A Most Undignified Death

This column ran in The National Post on January 20, 2016.

The Supreme Court hearing that granted the Liberals a four-month extension to review assisted-dying legislation last week brought out the usual coterie of critics, many of them religious. We are being warned about slippery slopes and disposable lives. Some of the concerns are fair, others essentially boil down to, “My God wouldn’t want you to do this, so it should be illegal.”

One of the more interesting, and credible, reactions, however, from those who would restrict access to euthanasia on moral grounds is that better palliative care is all that’s needed to fully tend to those in the end-stages of life. There is some truth in this — Canada does need a better palliative-care system, for those who’d wish to take that route.

This argument, however, ignores the uncomfortable reality that a sort of medically facilitated death is already well-established in the medical system, but through the cruellest of possible methods. Simply put, our terminally ill are permitted to starve themselves to death.

This isn’t a decision made lightly by any involved — the patient, their family, or the medical professionals tasked with keeping the patient “comfortable” — and it’s an excruciating experience for all. The body can, for a short time, rely on reserves and stores to maintain some basic level of function. In time, though, it begins to consume itself, seeking to convert any usable tissue, including organs, to fuel.

In 2013, I found myself in an unfortunate and frightening medical situation which, by the grace of God, I survived. When I was in hospital, I had a roommate, a woman in her late-70s who, as I fended off sleep for the very real possibility I’d not wake up, sought for herself a very different outcome.

My situation, a gastro-intestinal disease that took hold and spread, making digestion of food impossible, was not terminal. Or, at least, was not meant to be. Her cancer, though, was, and was as at such an advanced state she could no longer handle the daily intubations; the constant poking and prodding and needling; the unrelating physical and mental agony. She was far beyond treatment, and she now had an intestinal obstruction which required surgery to rectify — one which would not add quality to her remaining days, assuming she survived the operation, but would simply allow for the continued oral intake of nutrition.

The alternative was to sustain life through intravenous feeding (TPN). I’d already had that PICC line inserted — a long, specialized IV threaded from the bend in the elbow, up the the arm, and directly into the heart — to deliver basic nutrition.

She was entirely of sound mind and had all other affairs in order, and her family didn’t object when she refused to consent to either the surgery or the central line, asking instead to be allowed to die.

We shared the same highly-skilled surgeon. He was tasked with directing two very different roads of treatment: fighting to keep my body supplied with nutrition while I recovered, and overseeing her demise.

Both our bodies were self-catabolizing. Both were in various states of multi-organ failure — the putrid, potent, unmistakeable stench of renal failure was inescapable and unbearable. For me, the threat of imminent death was terrifying. For her, it was a most merciful gift — an escape from the hell of a body in the final stages of rebellion.

Her suffering was considerable, and I lay in silence, listening as her anguish intensified. Sometimes what I heard carried over into dreams. When asleep, I heard the very real sound of nurses struggling to place a tube in her esophagus, played out in my own shallow nightmare in which I was choking on my own and failing to breathe.

After a series of conversations between my roommate, our surgeon, and her family, she was moved to a private, under-no-circumstances-to-be-disturbed room directly across from the one we’d shared, where she’d quietly deteriorate and rapidly emaciate. Her son held vigil, stoic, at first, and then less so.

The end was neither merciful, painless, nor swift. It took weeks for her to die. Her pain eventually came to an end, but her son’s never will. Had euthanasia been available, as she wished it was, it would have spared my roommate the drawn-out ravaging, and her son the unnecessary, additional trauma. The end result, of course, would have been identical.

It’s not clear to me where the ultimate line should be drawn in terms of age or disease, or what would constitute sufficient level of suffering — or how the extent of which would be measured. These issues are, to state the obvious, complicated. But as the government works to draft new assisted-suicide legislation, it’s essential people be aware of what is currently the status-quo, and why it cannot be allowed to stand. We’ve had a form of medically facilitated death in Canada for years. It is far crueller, but no less fatal, than a quick, merciful needle.

 

#RefugeesWelcome

This op-ed appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on November 27, 2015. 

“This is not a federal project, this is not even a government project, it’s a national project for all Canadians,” declared John McCallum, minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, in announcing the long-awaited details of the Liberal government’s strategy to welcome refugees fleeing the chaos in Syria.

It’s an ambitious undertaking, but has already seen Canadians unite to reach out with offers to aid the resettlement and integration of those seeking refuge from war, arriving with little more than the hope of a better future.

Contrary to alarmists’ assertions, this grand initiative will serve to strengthen our national security. ISIL is seeking a clash of civilizations, intent on eliminating what they call the “gray zone” of coexistence. And they loathe the notion of a Muslim population seeking life among “infidels” in the West over their self-styled “caliphate.”

By refusing to close our borders to those fleeing ISIL’s savagery and embracing refugees, Canada is actively disproving the lie ISIL relies on to recruit the disaffected: That Muslims are rejected and unwelcome by the Western world, and you can only find your true identity with ISIL.

Ironically, those seeking to stoke anti-refugee sentiment following the terror attacks in Paris – who share xenophobic memes, perpetuate false assertions and outright fabrications from Facebook pages dedicated to churning out anti-Muslim rhetoric – are in fact answering ISIL’s call.

As Doug Saunders, international affairs columnist for the Globe and Mail and author of Arrival City: The Final Migration and Our Next World and The Myth of the Muslim Tide recently noted, “’Judeo-Bolshevism’ was yesterday’s ‘Islamo-fascism,’ used for same restrictive purposes.”

The former: anti-Semitism employed to sow suspicion of Jewish refugees seeking to escape the Nazis, alleging they were agents of communism, part of a Jewish conspiracy to overthrow nations, Nazis in disguise or Nazi sympathizers sent to commit sabotage under the guise of seeking asylum.

The latter: a tool of anti-Muslim extremists seeking to stoke Western Islamophobia and anti-refugee hysteria. They insist those seeking to escape the combined barrel bombs of Syrian President Bashar Assad and savagery of ISIL are not legitimate refugees, but harbingers of dangerous ideologies — agents of the Islamic State and its sympathizers seeking to terrorize the West, upend Christian tradition and impose Sharia Law.

