Sunday, June 10, 2012


Leesee Papatsie is a woman from Iqaluit who started a Facebook group called "Feeding My Family" about two weeks ago. She did so in order to organize the protests she hoped would take place against the high prices for food that she and her northern neighbours are forced to pay. Papatsie finds herself expected to pay $500 to $600 a week in groceries just for herself, her husband and her one child. Her Facebook group now stands at more than 10,000 members, over a third of Nunavut's population. Many of them were, indeed, there at the protests that took place Saturday June 9th in more than one Nunavut community, like Iqaluit, Arctic Bay, Pond Inlet and Igloolik. as well as in Ottawa. Protesters marched with signs that listed food prices on them, such as an unbelievable $19.29 for a three-litre jug of orange juice, a staggering $20.00 for a head of cabbage, and a wallet-blowing $14.00 for a two-litre container of milk.
The federal government has put some subsidies in place, such as the Nutrition North Canada program, but most feel they are insufficient to address the problem. Nutrition North is meant to subsidize healthy, perishable foods with the subsidy going directly to the retailers and suppliers, who are expected to pass the savings along to their customers. Jennifer Wakegijig, Nunavut’s territorial nutritionist, tabled a report on the issue this week in the Nunavut legislature “Food insecurity is so prevalent,” said Wakegijig. Her report states that, even with Nutrition North, nearly three-quarters of Inuit preschoolers live in food-insecure homes, and half of youths 11 to 15 years old sometimes go to bed hungry, among other things.
The problem is a multi-factor one. While many southerners assume the people of the north can just head out into the countryside and come home with some game to boost their family's diet, what they don't understand is that hunting can be costly. Ron Elliott, the MLA for the High Arctic communities of Resolute, Grise Fiord and Arctic Bay, estimates that with the snowmobiles, gas, rifles, ammunition and gear needed to travel safely, hunting costs about $150 a day. Inuit Tapirisat Kanatami, Canada’s national Inuit group, stated that hunting is simply too expensive for 42% of Inuit. The ITK says 50% of Inuit adults earn less than $20,000 a year, and yet these are the people expected to pay the cost of hunting.
Being able to secure a good job is obviously an important part of the problem's solution for the Nunavummiut, but economic growth needs to take place in the territory before such jobs become available. The problem really is a multi-factor one, and those factors arise from the present-day as well as history. They also are firmly rooted in the systemic discrimination that the First Nations of Canada face.
This discrimination is alive and well. To see its ugly face, simply look into the details of the federal government's dealings with Native people. When Attawapiskat was declared to be in desperate need of help with its housing situation this past winter, Ottawa set aside money to help and then named a third-party intervenor to be in charge of the spending of that money, as though the people themselves were incapable of it. It's the colonial-era, paternalistic way of dealing with people officially deemed to be childlike and incapable of handling their own affairs, still. Look into how many reservations have a boil-water advisory in place, rather than water safe enough to drink from their taps.The list of examples goes on and on, and they all contribute to the general societal attitude of complacent disregard for the First Nations of Canada.
While tutoring an ESL student recently, I was astounded to find myself being told by this woman who had lived in Canada for less than two years at the time of our conversation, that "everyone knows the Indians are just lazy and all they want to do is to live on welfare." Where would this woman have come by such discriminatory, hateful misinformation if it were not so widespread as it is?
While reading a CBC article about the food-price protests, I was disheartened, but not surprised to come across one comment which the writer ended by saying. "inevitably, if they care about their kids, they need to move to the south into cities." How judgmental. How ill-informed.
First of all, the majority of the Nunavummiut find themselves in the territory by accident of birth. Then, they find themselves to be among the people of Canada, who as a group, have Canada's lowest life expectancy, according to Stats Can. "In 2017, the life expectancy for the total Canadian population is projected to be 79 years for men and 83 years for women. Among the Aboriginal population the Inuit have the lowest projected life expectancy in 2017, of 64 years for men and 73 years for women." Second, life threatening illnesses tend to plague the First Nations more than they do Canada's general population. The prevalence of diabetes, for instance, is now at least three times the national average among First Nations . Third, education is a very different story among the First Nations, again for many reasons. The Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs states, "There is a significant gap in educational achievement between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations in Ontario." Indeed. 38% of the Aboriginal population has not completed high school, but in the rest of the province, that figure stands at only 19%. Aboriginal? Three strikes, you're out.
Tell an adult who has not even been able to finish high school to move themselves to one of Canada's more southern cities, and find him/herself a job that pays enough to support their family. Tell them that if they don't, it proves they don't care enough about their kids. How demeaning an attitude. How very ill-informed and discriminatory. One wonders how quickly the writer of that comment would be ready to move their family to the far north of Canada and immediately, successfully adjust to a whole new lifestyle were the tables suddenly to reverse themselves.
Were the writer of that comment actually to put some effort into researching the factors involved in the current plight of so many Nunavummiut, s/he might not be quite so quick to make such a comment after all. One wonders, however, what it would take to inspire such action. Whatever it is, too much of Canada's general population is just not interested.

