Encourage Continuing Education Rather Than Making it Compulsory

Continuing legal education (CLE) is a positive thing to encourage.  But, instead of imposing ever stricter mandatory requirements (of a specific number of hours of officially-sanctioned programming), why not instead create meaningful incentives to encourage members to undertake, of their own volition, as much continuing legal as they can?  Incentives like cumulative reductions in malpractice insurance premiums and membership fees could serve as a tangible benefit for the documented completion of CLE programs.  Encouraging members to maintain their lifelong learning activities is better than coercing them.  One thing the Society has done right recently is to offer an array of free CLE programs.  Most other programs (offered by the Society or other providers) are onerously expensive for some members.

Modernizing the Society’s Terminology

Although it is a minor matter, why not consider replacing the archaic terminology currently employed by the Law Society through its use of titles like “Treasurer,” “Bencher,” and “Convocation,” with something more appropriate for the 21st century — something like “Chairman,” “Representative,” and “Governing Council?”  For that matter, members should be asked to consider whether they prefer “Ontario” to “Upper Canada” as part of the organization’s name.

Professional Mobility

Every member of the Bar of any province or territory in Canada should have an automatic right to transfer their membership to the Bar of any other province or territory (without any requalification) should they change actual residence from one part of Canada to another.  To the extent that that is not already so, it should be a priority of the Society to make it so, in collaboration with its organizational counterparts across Canada.

© 2011 by John Arkelian.

The author is a lawyer and member of the Law Society of Upper Canada.


An Open Letter to the Citizens of Durham Region

The Incinerator Project: A Health, Environmental, and Fiscal Disaster in the Making

© by Paul-André Larose, Ph.D.

(I)  Introduction

We should all be extremely concerned about the calamity about to be imposed on us by the promoters of waste incineration.  As a scientist, I cannot find a single factual argument to justify such a technology.  I am equally against the landfill option.  But, with its obsession to incinerate waste, the Region has refused to consider more sustainable alternatives.  It is beyond comprehension that incineration is being promoted, given the scientific evidence about its adverse health implications, including the incidence of cancers and respiratory illnesses.  Moreover, incineration is not cheap, and this project will impose a heavy financial burden on Durham taxpayers, without any of the social benefits that could possibly warrant such a cost.

(II)  Cancers in Proximity of Incinerators

Rigorous studies of the consequences of incineration all reach similar conclusions: incineration is toxic in more ways than one.  Such dangers are increasingly being recognized in Europe; that is leading to a tightening of the legislated standards for incinerator emissions within the European Community.  Health issues can be grouped along the following categories:  respiratory, cell genetics, cerebral development, fetal and infant health, and human fertility.  Let us limit the discussion to cell genetics, in particular to cancers that are induced by the emissions from an incinerator.

France has one of the highest numbers of incinerators in service in Europe.  A 2008 report by the “Institut National de Veille Sanitaire” (INVS) reveals some frightening facts about the incidence of various types of cancers in populations residing in the proximity of incinerators.  The study covered an extended exposure period (1970-80) and a large number of incinerators (sixteen), and it reflected a ten-year latency period (1980-90).  Those facts give the findings, which consisted of 135,123 cancer cases being identified, statistical significance and reliability.  The results show increases in cancer rates in the order of 20% for melanoma, sarcoma, liver, and non-Hodgkin cancers and 8% for breast cancers.  However, the fact remains that 100% of the population is carrying internally toxic chemicals emanating from incineration.  Halton Region rejected incineration on the basis of health considerations.  Why should it be any more acceptable in Durham?

(III)  Best Case vs. Worst Case Assumptions

The environmental impact analysis is predicated on the false assumption that all systems are always operating optimally.  That assumption is utopian.  In the real world, one designs systems for the worst conditions, not for the best.  Proponents of incineration have taken the opposite approach; they attempt to justify incineration under the best-case scenario and ignore the worst, probably hoping that nobody will notice.