Despite such allegations being disproven, those initiating them discredited, these fabrications continue to circulate across social media, remaining particularly pervasive on Facebook due to an unwillingness to challenge friends or relatives who are often ignorant to their deep-seated prejudices.

Avoiding the discomfort of confrontation only serves to foster intolerance, enabling the promotion of hatred against an entire population, which then threatens to impede the successful integration and upward mobilization of the most vulnerable — two key elements in thwarting the isolation which aids in extremism’s pull.

One needn’t be hostile or demeaning when addressing dangerous misinformation shared by a friend. Simply linking directly to a reputable source which corrects the record, along with a brief summary, is sufficient. Even if the comment is disregarded by the colleague, others who come across the post might explore the facts further, and may go on to then correct the record on another timeline.

Just as bigotry is learned, so is acceptance. Intolerance cannot be ignored away, but it can be educated into submission. The presentation of facts in the face of irrational and misplaced fears, when combined with patient and constructive dialogue, is remarkably effective in achieving understanding.

If you’ve yet to find a part to play in Canada’s internationally acclaimed national refugee project, consider this your starring role.

No Scrutiny Please, They’re Saudi.

This op-ed appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on October 1, 2015. 

In 2014, on the shores of Lake Geneva and next to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, a lavish ceremony was held to honour the recipient of the Moral Courage Award — an annual honour bestowed by UN Watch, a Geneva-based NGO dedicated to “(monitoring) the performance of the United Nations by the yardstick of its own Charter.“

Surrounded by Canadian diplomats and at least one fellow cabinet minister, Jason Kenney was feted “for demonstrating the courage to lead in upholding the founding principles of the United Nations, and defending the true principles of human rights.”

Lauding the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer declared: “When others have been silent while serial perpetrators of human rights abuses like Iran and Syria seek to hijack the UN’s human rights and anti-racism causes, Minister Kenney has been a clear and consistent voice for their millions of victims, opposing tyranny, hypocrisy and injustice.”

Accepting the award “on behalf of my colleagues and Prime Minister Stephen Harper,” Kenney sought to reiterate what he, his colleagues, and the prime minister have long portrayed as their unequivocal stance in defending the rights and dignities of those living under the world’s most oppressive regimes.

“Human rights are not subject to interpretation,” he said. “They exist by virtue of the dignity of the individual person. They cannot be written off simply because a handful of particularly brutal regimes have been given a veto powers in a bureaucratic body.”

You’d expect, then, after word leaked that Saudi Arabia, a leader in the abuse of human rights, restriction of religious freedom, and repression of women, was selected to head a panel of independent experts on the UN Human Rights Council, that both Kenney and Harper would be among the prominent human rights advocates – including UN Watch – leading the condemnation of the appointment.

One could argue the confluence of events coinciding with this incomprehensible decision — allegations of indiscriminate killing of civilians and ethic cleansing of Shiites in the Saudi-led aerial campaign against the Houthi rebels in Yemen; the imminent beading and crucifixion of Ali al-Nimr, nephew of a well-known Shia cleric and prominent critic of the Saud dynasty, arrested as a 17-year-old high school student for taking part in pro-democracy protests — made it incumbent upon Kenney and Harper, both of whom position themselves as global leaders in human rights advocacy, to front the charge in seeking to have the UNHRC appointment rescinded, to call for for an investigation into atrocities in Yemen, to demand clemency for a man condemned to death simply for seeking political reform.

Instead, they’ve offered absolute silence on each crucial matter detailed above. That’s not to say the government’s relationship with the Saudis has gone entirely unmentioned in recent days: When questioned about the ethics of his government’s secretive, multi-billion dollar arms deal with Riyadh — secured without the requisite human rights assessments or assurances such weaponry wouldn’t be used against the civilian population — Harper defended Saudi Arabia as a valued ally. He was concerned only, evidently, about possible job losses in Ontario should the deal be axed.

A key element of the Conservatives’ re-election bid has been to present themselves as warriors against fundamentalist ideologies and extremist entities. That they’ve deemed a woman who — entirely of her own accord — wears a niqab a greater threat than providing arms to a regime which adheres to and exports the actual medieval ideology which imposes draconian dress codes on women hints at the emptiness beneath the government’s veil of nationalistic rhetoric and international proclamations of moral authority.

Further reading:

Ten facts about Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia http://opencanada.org/features/ten-facts-about-canadas-arms-deal-with-saudi-arabia/

This thread of links.

Questions for the Minister: HERE and HERE 

Need To Know: On Syria And The Migrant/Refugee Crisis

This was initially meant to be a lengthy Facebook post for those who look to me for information on complex matters (which I do happily, by request). However, it received such appreciation and requests to make it open to all (which I eventually did) that I thought I’d post it here, too, but with additional links/further info for those seeking a one-stop landing for information on the issue.

——

Here’s a round-up of information on the current migrant/refugee crisis, the impossible situation in the Middle East driving it, and what – if anything – can/should be done.

First off, however, regarding the loathesome, xenophobic memes making the rounds, courtesy of extremist websites/blogs, FB pages, and media personalities:

The FB page I’ve seen many sharing patently fake anti-Mulsim nonsense from – Britain First – is a NEO-NAZI OPERATION. It’s a white-supermacist organization, full-stop. If you find yourself sharing anything from that page/site – especially when it comes to anything about Muslims or Islam – perhaps you need to re-examine your own values before calling into question the beliefs of others.

A few helpful links on that:

1. http://www.channel4.com/news/britain-first-far-right-anti-muslim-extremists-mosques
2. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/25/truth-britain-first-facebook-far-right-bnp
3. http://www.buzzfeed.com/jimwaterson/britain-first-has-quietly-become-the-most-popular-uk-politic

The same goes for the bigotry emanating from other notoriously-ignorant FB pages – Right Wing News, Chicks On The Right, The Blaze (Glenn Beck’s operation), Fox News, The Rebel, Atlas Shrugged – or the personal pages of disgraced conservative figures like Allen West, Sarah Palin, Pamela Geller, Franklin Graham, Ben Carson, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Ezra Levant, Brian Lilley, etc.