Friday, June 08, 2012

The Voyage of the Damned

I just learned about the ill-fated MS St. Louis, a German ocean liner that set sail from Hamburg on May 13, 1939, with 937 refugees from Nazi Germany. The hope of those on board was to find a refuge from the storm gathering in Europe, and to that end they sailed across the ocean, seeking entrance first in Havana, Cuba, then the U.S. and Canada. Only 7 of the passengers were not Jewish. Most were German citizens.
When they were turned away from Cuba, they sailed next toward Miami. Some of the passengers cabled President Franklin D. Roosevelt asking for refuge, but he failed to respond. Continuing the journey, the St. Louis was within two days of Halifax Harbour when William Lyon Mackenzie King refused to grant the Jews the refuge they sought. The director of Canada's immigration program at the time, the anti-Semitic Mr. Frederick Blair did his best to block the immigration of Jews into Canada, and according to official statistics, he was good at what he did since only 5,000 Jewish refugees entered Canada from 1933 to 1948. That number, unfortunately, is the lowest record of any Western country.
In January 2011, a memorial called The Wheel of Conscience was unveiled in Halifax, at Pier 21, Canada's national immigration museum. Dedicated to the memory of the Jews on board the St. Louis, the Wheel stands where those Jews likely would have taken their first steps onto Canadian soil, had Blair not officially epitomized the country's then reluctance to raise a righteous hand in action against wrongdoing.
The Wheel does not stand alone. January 25, 2012 saw the launch of the MS St. Louis Commemorative Project, featuring a new children’s book and a mural that depicts the passengers and their ill-fated ship. This project has been funded by a $100,000 grant from the federal Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration. The project will see 1,000 copies of the book distributed to schools and libraries across Canada, along with an educational booklet for teachers. Speaking at the project launch on behalf of the federal government, Rick Dykstra, parliamentary secretary to Jason Kenney, minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism, said that “federal officials made a tragic and misguided decision” when they denied the MS St. Louis the right to land in Canada. He vowed that “the outcome of that decision should not and will not be forgotten.”
I sincerely hope that Dykstra is right in his avowal, but I have to say that I came across my knowledge of this historic blow to Canada's national pride quite by accident, when I saw a copy of "The Jewish Tribune" left lying on a table at a local 2nd Cup coffee shop. Earlier this week, I had seen multiple references to the 68th anniversary this week of D-Day. Being a person who goes every year to the City Hall cenotaph to partake in Remembrance Day observances, I was already well aware of the historical significance of June 6th, but not once throughout May or the early part of June have I seen one mention of the MS St. Louis. D-Day, yes, in newspapers, on the TV and on the radio. The St. Louis, no. Not once.
There needs to be more done in terms of public education. The citizens of Canada need to know more of their own history. It is a mistake to allow the general conception that Canada has always been a country for which celestial choirs sang whenever there was a problem to be solved. The people of Canada need to know that systemic discrimination is not a stranger to Canadian shores. Simply look closely at the Indian Act and the government's treatment of the First Nations people. We all need to be aware of such discrimination and be on our guard against it.
A complacent assumption that Canada is perfect just as it stands now is perhaps indulged in most by those for whom there is little in their lives against which they need to struggle, but even such as they should be wary of this complacency. They should understand that there is always more that needs to be done in order to better life for ALL Canadians, and that they should involve themselves in raising a righteous hand.
Martin Niemoller, spoke out against complacency in the face of systemic discrimination with his now famous quote, "First they came" Near the end of the passage, he said, "Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me."
Let us all remember those on board the MS St. Louis, for whom no-one spoke.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes


What a great gift for Mother's Day for men brave enough to strap on some sexy high heels! Take part in your local event as part of the International Men's March to end sexualized violence. Take Mom to watch you march and then give her a framed pic of you in those strappy violence stoppers. She'll be totally proud of you.
For all the info you'll need about details like how to get heels in a manly size 13, click here. You'll find yourself at the website for Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, where you'll be invited first to walk the walk, and then to talk the talk. "It's not easy walking in these shoes, but it's fun and it gets the community to talk about something that's really difficult to talk about: gender relations and sexual violence."
There's no better way to say it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Just saw the first few moments of a recent video of Gordon Lightfoot singing "Alberta Bound". I couldn't watch any more of it, Had to stop. It's wonderful the man is still making his music; wonderful there are still those for whom today's Lightfoot is enough, but I prefer the Lightfoot that lives in my memory, the Lightfoot that was magic.
Set the clock back to the 70's and turn up the stage lights in Toronto's Massey Hall, the "grand old lady of Shuter Street". Many claim near-perfect acoustics for this venue, but few who went there to see a Lightfoot concert gave much thought to that. When Gordie strode onto that stage, most were just too busy applauding the man and waiting for the first notes from him and Red Shea to fill the hall and set an upbeat mood that could so effortlessly carry the thousands in attendance through a couple of hours of pure joy. Generally, I think Lightfoot was always playing to a house packed with the already-converted; to those who loved his sound. To say he was prolific in his song writing is to bring new meaning to understatement. Each time that the faithful filled Massey Hall, the first bars of song after song would be met with happy exclamations and appreciative applause from those of us who recognized yet another favourite. God, the music was good.
One song in particular stood out for me. Every time they launched into the first bars of "Alberta Bound", it felt like opening gifts at Christmas. While the hall erupted in applause, I would close my eyes and feel the magic begin. I swear that man and his guitar could make you feel the prairie wind blowing through your hair as the Rocky Mountain foothills appeared in front of you, beckoning. To this day, I can not listen to the song without seeing the ravens circling over the streets of Jasper, and the sunshine yellow of the arnica waving in a gentle breeze.
No, I don't want to hear Lightfoot's voice now. It has lost too much to the passing years. I want to remember him when its timbre was still rich and full, and the mighty Rocky Mountains could be summoned to Toronto by its powerful rendition of "Alberta Bound".

