Meriting A Quota

In seeking to redress the underrepresentation of women in key positions of political leadership, Liberal Party of Canada leader Justin Trudeau has pledged gender parity within government at decision-making levels, vowing as Prime Minister to appoint an “equal number of women and men” to cabinet.

Unveiled in June as part of a larger “Fair and Open Government” Liberal platform, the gender quota proved particularly divisive, sparking heated debate over the wisdom, or even the necessity, of such policy.

Generally speaking, diversity for the sake of diversity, however well-intentioned, is problematic. It not only fails to address the root of a given inequality, but it feeds into the notion of those underrepresented as being so due to an inability to succeed on merit. Further, it casts suspicion on the credentials of those who advanced on merit, but as members of a subset, are assumed have benefited from the quota.

It’s through this “[x] for the sake of [x]” lens that those who instinctively recoil from forced parity have largely viewed the Liberal proposal.

In pointed fashion, columnist Andrew Coyne challenged the idea that merit need not be substituted for gender. “If merit is defined in traditional terms,” Coyne argues, “this is obvious nonsense.”

“Suppose, in a governing caucus of, say, 180 members, one-third are women. And suppose that the talents and experience to be desired in a cabinet minister are distributed equally between the sexes, such that a fifth of either — 12 women, 24 men — might be considered cabinet material. If nevertheless the cabinet must have an equal number of women and men, then in a cabinet of 36 six women who should not have been appointed will be, and six men who should have been appointed will not be.”

What this scenario overlooks, however, is that a Prime Minister need not restrict cabinet appointments to a given cohort of elected MPs. If based entirely on merit, it would be highly-credentialed, non-partisan, and yes, unelected, experts from pertinent fields tasked with overseeing portfolios.

Proven scholarship of a complex issue would be sought over the proven scholarship of a PMO script.

Coyne acknowledges “the idea that we would judge ministers as individuals, on the basis of their ability to govern the country — that train left the station long ago.”

What, then, is meritorious about the status quo? Beyond the presumption of competence, on what superior capabilities – proven merit – are Ministers currently chosen? What explicit proficiencies would we lose to a quota?

Where Coyne’s column succeeds, if not intentionally, is in demonstrating the problem with how gender quotas, and the notion of merit, are traditionally defined.

In 2014, Rainbow Murray, associate professor of politics at Queen Mary University in London, published a fascinating argument in defence of gender quotas — for men:

“The focus on women’s underrepresentation has the unintended consequence of framing men as the norm and women as the ‘other’ … The arguments against quotas, based on meritocracy, assume (albeit sometimes implicitly) that the significant overrepresentation of men, over time and space, is the correct and fair outcome.

A much less commonly aired argument is that men receive an unfair advantage in accessing political power … men may themselves be accessing politics on the basis of their sex rather than their more tangible qualities.

As the traditional status quo, (men) benefit both from the presumption of competence and from greater opportunity to demonstrate their worth … It is not sufficient for women to be interchangeable with men; they are expected to offer something distinctive, without which the democratic process is incomplete, thus necessitating their presence.”

By modifying how the quota is approached, emphasizing the problem of overrepresentation, the onus is shifted “onto men … to prove their worth and justify their coveted place within politics.”

What makes Murray’s thesis particularly compelling is its ability to be applied to any over-represented group; the normative reasoning underpinning the quota being its key feature.

“The central concern lies not with gender equality, nor fairness, valid and important though these undoubtedly are. Instead, the emphasis is on enhancing the quality of representation for all.”

“Meritocracy,” Murray concludes, “can be advanced through challenging the status quo, opening a debate about quality, and making better use of available resources of talent. For the problem of (un)fair competition to be resolved, it first must be recognized.”

Trudeau’s proposal may not be the answer to the institutionalized gender disparity within government, but in the absence of a definitive solution, for the interim, a gender quota can provide a point from which to work toward a more-representative, more deeply and broadly qualified, group of representatives.

We do our country a disservice, risk forfeiting the range of talents offered by those we elect, not in contesting the status quo, but in allowing it to persist without dispute.

Freedom Of Religion vs. License To Discriminate

This op-ed appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on April 8, 2015. 

There’s a fundamental misunderstanding, or perhaps, a deliberate mischaracterization, of what constitutes religious freedom in a pluralistic society; of the role governments should play in protecting religious liberties, the extent to which citizens are obligated to facilitate the customs of another, and what it means to be unjustly targeted for holding contrary views.