There’s nothing wrong with being C/conservative, or holding a C/conservative world view. That’s not who these people are, nor what they represent. All of the above are part of a hateful segment which no respectable person takes seriously.

Granted, once in a while a few of those pages might post something innocuous (often one of those feel-good viral memes from other sites). That’s fine. It’s their intentional misinformation and fomenting of hatred that’s the problem.

There are reputable C/conservative publications / personalities in existence. These are not them.

A few quick (but hardly thorough) links debunking some of the most-shared — and so obviously BS — anti-refugee memes:

1. http://www.vice.com/read/kleinfeld-refugee-memes-debunking-846

2. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/09/16/no-that-viral-image-doesnt-show-an-islamic-state-fighter-among-europes-refugees/

3. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/surprised-that-syrian-refugees-have-smartphones-well-sorry-to-break-this-to-you-but-youre-an-idiot-10489719.html

And related: http://www.vice.com/read/debunking-the-racist-memes-passed-around-by-the-nativist-right-765

Here’s Shannon Gormley, deftly tackling the xenophobic nonsense: http://ottawacitizen.com/news/politics/gormley-yes-lets-be-rational-about-the-syrian-refugee-crisis

And now…

The full story of the boy whose death woke the world up to the already years-long humanitarian catastrophe: http://www.macleans.ca/news/world/inside-the-tragedy-that-woke-up-the-world/

One of just many reports by Terry Glavin, who broke the Kurdi story: http://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/columnists/glavin-lets-talk-about-the-kurdi-family-we-did-turn-away

A simple (but in being simple, not nearly thorough) explanation of why people are fleeing Syria: http://www.vox.com/2015/9/4/9261971/syria-refugee-war

More on that, with a deeper look at the death toll of ISIS versus the death toll of Syria’s Assad regime (Spoiler: ISIS isn’t the problem): https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/islamic-state-has-killed-many-syrians-but-assads-forces-have-killed-even-more/2015/09/05/b8150d0c-4d85-11e5-80c2-106ea7fb80d4_story.html

A phenomenal visualization of the death toll from Syria’s ISIS/Assad civil war: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/09/14/world/middleeast/syria-war-deaths.html

In the war on ISIS: Friends, foes and in between http://www.macleans.ca/news/world/in-the-war-on-isis-friends-foes-and-in-between/

The new Cold War in the Middle East: http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/09/21/moscow-relishes-revamped-role-in-mideast-as-israel-seeks-assurances-in-syria/

More: http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/09/22/putin-russia-syria-assad-iran-islamic-state/

“Why can’t they just go home”? Because THERE IS NO HOME TO GO TO.

1. https://twitter.com/sommervillebbc/status/639486321732526081

2. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/02/12/world/middleeast/syria-civil-war-damage-maps.html

Liz Sly, on the emptying of Syria: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/syria-is-emptying/2015/09/14/2b457a86-534f-11e5-b225-90edbd49f362_story.html

Her photo essay on children who only know life inside refugee camps: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/09/16/the-faces-of-syrian-children-who-only-know-life-in-a-refugee-camp/

And her early – and important – examination of the refugee crisis looming in the Middle East:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/as-tragedies-shock-europe-a-bigger-refugee-crisis-looms-in-the-middle-east/2015/08/29/3858b284-9c15-11e4-86a3-1b56f64925f6_story.html

A must-see photo gallery of Syria’s children, and the hell they’re living: http://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2015/08/syrias-children/402583/

The nightmare that is life for those who’ve not fled: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/16/world/middleeast/for-those-who-remain-in-syria-daily-life-is-a-nightmare.html

And the dilemma many are faced with: http://www.thenational.ae/opinion/comment/in-syria-many-families-face-a-terrible-dilemma

After 4 years of conflict, more than half of Syria’s population of 22 million have been driven out: http://graphics.latimes.com/syria-to-greece/

On that note: It’s not just Syria, or migrants from Syria. We are also involved/supporting/enabling the bombing/destruction of Yemen

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/13/world/middleeast/airstrikes-hit-civilians-yemen-war.html

2. https://theintercept.com/2015/09/01/yemen-hidden-war-saudi-coalition-killing-civilians/

And, of course, Afghanistan, Iraq …

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/20/world/asia/afghanistan-migrant-kunduz-iran-europe.html?smid=tw-nytimesworld&smtyp=cur

2. http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/09/18/europes-refugee-crisis-isnt-only-about-syria-iraq-afghans/?wp_login_redirect=0

Some Iraqis are abandoning the fight against ISIS for safety in Europe: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/21/us-europe-migrants-iraq-military-insight-idUSKCN0RK0EB20150921

Afghan NATO translators who helped coalition forces are having to take illegal routes West after having their asylum applications rejected: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/serbia/11878114/The-Afghan-Nato-interpreters-forced-to-walk-through-Europe-for-refugee-status.html

To those demanding to know “why aren’t Muslim countries doing anything?!”

Uh, they are.

The vast majority of Syrian refugees are hosted in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. http://trib.al/H6RuaiW

Lebanon, Turkey & Jordan have taken so many refugees that it’s changing their demographics. http://on.rand.org/SmFCy

More: https://twitter.com/LATimesGraphics/status/644889552901963776

The tragic lives of refugee children in Lebanon. http://lifeonhold.aljazeera.com/

Meanwhile, after being shuttled on trains and branded with numbers, refugees are being housed in former concentration camps. Yes, you read that right.