No Second Chance, Please

On Monday, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario will begin reinstatement hearings for a former family physician and a former pediatrician, both of whom were barred from practice because of having sexually abused patients. Both of them seem to think for some reason they should once again be allowed to hold such a position of trust.
Stephen Dawson, the physician formerly based in Toronto and Barrie, wants his medical license reinstated, but he has proven himself to be a person totally unworthy of the public's trust. Before he lost his license, he had already been brought up before a disciplinary hearing for setting himself up as judge and jury and refusing to provide both birth-control and viagra to unmarried persons, for religious reasons.Having already conducted himself in such a high-handed manner, he went on to demonstrate beyond the shadow of a doubt that he was not fit to hold such a position when he had oral sex with a woman whom he was treating with psychotherapy. Dawson is familiar with the concept of judgment being passed. He really should have no problem understanding that he was judged to be unworthy of holding the right to practise medicine.
Jeffrey Seidman, the former pediatrician, was a member of a sexual assault team at a Scarborough hospital when his license was taken from him after he sexually abused a fifteen-year-old patient. Does such a vile action not make him a child predator? Doesn't his name belong on the listing at the National Sex Offenders Registry? Surely, he should never again be allowed to hold a position of trust after using it to victimize such a vulnerable individual.
How can the public ever really trust such unreliable, criminal types? How could anyone feel really safe knowing their doctor purposely abused other patients who had put their safety and welfare in their hands?
When one takes the Hippocratic Oath, do they simply voice the promise to do no harm as though it was nothing but meaningless syllables? Do they, perhaps, indulge in behaviour so juvenile as to cross their fingers behind their back while they repeat the oath, so that they can later claim they were under no obligation to fulfill the promise?
Anyone who has voiced that promise and then gone on to knowingly and willingly break it should never, ever again be allowed to practise medicine. No-one held a gun to their head and forced them to perform the acts that cost them the licenses in the first place. No-one can ever be really sure they will not make such unjustifiable choices again. They chose to indulge in behaviour that they knew was wrong, wrong, wrong. They should live with the consequences. Dawson and Seidman should drive a taxi or sling garbage into the back of a truck all day if they need a job. One can be sure both men feel such a job to be beneath their dignity, but many a person of much better character than either of them do such jobs daily and they do them with pride. Dawson and Seidman should spend the rest of their lives working to contribute to society, but they should never again be provided the opportunity to rob society from positions of trust.
The College should be cautious of reinstating these two. To do so will send society the message that its members operate with the impunity to do whatever they want to their patients. Do they want to send the message that the College expects victimized patients to lie meekly back and accept abuse?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Wal-Mart and Hate Groups

Newly released results from a study conducted by researchers from Penn State, New Mexico State, and Michigan State have pinpointed a correlation between the number of big box stores in a county and the number of local hate groups. This correlation appeared more significant than other area characteristics usually associated with hate groups, such as the unemployment rate, high crime rates and low education. The study, published online in the "Social Science Quarterly" on April 4, 2012, used counts of hate groups provided by the Southern Poverty Law Center for each of the over 3,000 U.S. counties in 2007. The researchers paired these stats with the number and location of Wal-Mart stores from 1998. It was felt that this lapse of time between the two data sets provided sufficient time for the store's presence to affect its host community.
Stephan Goetz, professor of agricultural economics and regional economics at Penn State, and director of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development said that the researchers chose Wal-Mart specifically for their study because of the readily available data on the stores, but it did not mean that they are the only big box retailers directly involved in this phenomenon. The researchers did seek perhaps to soften the perceived blow to Wal-Mart's image by stating, “We doubt strongly that Wal-Mart intends to create such effects or that it specifically seeks to locate in places where hate groups form,” I don't think the statement will be enough for the good folks at Wal-Mart. I'm pretty sure this study will result in their getting their corporate shorts in a knot. I'm also pretty sure that, while these stats are specifically relevant to the U.S., Canada should be paying attention to them as well. We are so often so similar to our neighbours to the south.
The study's authors have an interesting hypothesis to explain the correlation between Wal-Mart's presence and hate groups. They posit the likelihood that local merchants may find it difficult to compete against large retailers like Wal-Mart and therefore be forced out of business. These local business owners, however, are so often members of community and civic groups, such as the Kiwanis, an organization that describes itself as "a global organization of volunteers dedicated to changing the world one child and one community at a time.". Losing members of such groups, which help to promote civic engagement may cause a drop in community cohesion, according to Goetz. Big box retailers are generally nothing more than a large, anonymous source of lower-priced merchandise.
The researchers suggest that retailers such as Wal-Mart should use this study to find ways to play a role in supporting local groups that can foster stronger social and economic ties in a community. Perhaps they should give some thought to taking their corporate image through a one-eighty, from the chain that rolls back prices to the chain that seeks first and foremost to contribute to changing the world, one host community at a time.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Safe Motherhood?