On March 25, a cadre of evangelical leaders and activists took to Parliament Hill to decry “unjust infringements of the State” against Christianity, assail the perceived granting of rights to “others” at the expense of their own, lament being violated by “activist” courts, ostracized by business leaders, and vilified by media. MP James Lunney cited their grievances in his withdrawing from the Conservative caucus to better fight the “unprecedented attack” on his Christian beliefs.

These self-appointed spokesmen of Christianity, the beliefs/values they espouse, their connections and affiliations, merit a deeper examination than space permits, but the following brief should offer some insight into why they, and the various, inter-connected organizations they represent, feel so spurned by modernity:

Bill Prankard of the Bill Prankard Evangelistic Association is a faith-healer who claims that faith through the laying-on-of-hands has cured everything from quadriplegia to cancer; he has written books claiming that the power of God holds the cure for all ailments. He has bemoaned that while Christians “stand on guard” for Canada, “other groups have been coming with agendas that are very anti-Christian and anti-God and they’ve been doing a lot of stuff in our nation. I believe it’s time for Canadians to rise up and to take back what the enemy is stealing.”

André Schutten is a lawyer for the Association For Reformed Political Action. When Alberta lawmakers passed legislation affirming students’ rights to form gay-straight alliances, Schutten declared such a law “would make the Bolsheviks proud.”

And of course, there’s Canada Christian College president Charles McVety, whose most recent claim of religious persecution was evidenced by the coming-together of major corporations in committing to diversity and inclusivity in the workplace.

Seriously.

The concept of religious freedom has long been exploited to justify discrimination: Many religious conservatives, for instance, deemed God “the original segregationist,” and when the couple at the heart of Loving v. Virginia (1967), the landmark Supreme Court case striking down America’s ban on interracial marriage, were initially charged in violating “anti-miscegenation” laws, Judge Leon Bazile contended “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents … The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

As America’s march toward full marriage equality presses on, the Supreme Court set to rule on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage shortly, Conservative lawmakers, backed by Christian leaders like James Dobson, Franklin Graham, and Tony Perkins, are scrambling to preempt a ruling many expect as inevitable, enacting legislation under the guise of protecting religious liberties which would grant the right to refuse service to those who might “burden” the conscience.

As the recent backlash in Indiana against such license to discriminate has shown, however, the majority will not stand for replacing White with Straight on “[X] Only” signs.

Given the ongoing, real persecution faced by religious minorities – Christians hunted down by Islamic extremists throughout the Middle East; Muslims slaughtered by Christian militias and Buddhist extremists in Central African Republic and Burma respectively – it’s appalling that such affluent, privileged members of society cast themselves as the victims of tyrannical government; oppressed by an “overly-secular, militant atheistic” society.

Much to traditionalists’ dismay, society has progressed, and those who continue to preach hatred, foster intolerance, are finally learning the Bible is no longer the impenetrable shield it once was.

Want To ‘Send A Message’? Vote.

This op-ed appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on June 12, 2014 

In October 2013, British comedian and actor Russell Brand, acting as a guest-editor for a revolution-themed edition of New Statesman, penned a bizarre, 4,500-word call to revolution.

“I have never voted,” Brand declared. “Like most people I am utterly disenchanted by politics. I regard politicians as frauds and liars and the current political system as nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites. As far as I’m concerned there is nothing to vote for. Total revolution of consciousness and our entire social, political system is what interests me, but that’s not on the ballot.”

Brand’s manifesto quickly went viral. He was called “brilliant,” lauded as the “de facto voice of a younger generation.”

What a shame that would be, given that if a generation adopted Brand’s approach to democracy, they’ll have rendered themselves mute.

Brand’s type of misguided effort to affect change has found an audience, though on a much smaller, not-quite-so-revolutionary scale, in the run-up to the Ontario election.

Decline Your Vote, a movement launched by conservative activist Paul Synnott, bills itself as a means to “(send) a message to all political parties that you’re not happy with what they have to offer or how they’re conducting themselves.”

“Declined votes,” the website notes, “are required to be recorded and reported as a separate category from spoiled ballots.

This your opportunity to vote NONE OF THE ABOVE.”

If only change-making were that easy.