1. https://twitter.com/JeffreyGoldberg/status/639600506705473536

2. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/04/world/europe/czech-republic-criticized-after-officers-mark-migrants-with-numbers.html

3. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/19/the-refugees-who-live-at-dachau

Some key explainers on the many factors fuelling the crisis:

1. U.N. Funding Shortfalls and Cuts in Refugee Aid Fuel Exodus to Europe: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/20/world/un-funding-shortfalls-and-cuts-in-refugee-aid-fuel-exodus-to-europe.html

2. Why migrants risk everything for a new life elsewhere: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/the-real-reasons-why-migrants-risk-everything-for-a-new-life-elsewhere/article24105000/

3. 8 reasons the refugee crisis is happening now: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/09/18/8-reasons-why-europes-refugee-crisis-is-happening-now/

4. The migrant crisis: here’s why it’s not what you think – http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/europes-migrant-crisis-eight-reasons-its-not-what-youthink/article26194675/

What can WE do? Two of the most respectable voices in Canada:

1. Roméo Dallaire: Response to Syrian refugees ‘atrocious’: http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/romeo-dallaire-response-to-syrian-refugees-atrocious/

More: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-election-2015-romeo-dallaire-syrian-refugees-1.3228123#pq=BTWEGU

2. Great interview with former chief of defence Rick Hillier: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-election-2015-rick-hillier-refugees-military-christmas-1.3225732

Asylum seekers will keep coming, regardless of the chilly welcome from the West: http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/parnesh-sharma-the-asylum-seekers-will-keep-coming-regardless-of-the-chilly-welcome-from-the-west

We should – and can – take in 20 times more refugees: http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/why-canada-should-take-in-20-times-more-refugees/

Excellent primer from Laura Payton on where Canadian policy stands: http://www.macleans.ca/politics/ottawa/refugees-primer/

Glavin, on the Conservative’s recent policy change: http://ottawacitizen.com/news/politics/glavin-conservatives-finally-take-responsibility-for-the-roadblock-facing-syrian-refugees

Meanwhile, refugees are left to plead for family reunification: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/refugees-plead-for-family-reunification/article26466051/

A group of notables lay out eight steps to get more Syrian refugees into Canada: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/eight-steps-to-get-more-syrian-refugees-into-canada/article26356841/

Refugees are, in fact, a huge economic and cultural boon to society — not a burden. They are not welfare-seekers.

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/19/opinion/europe-should-see-refugees-as-a-boon-not-a-burden.html?_r=0

Why our chance to help those in desperate need is also a potentially historic economic opportunity:
http://www.macleans.ca/economy/economicanalysis/this-is-the-refugee-debate-we-ought-to-be-having/

And no, we do not give refugees better health care or government services than citizens receive

1. http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/jonathan-kay-the-refugee-health-care-decision-lays-bare-harpers-creed-punitive-moral-absolutism

2. http://www.macleans.ca/politics/do-the-cuts-to-refugee-health-care-make-sense/

3. http://ottawacitizen.com/news/national/refugee-rules-are-bad-policy-legal-or-not

4. http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/christie-blatchford-government-policy-on-refugee-health-care-exposed-as-heartless-and-shameful

No matter the nonsense which continues to come from the current Conservative government: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/conservatives-flyers-survey-refugees-1.3217603

Harper says only bogus refugees are denied health care. He’s wrong. http://www.macleans.ca/politics/harper-says-only-bogus-refugees-are-denied-health-care-hes-wrong/

Why how we refer to those seeking asylum matters: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/28/world/migrants-refugees-europe-syria.html

On fears of radicalization – nothing fights radicalization like opportunity.

Compassion towards needy Muslims is part of the antidote to a hateful jihadist ideology http://econ.trib.al/wIk3K1x

More: http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/09/18/the-donald-versus-the-scriptures-migrants-refugees/

Things to note re: the claims of ISIS infiltrating migrants.

1. https://twitter.com/DougSaunders/status/643947905594822656

2. https://twitter.com/a_picazo/status/643949522968690688

3. https://twitter.com/KarlreMarks/status/644614714958475264

ISIS doesn’t want Syrian migrants to flock to Europe, either: http://theweek.com/speedreads/578405/isis-doesnt-want-syrian-migrants-flock-europe-either

More: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/09/aylan-kurdi-isis-propaganda-dabiq/404911/

Further reading – Follow the journey of the refugees with these in-depth journals:

1. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/cp/reporters-notebook/migrants

2. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/balkan-odyssey-a-desperate-journey-through-centraleurope/article26438596/

Move Along, #Harperman – We’ll Take It From Here

What began as a discussion* (and mocking) of the sideshow of the day song of a generation turned into a great exchange about political/protest tunes. I’ve collected some of the best recommendations, and in addition to my own suggestions, have linked to the better ones found throughout the night.

Feel free to post the songs I’ve missed, but which you’re particularly fond of, to the comments.  I’d love you hear your favourites. Also welcome: Those so bad, they’re amazing.

*To see the full conversation thread, be sure to click the various “view other replies.”

Bruce Cheadle:

Tom Russell – Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall 

Terry Glavin

Damien Dempsey – Sing all our Cares Away

The Internationale (English Version) 

White Riot by the Clash

Douglas Hunter:

Elvis Costello – Ship Building

Sine Nomine:

Rage Against The Machine version – The Ghost of Tom Joad

George McKie:

Midnight Oil – Beds Are Burning

Ken Cunningham:

Drezus – Red Winter (idle No More)

Billy Bragg – Between The Wars


Flynn Flon:

Marvin Gaye – Inner City Blues

Brother Ali – Uncle Sam Goddamn

Crosby, Stills, Nash – Ohio 

A Change Is Gonna Come – Sam Cooke

Laurie K:

Green Day – American Idiot 

Matthew Elliot:

Janelle Monáe – Hell You Talmbout

Robert Cooper:

Manic Street Preachers – If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next

And from me:

First, the songs which initially came to my mind:

Eminem – Mosh 

Black Sabbath – War Pigs

Ramones – My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)

God Save The Queen – The Sex Pistols

Rage Against The Machine – Killing In The Name

Johnny Mandel – Suicide Is Painless (M*A*S*H Theme)

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Fortunate Son

Nina Simone – Mississippi Goddam

Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit

And below, some gems I wasn’t familiar with, which I found while searching:

Country Joe McDonald – I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag

Eric Bogle – The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Donovan – The Universal Soldier

Barry McGuire – Eve of Destruction

Tom Robinson Band – Glad To Be Gay

Bonus! This very fun post, thanks to Kady o’malley, and a what looks like a great book, recommended by Laurie K.