Because there are no redundancies whatsoever in the so-called “emission control system,” emission levels are going to be much higher than those used for the environmental assessment if that “emission control system” should ever fail.  The design (and the debate) should recognize that both technology and people do fail.  It ought to be predicated upon real operation in the real world, and that means planning for variables like system failure, system upset, system maintenance and outages, unanticipated design flaws (à la Quantas Airlines), operator overrides (à la Chernobyl), improper operator training (à la Bhopal), deferred maintenance (à la American Airlines), and so on.

(IV)  Financial Implications

Incineration is a very expensive technology and we cannot ignore the on-going cost of operating such a facility, including the cost of burying the often toxic ashes in land-fill sites.  Currently, the Region is reallocating federal monies intended for infrastructure renewals in order to give taxpayers the (false) impression that the cost of incineration will not result in tax increases. This, however, will result in a triple whammy:  First, the services that such federal monies are intended to finance, such as improved transit, will not be provided.  Second, when expenditures are required for neglected infrastructures, we will find that the monies that could have paid for them were previously diverted to the incinerator project.  Third, taxes will have to be raised to finance the incinerator and maintain the Region’s credit rating.  In the end, taxpayers will be on the hook financially, and we will all have to bear an escalating health care trauma.

(V)  Conclusion

We cannot pay lip service to environmental and health protection, or fiscal responsibility, while simultaneously ignoring the adverse long-term implications of waste incineration.  We are all the product of our environment.  Devra Davis, Director of the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh (interviewed on CBC Radio’s “The Current” on December 17, 2007) put it this way: “There is no longer any debate that we have transformed and changed the nature of the environment in which we live and work and therefore affected our health.”  By even considering incineration, this Region is making a very risky experiment with our health and well-being.  It is literally “throwing the dice,” ignoring the very predictable long-term consequences of its actions.  We should not be fooled into believing that stipulated safeguards will be met (let alone that they will be adequate in the first place) or that the facility will be rigorously monitored.  It will be too late, 20 years down the road, or after a system failure, to take remedial actions.


Regent Theater Blues —
An Encore Performance of Civic Shortsightedness

© by John Arkelian

There they go again!  Oshawa City Council has once again disposed of a key cultural asset, the Regent Theater, without taking the needs of the city’s accomplished cultural sector into the slightest account, or, indeed, even consulting with the performing and visual arts organizations that do so very much to enrich Durham Region.  The lamentable fact is that the area’s not-for-profit symphony, choral groups, film societies, bands, artists, photographers, and most of its amateur theater groups have no proper venue in which to perform or exhibit their work.  The absence of a Regional Center for the Performing and Visual Arts makes Durham Region almost unique among communities of any size in Ontario.  And that’s a pretty dubious (not to mention acutely embarrassing) distinction.   The City ought to have taken back the Regent Theater from its private owner months before it finally did so, as he had apparently been in blatant breach of his contractual obligations to the City for almost a year.  But, transferring the property to UOIT has done nothing to provide the area’s performing and visual arts groups with the home they so desperately need.  Why?  Well, because UOIT wants to run the theater as a for-profit business, which will put it utterly beyond the financial means of most of the area’s indigenous cultural organizations as a potential venue.  And, by erecting classrooms on the vacant north end of the property, UOIT’s partnership with an out-of-town investment corporation has crushed any hope of adding a spacious new wing to the theater to accommodate the many additional facilities (like backstage space, rehearsal space, lounge space, and one or more smaller amphitheaters, to name but a few) that the Regent Theater requires if it is to be an arts center.  Such added facilities cannot be accommodated in the existing building, and the new deal with UOIT has effectively ruled out the possibility of their ever being added on the till-then vacant north side of the property.  The City ought to have placed the Regent in the hands of a brand-new charitable foundation created with the sole mandate of owning and operating the Regent Theater in perpetuity as a not-for-profit Arts Center – in the public interest and at arm’s length from city government.  Failing that, why didn’t the City simply sell the property on the open market, let a new purchaser tear down the building, and designate all of the proceeds from the sale (the property has an appraised commercial value of $2.326 million, after all) toward the construction of a brand-new Arts Center facility — at Lakeview Park or elsewhere?  Instead, the City has once again utterly ignored the longstanding, pressing needs of the area’s cultural sector.  It is nothing but another squalid triumph for shortsightedness.