Let’s be clear: It is absolutely your right to spoil, decline, or altogether refuse to cast a ballot. That’s the beauty of democracy: you’re free to vote – or not vote – for whomever you choose.

However, declining your ballot succeeds in “sending a message” about as well as abstaining achieves a “total revolution.”

There are legitimate frustrations over the first past the post electoral system; real grievances about the quality of the current slate of politicians/platforms/parties; an overwhelming desire to “throw the bums out,” yet a distinct lack of worthy alternatives behind whom to throw one’s support.

Cynicism toward the political system is understandable. But by forfeiting the influence you do have – the power of the vote – you are handing the power back to those you argue haven’t earned it. Whether by 10 or 10 thousand, the candidate with the most votes will be deemed victorious. Even if more ballots are declined than cast for the winning candidate, someone will be elected by night’s end.

Little notice will be taken of the number of ballots declined. Votes that, it can be argued, were wasted; that depending on turnout, might have made a difference in voting a candidate in – or keeping one out.

Case in point: In Nevada, where “none of these candidates” is an actual choice on the ballot, Democrat Harry Reid defeated Republican John Ensign by only 428 votes, while “none” garnered 8,000 votes. Similarly, Republican Dean Heller beat Democrat Shelley Berkley by fewer than 20,000 votes, as 45,000 votes were directed to “none.”

If you want to have an impact, are disaffected by the current state of political affairs, declining your chance for a say in the matter isn’t the answer.

Though your ballot may lack an ideal candidate, you can choose to support the person or party which represents your ideals better than the others.

Then, after ballots have been counted, get involved. Become politically engaged with your party of choice; have a say in shaping policy, work to recruit quality candidates.

And perhaps, come next election, you’ll have someone, something, to vote for.

 

Ending The Stigma

This op-ed appeared in the Ottawa Citizen on January 28, 2014.

 

On Dec. 29, Christopher Peloso, the 40-year-old husband of former Ontario deputy premier George Smitherman, was reported missing.

“Freedom from depression has been elusive for Christopher,” Smitherman tweeted on the eve of the 29th. “We fear for his safety.”

A followup tweet issued just hours later linked to a brief statement which confirmed that Peloso had been found dead, noting (the family) would “find comfort somehow in knowing that he has found peace from the depression that has wreaked havoc on his mind.”

At Peloso’s memorial, Smitherman eulogized his late husband, telling those assembled in the Toronto community centre he would “not be afraid, in Christopher’s name, to tell his story and to tell our story … A man took his life because the pain in his brain was unrelenting.”

Smitherman addressed those who might be dealing with depression: “If you’re holding something back and you bring it out into public life, it is the first step and it is cathartic and it is powerful.”

To that end, Peloso’s father, Reno, spoke of his son, noting “Chris suffered from depression and committed suicide and there is no shame in that.”

Not only was this a powerful message to send during a period of such personal grief, but it was a remarkable, and incredibly necessary, break from the norm; of glossing over the heart of the tragic situation; of speaking in euphemisms and dancing around the issue that caused so much pain, such unrelenting anguish, that the only reprieve Peloso thought he could find was through death.

Though Peloso’s loved ones were widely lauded for their openness in discussing his lifelong battle with depression, the notion that suicide be addressed so matter-of-factly proved disquieting for many. Some feared that accepting Peloso’s final act without judgment somehow glorified it, that failing to attach shame or scorn to the suicide essentially validated, or worse, encouraged it.

These widely held, though unfounded, concerns demonstrate why it was necessary for Peloso’s family to address his illness — including its end — so candidly: to break the stigma about what it is to live with, or die from, mental illness, so that others might find the courage to seek help for their own demons, or, for those who have lost love ones in a similar manner, to leave behind the guilt or sense of having failed the deceased.

And breaking the silence, erasing the stigma, is what Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign on Jan. 28 is all about.

One in five Canadians will experience some form of mental illness in a given year. Yet a report from the Canadian Medical Association revealed that only half of Canadians would tell a friend if they had a family member with a mental illness, as compared to disclosing a family member’s diagnosis of cancer (72 per cent) or diabetes (68 per cent). But why is that? Like any ailment, mental illness manifests in a number of ways, and to varying degrees of severity. Not every cancer is treatable; broken bones don’t always heal correctly the first time. Some diabetics are able to manage through diet alone, while others require multiple shots of insulin, daily. That lack of understanding of what constitutes mental illness, especially when it presents as a chronic or severe condition, is what drives the stigma surrounding it. And the apprehension about openly discussing the more extreme cases of mental illness — those who self-harm, commit suicide, are plagued by intrusive, sometimes violent thoughts, are crippled by rituals or compulsions — only furthers the ignorance surrounding such conditions.