The Assault On Planned Parenthood: A Long Campaign Against Reproductive Rights

In 2011, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding, a move deemed necessary to ensure no taxpayer dollars were used on abortion despite existing federal legislation which prohibits funds granted under Title X from paying for such services.

This vote, a “culmination of a multi-year effort that involved parallel action by top Republicans and conservative media operatives,” relied on the work of anti-abortion activist Lila Rose, President and founder of Live Action, an organization through which she sought to “take out Planned Parenthood” ahead of the 2012 Presidential election by teaming up with disgraced far-right activist James O’Keefe to produce a series of undercover ‘sting’ videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood staff “willing to assist sex trafficking and exploitations of minors and young women.”

Rose’s elaborate production was eventually exposed for the lie it was — manipulated segments of video spliced to create exchanges which never occurred, or to misrepresent things which were said.

Even so, the ruse was – and still is – championed as a credible exposé within the complex network of organizations which make up the greater anti-abortion lobby, with the disproven allegations repeated by influential anti-abortion leaders including Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue: a militant organization infamous for their relentless campaign against late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, one which only ended after Scott Roeder, an Operation Rescue fanatic, pursued Tiller to his church and shot him to death as Sunday services began.

A longtime admirer of Rose’s efforts – Rose was named Operation Rescue’s Person of the Year in 2008 for her then-early campaign against Planned Parenthood – Newman helped Live Action’s (now former) research director David Daleiden, business partner of Rose and close friend of O’Keefe, establish a new operation from which to launch a fresh assault against Planned Parenthood, providing “consultation services” and both “financial and material support” to the Live Action off-shoot Center for Medical Progress.

In addition to Newman’s professional guidance and financial support, both Rose and Daleiden were students of Mark Crutcher, president and founder of Life Dynamics Inc., a radical anti-abortion operation whose “professional counter-intelligence … intelligence-gathering” methods – including the covert recording of abortion providers and subsequent manipulating of audio/video to fabricate criminal wrongdoing – have become the activists’ MO.

Much like Rose’s failed 2011 Live Action ‘sting’, Daleiden’s Center for Medical Progress string of videos are heavily-edited, with exchanges intentionally doctored to grossly misrepresent the context of conversations in order to satisfy a narrative being sold. In this case, that Planned Parenthood is trafficking fetuses, “selling baby parts,” for profit.

The sophisticated, coordinated pre-election rollout and subsequent reaction by conservative media and lawmakers mirrors that of 2011, right down to another procedural vote to defund Planned Parenthood. Though passing the House in 2011, nothing became of the vote, and the renewed effort was defeated in the Senate.

And just as Planned Parenthood was cleared of the allegations levelled in 2011, the current round of increasingly-hyperbolic accusations have already been thoroughly, and repeatedly, disproved.

In full accordance with the law – one which has long-enjoyed broad bipartisan support – women who undergo an abortion can choose to donate usable tissue toward science. Fetal tissue is unique and provides a crucial form of stem cells without which public health advances – the eradication of polio, for instance – would not have been possible.

Planned Parenthood is not selling fetal specimens, which, it’s important to note, are acquired with the full consent of those terminating a pregnancy, be it a medically-necessary referral or an elective procedure. Nor do clinics profit from the donation of fetal tissue.

Despite claims to the contrary, abortion services are not the driving force behind Planned Parenthood, nor are they performed for monetary gain (profit) or as a means of facilitating ‘immoral’ and ‘promiscuous’ lifestyles (abortion on-demand as a recreational activity).

Planned Parenthood is a leading provider of high-quality, affordable health care to both men and women across America. In addition to the sexual health and reproductive services — screening and treatment for STIs, low- or no-cost reversible contraception (condoms, birth control, IUDs) and emergency contraception (Plan B), family planning and counselling, including pregnancy guidance and support, pre- and post-natal care, access to adoption services, and sexual education — Planned Parenthood offers a range of general health services, such as screening for breast and cervical cancer, and public immunizations.

Abortions account for only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s activities, and the most recent comprehensive report on induced abortion in the United States found 92% of all abortions occur within the first 13-weeks of pregnancy — only 1.2% occur at or after 21-weeks.

That 20-week mark is a crucial point of contention for anti-abortion activists who, unable to overturn Roe v. Wade, have sought to outlaw the procedure beyond 20-weeks, often without exception — meaning in the case of rape or incest, even if the victim is a child, the pregnancy must, by law, be carried to term.

Beyond the 20-week limit, activists push lawmakers to enact TRAP laws: impose redundant and wholly irrelevant requirements on abortion providers and clinics to regulate them out of service.

It’s the network of anti-abortion organizations who organize and finance the activist campaigns, and which reward the politicians who enact the legislative changes demanded.

Though hardly as influential north of the border, this cabal spans across Canada, sharing resources, swapping speakers, providing on-demand ‘experts,’ and partnering in campaigns  – including the effort against Planned Parenthood – with organizational allies.

Both Live Action and Operation Rescue are revered by Canada’s anti-abortion activists, and two prominent figures – Jonathon Van Maren, communications director for the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR), representing the “educational arm of the pro-life movement” and Alissa Golob, Executive Director of Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) Youth, representing the “political arm of the pro-life movement” — the pair behind the graphic #no2Trudeau anti-abortion campaign – recently shared a stage with Operation Rescue’s President, one of the old hands working the strings behind the curtains of the series of video ‘stings;’ controlling the dance of the new, fresh-faced anti-abortion marionettes.

Newman was a keynote speaker at this year’s CLC Youth Banquet (Rose had the honour in 2010), a companion event to the annual March For Life on Parliament Hill. Buried among the litany of hyperbole and flat-out lies about abortion and the medical professionals who provide them – absurd allegations found in the hysterical, low-budget pseudo-documentary Bloodmoney, a film championed by CLC, CCBR and their anti-abortion affiliates, and treated as gospel by Golob – Newman tipped his hand on the upcoming strategy against abortion providers.