I was reading an article by Alison Motluk in the spring issue of the U of T magazine, wherein she compares Kenya and Canada on the basis of women who die "as a direct result of carrying a child". She cites the number of 1 out of every 133 women in rural Kenya, and 1 out of every 12,500 in Canada. The difference, of course, is staggering, but the meaning of "direct result of carrying a child" is not made clear. Does Motluk mean during childbirth itself, or is she referring to the entire duration of the pregnancy, childbirth and post-childbirth included?
Although the meaning in the article was not clear, the numbers were enough to send me off on a quest of my own. What I found was interesting; hopeful and disappointing all at the same time.
Looking at the deaths during childbirth, I found that my own country, Canada, has posted numbers that have remained more or less static for thirty years. Seven women died per 100,000 live births in 1980, and the number in 2008 was the same. We do pretty well, compared to the rest of the world, where women in Italy seem to have it the best, with only four women dying before, during or after childbirth in 100,000 cases in 2008. Pity the women of Afghanistan, however, where the worst rate sees 1,575 maternal deaths for every 100,000 births. As of 2010, Kenya's maternal mortality rate is 578 per 100,000 live births. (Finding these figures added to my confusion about the numbers quoted in Motluk's article. She needs to be more clear.)
The numbers I have quoted are from a 2010 study reported in the British medical journal,The Lancet. In an editorial on the study, editor Richard Horton wrote that "the apparent failure to reduce maternal mortality during 20 years of the Safe Motherhood movement has been one of the most deforming scars on the body of global health." He went on to say political leaders are failing to make women's health issues a priority.
Of course they are. Women are the oppressed of the oppressed. Look at how they are treated as little more than property owned by some male in far too many countries. The late UNICEF Executive Director, James P. Grant, used the term ‘the apartheid of gender’ to describe the conditions under which so many women today toil, and an apt term it is. Illustrating examples are so distressingly abundant. In 12 Latin American countries, for instance, the courts and society will completely exonerate a rapist if his victim marries him, something which most of the victims' families pressure them to do, in order to restore the perceived family honour. In such an atmosphere, how can women expect their health while they carry a baby to be of significant import to their country's political leaders?
In another example of this apartheid of gender, women work in the fields in the Democratic Republic of Congo, under the constant threat of being abducted and raped repeatedly. Girls as young as 5 are treated in this horrific manner. Sticks and guns are sometimes forced into their vaginas and when the rapists tire of this particular brutality, the guns are sometimes fired. Such behaviour has not been stamped out by the government. Sing me no songs of how difficult it might be for the government to find the perpetrators of this evil. If the women of the country were truly valued and equal citizens thereof, it would be brought to an immediate halt and much example would be made of any captured culprits. No, the truth of the matter in the Congo is that the name they give to their country is a bold-faced lie. Nothing more. There is no democracy there. There is no democracy in any country where such examples of violence directed at women and disregard for their welfare hold true.
In any country where women are property, how can anyone expect their health while they carry a baby to be of significance to the political leaders? Their health is unimportant because they themselves are unimportant. Until the world sees every woman as being every bit as important as every man, the failure to reduce maternal mortality will continue to be the "embarrassment to global health leaders" that Morton terms it. The Safe Motherhood movement will continue to be simply empty words for too many women.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

No God But ...