The same CMA report found nearly a third of Canadians reported being fearful of being around someone suffering from a mental illness; almost half believing people use the illness as an excuse for bad behaviour, and fewer than half reporting a desire or willingness to associate with a friend who was diagnosed with a mental illness.

How terribly sad. It should be noted, however, that such beliefs aren’t because people want to exclude or isolate those suffering from a mental illness. Only recently have people begun to buck the societal norm of only speaking of mental illness in whispers, of “othering” those who suffer. In many cases, people want to better understand; they are genuinely interested in learning more about what it means to live with a mental illness, about the challenges faced not only by those diagnosed, but how their experiences, in turn, affect the lives of those around them.

The problem is, they are unsure of what, or how, to ask.

They don’t want to intrude, are afraid of offending. So they instead make assumptions, quietly draw their own conclusions.

Which then leads to misconceptions, feeds into the fear, and further perpetuates the stigma. This is why Bell’s Lets Talk campaign is so important: It provides a platform for a genuine conversation between those living with mental illness and those who’ve never experienced it. Those afraid to ask questions can follow as people share their stories of living with the disease, silently gaining a better understanding of what it means to have a mental illness. Many who suffer in silence find strength in seeing others talk openly about their own struggles and, in turn, find the courage to open up, and if they haven’t already, seek help.

The family of Christopher Peloso understood the value in having a candid dialogue about the illness that plagued him, and ultimately claimed his life. They were, in essence, doing exactly what the Let’s Talk campaign aims to accomplish on a larger scale: To end the stigma surrounding mental illness, talk openly and honestly about all aspects of the disease, foster a better understanding about life with mental illness, and to encourage those who are suffering to reach out.

There is no shame in having a mental illness, and there’s no weakness in seeking help.

And there’s no better time than now to talk about it. So Let’s Talk, Canada.

 

Yes – Let’s Talk

Though dismissed by some as a cynical marketing ploy, Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign not only succeeded in raising $4.8 million for mental health initiatives, but also provided a forum for canadians to share their stories, reach out for help, and address the stigma associated with mental illness.

That conversation, seeing people I know and respect open up about either having/had issues with mental health, or knowing – and still loving – someone who does, was, to me, so much more valuable than monies raised.

Though mental illness itself can, and does, destroy lives, the stigma attached to those afflicted can be just as devastating.

For me, the stigma was nearly fatal.

My story is long and complicated, so I will do my best to include just the information necessary to understand my experience and explain how it relates to where I am today. I don’t mind going into greater detail and am more than happy to elaborate/answer questions people might have regarding my experience with mental/emotional illness, but I think it’s important to stay focused on the topic of stigma for the purpose of this post.

At the age of ten I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and by eleven I was in the throes of depression, battling a severe eating disorder. I was hospitalized for 3 months for the anorexia at age twelve, and again for two months when I relapsed at fourteen — a relapse due, in part, to the added burden of OCD.

I’d been an incredibly talented competitive dancer (tap, jazz/contemporary, ballet) up to that point – also competing as a swimmer and in soccer in both my age group and the one above – but found the anxiety related to international travel demands made continuing on this path impossible. I continued with all non-competitive aspects of dance and scaled back my commitments in soccer and swimming, but the competitive void was soon filled with what had long been my passion, though had always played second fiddle to dance: gymnastics.

With the eating disorder conquered, my dietitian continued on as my sports nutritionist and closest confidant. She’d been by my side since I was eleven, and I trusted her.

My athletic career as a gymnast included some of the best years of my life. I was healthy, strong, and successful, and for the first time, I was comfortable being me. I liked myself. I loved that I could push harder than everyone else; I loved the battle between mind and body when engaged in intense conditioning regime, because I knew I could push my body to beat my mind, every time. I craved the exhaustion, loved the pain, and found a sense of accomplishment in the fact that, though I wasn’t the most advanced gymnast in the gym — having entered the competitive realm at the ‘ancient’ age of 15, I missed the crucial formative years, and though it wasn’t in my future, a few of the girls I trained along side went on to become Olympians, others to successful NCAA careers — I was the strongest, the most dedicated, the hardest working and fittest athlete there, and was recognized as such. I was held up as the epitome of physical and mental strength; Where others had to be pushed, I had to be told to slow down. Where others were urged to work harder, I had to be reminded – if not forced  – to rest, to take a break. To let myself relax.