As reported by those in attendance:

Because abortion is an immoral activity, Newman and his fellow pro-life activists suspected other immoral activity would also take place in and around the abortion industry and Operation Rescue aimed to uncover and expose malfeasance and criminal activity. “The job is to point out the true villains … to put them in orange jumpsuits and put them behind bars.”

Ironic that Newman chose the following quote to motivate the CLC audience: “In times of universal deceit, to tell the truth is a revolutionary act.”

A more fitting Orwell citation, and perhaps the most succinct summary of the ongoing quest to not only destroy Planned Parenthood, but to rescind advances in public health and personal freedoms gained through the liberalization of sexual and reproductive rights: “We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right.

Abortion rates are lowest where the procedure is legal — where laws regarding the practise are the least-restrictive and women have relatively-easy access to a full range of reproductive health services.

Of course, the most effective anti-abortion strategy is contraception; a woman need not seek to terminate an unintended pregnancy if she’s able to prevent the pregnancy from the start.

It’s telling, then, that those dedicated to the cause of ending abortion are the ones working to ensure demand for the procedure never fades.

For instance, in 2009, Colorado launched a state health initiative specifically targeted at combating the soaring rate of teen pregnancies. Funded entirely by a private donor over 5-years, the Colorado Family Planning Initiative provided more than 30,000 contraceptive devices at low- or no-cost to women across 68 family-planning clinics.

The result was astounding: By 2013, the teen-birth rate plummeted by 40%; the abortion rate dropped even further, falling a full 42% from its previous demand.

As noted in the New York Times:

The changes were particularly pronounced in the poorest areas of the state, places like Walsenburg, a small city in southern Colorado where jobs are scarce and many young women have unplanned pregnancies.

In 2009, half of all first births to women in the poorest areas of the state happened before they turned 21. By 2014, half of first births did not occur until the women had turned 24, a difference that advocates say gives young women time to finish their educations and to gain a foothold in an increasingly competitive job market.

“If we want to reduce poverty, one of the simplest, fastest and cheapest things we could do would be to make sure that as few people as possible become parents before they actually want to,” said Isabel Sawhill, an economist at the Brookings Institution. She argues in her 2014 book, “Generation Unbound: Drifting Into Sex and Parenthood Without Marriage,” that single parenthood is a principal driver of inequality and long-acting birth control is a powerful tool to prevent it.

Still, when presented with the irrefutable data, Carrie Gordon Earll, senior director of public policy for the Colorado branch of Focus On The Family – a powerful organization within the anti-abortion Religious Right – rejected the findings.

“What we have seen over many years is that access to contraception does not equal fewer unintended pregnancies and fewer abortions,” Earll told the Denver Post. “Availability of contraception leads to increased sexual activity, which leads to unintended pregnancies and abortions.”

And thanks in part to lobbying by Focus On The Family, rather than continuing to fund the proven-effective program, the Republican-controlled state Senate killed the program this past May.

It’s this factsbedamned ideology which drives the anti-abortion coalition, and which leads its members to adhere to an increasingly-nonsensical script.

In 2010, when the Canadian Paediatric Society recommended adolescent health care providers counsel patients on emergency contraception – specifically, Plan B, which does not abort a pregnancy, but prevents it – Golob (as noted above, CLC activist and co-founder of the #No2Trudeau campaign) was incensed. She claimed health care providers mentoring their patients with regards to reproductive options was “a recipe for enabling child rapists to continue sexually assaulting young girls behind their parents’ backs.”

She questioned the “highly suspicious” motives of the Canadian Paediatric Society, claiming doctors would be “profiting off minors who are more than likely going to return because they have some kind of STD, pregnancy etc.”

In a 2012 interview, when asked how sex education “affects the youth’s understanding of sexuality, chastity, and contraception,” Golob responded:

“Sex education that promotes contraception, inevitably promotes promiscuity and abortion. Former abortionist Carol Everett said in the documentary Blood Money, ‘We had a whole plan to sell abortions and it was called sex education. Break down their natural modesty, separate them from their parents and their values, and become the sex expert in their lives so they turn to us. We would give them a low dosage birth control pill they would get pregnant on, or a defective condom. Our goal was three to five abortions from every girl between the ages of 13 and 19.’

Furthermore, a study done in 1999 by the British Journal Education and Health found that government policies that focus on providing family planning, or contraception and abortion, have failed to have any impact on teenage pregnancy rates. Despite the millions of pounds spent in government initiatives over the last four decades pregnancy rates among teenaged girls aged 13-16 have remained steady, while abortion rates have gone up.”

Keep in mind, it’s Golob and her associates who travel across Canada to ‘educate’ Catholic students on issues regarding sex, contraception, and abortion. (Abstinence only!)

Her organization is also one leading the charge against the Ontario government’s new sex-ed curriculum. One only need visit CLC’s website to see just how astoundingly inaccurate and wholly irresponsible their claims are in their push for abstinence-only education — dangerous misinformation which is prevalent throughout the site, such as the promotion of ‘reparative’ therapy to ‘cure’ homosexuality, the presentation of long-debunked health claims regarding birth control and abortion, and the dissemination of anti-vax propaganda to discourage Catholic School boards from implementing the HPV vaccine program.

Planned Parenthood’s Canadian branches, on the other hand – in addition to the exceptional counselling services offered – are working to ensure youth are provided the opportunity to benefit from evidence-based, age-appropriate sexual education.

Lauren Dobson-Hughes, President of Planned Parenthood Ottawa (PPO), says her organization is a proud supporter of Ontario’s new curriculum, which “matches what we’ve been teaching for some time.”

“Through our classroom sessions or our Insight Theatre program, PPO’s sex ed is innovative, interactive and engaging. It covers everything from LGBT issues to STIs, consent, sexting, puberty, and healthy relationships … We not only teach the facts, we teach them in a way that’s meaningful. It’s no good knowing the theory if you’re scared to apply it to real life situations.

At the end of every sex ed session, there’s a question box. This is where youth submit their questions anonymously, to be answered in front of the class. And when youth feel safe, they ask questions like this:”

(Actual questions from sixth- and seventh-graders, as evidenced by photos from a PPO session):

If someone you are texting asks you for a picture, how do you let them know you don’t want to?