A religious ad has been placed in one of Toronto's subway stations, and apparently it has more than just me feeling a little out of sorts about it. After complaints were received about it, a group was convened to deliberate, but they have decided to allow it to remain. Why should its display be in dispute? Well, the ad in question states "There is no god but Allah".
My problem with the ad is with the reception I think it safe to assume such wording would be given by many of Islam's adherents, were such a statement based on other belief systems to be posted.
Can you imagine the scene in some mosque in Afghanistan/Iran/Pakistan, etc., were the message to reach the muftis gathered there, that the subway system in Toronto boasted ads firmly declaring "There is no god but Jahweh/Jesus/Ganesh, etc," ? After an appropriate amount of time spent on the rending of garments and beards, one of the worthies would rise up in wrath and declare a fatwa on the people of Toronto, affirming that anyone exacting righteous revenge against such an ungodly people would be sure to earn the eternal attentions of multiple houris. Can you picture the rush on explosive devices were such a declaration to be made?
While I am fully aware of the fact that the unreasonable reaction I describe here is not a fair description of many in the Muslim world, I am also fully aware of the fact that for so many others, it does hold true. I am also aware, as are you, that the community as a whole demands from countries like Canada "rights" they are totally unwilling to give in Muslim countries like Iran and Afghanistan, to mention a few. Again, can you picture the buses in Iran proudly giving fair and equal space to ads declaring there is no other god but (fill in the blank)? Of course, you can't. Neither can I.
Although I know there are those who say we are obliged to give this ad space because we are a society that values freedom of speech, I say, don't give it any space, Take down all religious ads if you need to, in order to keep an equal balance and appease those who talk of free speech, but I say, give this ad no space at all, until those other ads appear in the public transit of Iran.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Marbled Eggs, Not Just For Easter

Everyone's familiar with eggs dyed all one colour, but marbled eggs are unusual conversation pieces! They're easy to make, too, which is one of their best features. To make these beauties, you'll need hard-boiled eggs. They're so much easier to handle that way, especially if little ones are helping, and they make a beautiful addition to Easter morning breakfast. Of course, you could make them for other special days, too!

*hard-boiled eggs, as many as you want
*liquid food colouring, in different colours
*white vinegar
*vegetable oil
*large coffee mugs
*spoons
*paper towels, or plates

For each dye colour you have, mix 1 tbsp food colour in a coffee mug with enough boiling water to fill the mug about 2/3 full. Stir in 1 tsp vinegar, and allow it to cool. When it is cooled off, add 1 tsp oil.
To marble the eggs, first cradle an egg on a tablespoon. With another spoon, really stir up the dye you're going to use and IMMEDIATELY dip the egg on the spoon in and right back out of the dye. Do this only ONCE. Place the egg on a paper towel, or plate for it to dry.
Store your "marbles" in the fridge until Easter morning, or whatever day you've made them for.

For a really different effect, once an egg has dried, try dipping it into a second colour, using the same stir-and-dip-and-dry method as above. You'll get compliments on these eggs, and everyone will be wanting to know how you did it. You decide whether or not you want to share the secret!

Have More Than One Slice

The whole house smells so wonderful right now, and it's because of the bread I made that is now happily sunning itself in my oven. The 2 tbsp of flax meal in it add 4 grams of fiber all by themselves, and of course, you're getting more from the whole wheat flour in it, too. They both bring you iron content, so it's just plain good for you! Allow me to share the recipe!

Easy Irish Soda Bread

2 c. all purpose flour
2 c. whole wheat flour
2 heaping tbsp ground flax meal
1/4 c sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 c butter
1 1/2 c buttermilk, or milk soured with vinegar
1 egg

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients, stirring with a fork. Use a pastry blender to cut in the butter until the mixture is even in consistency.
Combine buttermilk (or 2 tbsp vinegar and milk added to measure 1 1/2 c ) with the egg, then add all at once to the flour mix. Stir with a fork to make a soft dough.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently, adding a little more flour if the dough is too soft. Knead until the dough is elastic, then shape into one large ball, or two smaller ones. Cut an X-shape in the top with a sharp knife.
Bake about 50 to 55 minutes for one ball, or 40 to 45 minutes for two balls. Loaf is done if it is crispy-firm on the outside when you check it.

This bread makes up quickly and smells just as good as a yeast bread baking, but it doesn't take as much time to make as a yeast bread does. It will keep nicely for several days in your fridge, if it doesn't all get eaten on the first day!