Is masturbation normal?

What if it doesn’t fit?

Is one boob supposed to be bigger?

Can you get an STI from kissing?

What do I do if one of my friends thinks being gay is wrong?

If someone masturbates are they still a virgin?

What would be a polite way to say no?

What is the appropriate age for sex?

As was the case in 2011 when – citing the U.S. Congressional investigation stemming from Rose’s ‘sting’ – Canadian anti-abortion activists and their allied MPs set out to strip International Planned Parenthood Federation of funds granted through the Harper government’s Muskoka Maternal/Child Health initiative, the network of anti-abortion operations have latched onto the most recent fabrication, and they have Dobson-Hughes’ organization in their crosshairs.

The recent years’ increasingly-contentious environment regarding sexual and reproductive health had already cut into PPO’s funding, and now, in addition to demanding an investigation, opponents have begun intimidating known PPO donors into rescinding their financial support.

Recently, PPO was forced to turn away a woman a woman whose abusive partner was trying to force her to end her pregnancy.

“I never want to have to do that again,” laments Dobson-Hughes, whose organization does not provide abortion services. What they do offer, however, is confidential, unbiased counselling for those seeking sexual and reproductive guidance.

Case in point, as detailed by Dobson-Hughes:

Summer was 17, and heavily pregnant when she saw Planned Parenthood’s counsellor. Summer hadn’t wanted to be pregnant, but growing up in the rural North, she didn’t have the access to contraception she needed. She had received no pre-natal care, had not seen a doctor through her entire pregnancy, and had no financial support. Planned Parenthood’s counsellors worked with Summer, ensuring she got a midwife, helped her access assistance for housing, and connected her with cultural support from her community.

And in the end, that’s who loses the most. As fundamentalist culture-warriors position themselves the moral gatekeepers of society, demanding government “stay out” of their lives while seeking to dictate how others’ lives are lived, it’s people like Summer who bear the brunt of the fallout.

It’s the students who ask “Is it OK to say no?” whose questions go unanswered; adolescents who wonder “Is my body normal?” who are left without resources, and without reassurance.

In America specifically, it’s the lowest-income who cannot otherwise obtain cancer screening or pre- and post-natal services who are left without; it’s those whose only affordable access to contraception and STI screening is through their local Planned Parenthood clinic that are deprived.

Still reeling over the recent Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, forced to watch as their opponents’ victory was celebrated across the world, America’s social conservatives are grasping for relevance, desperate to recover the political influence – reclaim a status – they once boasted.

That they are doing so at the expense of some of society’s most-vulnerable ultimately speaks to the emptiness of their moral crusade.

How you can help:

Donate to Planned Parenthood Ottawa  HERE
Donate to Planned Parenthood USA  HERE

Speak out. Reproductive rights are human rights — If you support a woman’s right to choose, do so with pride and without reservation.

A Word To My Critics:

To those accusing me of seeking to defend Blatchford, as intent to undermine Guthrie/Reilly, or as somehow  actively championing an odious twitter persona I’m on the record as having no sympathy for:

My intention in writing this piece (an incredibly shortened, edited version of my lengthy submission) was to promote an honest discussion about the case itself, because either ruling will only serve to further inflame the matter.

Because all parties involved (and their supporters) are so emotionally-invested in the outcome, it seems my submission has been taken as having some nefarious, ulterior motive.

After having read through the documents made public, I am genuinely concerned about the fallout should a verdict not favour the complainants.

A few things to note:

There were multiple inconsistencies during testimony, incomplete/one-sided Storifys of conversations/dialogue between Elliott and Guthrie/Reilly which misrepresented who initiated the exchange; a “shifting evidentiary foundation” due to the repeated locking/unlocking of the  – until then – fully accessible to the Court, public Twitter accounts of the complainants.

None of this diminishes the complainants’ perceived sense of fear, nor does it excuse Eliiott’s alleged behaviour. What It does, however, is serve to remind of the complexity of this case. Asking questions, discussing the case in its entirety, doesn’t equate disbelieving or blaming the victim.

To the contrary, should the judge rule in Elliott’s favour, it ensures the focus remains on the Crown’s potential shortcomings rather than the validity of the complainants’ experience.

One can believe the allegations, even support the complainants, while recognizing evidentiary weaknesses.

It should be noted the Crown offered no final verbal submission, nor was a written submission made publicly available.

Women already face undue suspicion when alleging intimidation, harassment, or sexual assault. And given the slim chances of a satisfactory legal outcome, when weighed against the emotional investment and inevitable fallout many decide it isn’t worth the trade-off, so violations go unreported.

I worry that an unwelcome verdict will make matters worse, and that’s why a thorough examination of the case, in my view, is crucial.

Given the blowback, in the future, when writing on contentious issues/situations, I’ll post to this blog so I can go on at length and ensure a thorough – and clear – reading on the matter.

UPDATE:

Just published: “Crown lawyer Marnie Goldenberg submitted her closing statement to the court in writing and declined media requests to release copies. She granted Metro permission to read the statement on Tuesday.”

“Mr. Elliot sent copious amounts of obsessive, harassing tweets where he tweeted ‘at’ the complainants, mentioned their handles, mentioned the hashtags created by Ms. Guthrie, sent subtweets at the complainants, monitored their feeds, etc. He did this knowing that they blocked him and that they did not want contact with him,” Goldenberg wrote.

Citing Guthrie’s testimony, Goldenberg took issue with the defence position that Guthrie and Reilly must not have been truly afraid of Elliott because they called him out — even taunted him — on Twitter.

“There is no perfect victim,” Guthrie said at trial. “And there’s no perfect way to respond to being stalked, and I am… You don’t always just hide away. Sometimes you fight back a little bit.”

“Why should the complainants not be allowed to speak out against their harasser and warn others?” Goldenberg wrote. “Why should the complainants be criticized for speaking with their friends about being harassed? … (They) should be allowed to do so without fear that the actions of the harasser will be minimized. Just because they speak out, does not mean that they are not fearful and the harasser’s actions are not aggravating and serious.”

“Respectfully, there is nothing wrong with Ms. Guthrie being proactive. She is a strong articulate woman who wanted to speak out for others. She cared about other women and ‘their right to be on the internet without having their boundaries crossed by a creep,’” Goldenberg continued.

————

My submission as it appeared in the National Post on July 22, 2015:

Regardless of the verdict in the Guthrie case, we’ve already lost

An emotionally-charged criminal harassment case whose outcome, according to National Post columnist Christie Blatchford, risks serious ramifications for freedom of speech online, dates back to 2012; that was the year when Stephanie Guthrie decided to punish Bendilin Spurr.

Spurr, a young man from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., created a disturbing video game entitled “Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian” in which players punch an image of the noted feminist in the face with bloody results. The game delighted a self-styled group of “Men’s Rights Activists” (MRAs) — online commentators on perpetual watch for what they perceive as feminist provocations.

If MRAs are the extreme end of an increasingly savage online culture war, Guthrie and her fellow co-complainant, Heather Reilly, are their natural enemies. Engaged and prominent online feminists, both have been subjected to threats and harassment by MRAs — especially after they targeted Spurr.

Some of the abuse levelled at her from these activists (although not from the defendant in this case) was profoundly horrific. So much so that, in May 2014, Blatchford wrote:

“There isn’t a female writer, in the world probably, who isn’t routinely inundated with this sort of misogynist hate mail … Social media has only made a cruel old world more so, for everyone, but the viciousness of the communications my female colleagues and I receive, particularly when we dare to take a contrarian view of something, is stunning. While I am inured to it, it enrages me that Ms. Guthrie, just 29 and such a bold spirit, should feel it too. I can’t tell you how sad this made me that this truly great young woman is being subjected to this stuff.”

Under attack from the MRAs, Guthrie fought back, suggesting a “doxing” campaign against Spurr — Internet slang for publishing his personal information — and contacted his potential employers to make them aware of his online behaviour. It was this step that would form the crux of the fight between Guthrie and Gregory Allen Elliott.

Elliott is regarded by many as a notorious Twitter “troll” – an online commenter who deliberately, often profanely, seeks to provoke a hostile reaction. Elliott strongly disagreed with Guthrie’s tactics, and said so, crassly, numerous times. Guthrie took steps to block Elliott from accessing her tweets, but he was able to largely circumvent them and continue engaging with her and her online compatriots. It is those online activities that constitute the alleged stalking and harassment. (Elliott has also been charged with breaking a peace bond in relation to his sustained tweeting.)

A verdict in this matter is expected in the fall. Blatchford has been covering the proceedings for the years that they have ground on. In her past writings, while never masking her exasperation for the behaviour of all parties involved, she seemed empathetic to Guthrie.

That was, until last week.

In a column that drew heated online criticism, Blatchford called Guthrie’s perceived vulnerability into question, doubting just how much Guthrie felt she was at risk. Specifically, she wrote, “The criminal harassment charge is rooted in the alleged victim’s perception of the offending conduct … (if) the alleged victims ‘reasonably, in all the circumstances fear for their safety’, that’s good enough.” “Elliott’s chief sin,” Blatchford continues, was that “he dared to disagree with the two young feminists and political activists.”

To suggest, as Blatchford appears to do, that harassment without explicit threats of physical or sexual harm should not qualify as criminal, is troublesome. Further, while much of Blatchford’s earlier writing on this topic had made clear that Guthrie was unquestionably the target of vile abuse from MRA activists, generally (although not Elliott, specifically). But that broader context was largely absent last week. Yes, a columnist only has so many words to cover a topic and content must be sacrificed. But absent a deeper explanation of what Guthrie has sincerely alleged to have endured, it’s easy to conclude that there’s nothing to see here.

And that isn’t so. If nothing else, the fact that the police and Crown pursued charges in the first place suggest the behaviour was beyond simple, even rude, disagreement, doesn’t it?

That being said, some of the backlash against Blatchford was misguided — particularly suggestions that Blatchford was personally responsible for online anger directed at Guthrie. Indeed, Guthrie has, sadly, been the target of that kind of abuse for years.

Guthrie may have been subject to yet another barrage of death threats and harassment at the hands of the MRA crowd in the wake of Blatchford’s column, but to suggest Blatchford intentionally incited this retaliation is unfair. Nor is Blatchford responsible for a campaign by a group of MRAs to cover Elliott’s legal bills — even though the campaign quotes from her writings on the matter.

Though I’m not personally familiar with either complainant, I have admired what I’ve seen of Guthrie’s public persona from afar. However, Guthrie and Reilly do assuredly belong to a subset of feminists who employ tactics that are not only unhelpful, but terribly counterproductive. They perceive themselves to be an online authority of feminism — they play to a virtual audience and engage in a culture of “calling out,” online mobbing, and doxing. They justify these actions by relying on the moral certainty of their personal cause.

Throughout the trial, Blatchford reported on the fact that Guthrie copped to her own bullying tactics. She’s been, arguably, as vindictive online as Elliott himself. It was, after all, with malicious intent that Guthrie sought to “sic the internet” on Spurr, testifying she “would not feel sorry” if his life were ruined, and would feel no sense of responsibility had he been driven to suicide following her call to mob. In her view, he’d have brought it on himself.

Should charges against Elliott be dismissed, Guthrie and Reilly, and their group of vocal public supporters, will be inundated with more misogynistic attacks from angry MRAs, including threats of rape or murder. It’s happened before. It will again. On the other hand, if the judge should rule that Elliott’s behaviour was criminal, thus vindicating Guthrie and Reilly, the response will be … pretty much the same.

As for Elliott, even if he’s acquitted, chances are his life will have been irrevocably damaged.

While we wait for the verdict, it’s worth nothing that this trial has become a proxy war between extremes — a battle between hard-line feminists and MRAs. This brutal online battle will continue to escalate, hardening hearts and coarsening our public debate.

To that end, regardless of the verdict, we’ve already lost.