And that felt incredible.

What didn’t feel quite as wonderful was what was happening physically, on the inside. I’d had digestive issues for some time, but always assumed it was due to the physical demands of my sport. After a few years of progressively worsening symptoms, however, the discomfort in my abdomen was replaced by as intense and chronic pain, and I was bleeding. A lot. Every time I landed I felt as if my intestines were being torn from my body.

I know I should have gone to the doctor at that point. Hell, I should have gone long before it got to that point, but I didn’t. I was afraid I’d be told to scale back training; that I’d have to stop competing. And, like any dedicated athlete, I had dreams to pursue, dammit!  I didn’t have time for a sabbatical.

When things really started to fall apart, they crumbled fast. I was losing weight at an alarming rate. What used to be an endless source of energy, my body had nothing left to give. My coaches, my family, my friends all assumed I’d begun to relapse back into an eating disorder, despite the fact I was eating, down to the last gram, the same diet I’d been following for years – the one set out by my personal dietician, who was herself at a loss to explain what was happening.

I’d expected my (relatively new) family doctor – let’s call her Dr. K – would be eager to start testing for whatever was going on, but she quickly chalked it up to an anorexia relapse. Why? Because that was the simplest explanation, and the history of anorexia apparently clouded every visit I’d ever had with her.

When I told her of my intestinal symptoms she brushed them off as psychosomatic; when I showed her the blood, she insisted it was menstrual (even though, as is typical of elite female athletes, I was amenorrheic).

One day, Dr. K decided she was going to admit me to the psych ward. I told her I’d go voluntarily on one condition: that she let me meet with a gastroenterologist while I was there.

She reluctantly agreed.

The GI doctor took one look at me, felt around my abdomen and ordered an immediate scope. Lo and behold, the colon was indeed bleeding, and there was some sort of abnormality – an ulcer? tumor? Chron’s? – in the ascending colon.

A biopsy was ordered but came back inconclusive (or so I was told by Dr. K) and the GI fellow left for a previously scheduled mission trip before I could speak with him again.

I was referred to the GI department in London, but Dr. K refused to send the GI report, so I was met, yet again, with skeptical eyes. The history of anorexia, and whatever had been written by Dr. K, told them all they needed, or rather, all they wanted to know.

I had a J-tube inserted to provide nourishment via machine, but when the weight still hadn’t returned, I was blamed for somehow sabotaging the effort. I soon developed a high fever, and a grotesque odour was emanating from the site of the tube. I had so little energy I couldn’t even make it to the car under my own power. I arrived at emerge in London where I was shuffled to a back room where I remained for hours, splayed out on a gurney, gasping for breath, as the doctor responsible for the tube’s insertion told me that he “will not remove a feeding tube from an anorexic; you are just trying to get out of eating.”

Having remained silent until that point, my mother demanded I be evaluated by someone who hadn’t seen my chart, who didn’t know of the eating disorder I’d battled, and let me stress once again, successfully overcome years ago. She got her wish, and the emerge physician quickly determined the J-tube was infected and I’d developed sepsis. The tube was immediately removed and I was put on a course of IV antibiotics and, after about a week in hospital, was sent home.

By now my family was quietly preparing for my death. My sisters had already written me off, as it was too painful to watch the daily deterioration of my health. As if the years watching their little sister fight through depression, anxiety and an eating disorder hadn’t already strained our relationship, witnessing this prolonged death march proved to be a breaking point. On more than one occasion one or the other would tell me she wished I’d just die already, because the situation, as it was, was tearing the family apart.

Throughout everything, I had never shied away from my mental and emotional struggles; our community was a small one and hiding any medical condition was simply not possible. So I embraced it, offered to talk about my experiences to help educate others, and always took full ownership of my illnesses. There was never shame or denial of the depression, anxiety, anorexia, or OCD. Perhaps it was because I was so young that people were understanding. I mean, who could blame a ten, eleven, twelve-year-old for such problems?

So it was that much more frustrating when, suddenly, I was being accused of lying; of being in denial of a problem I’d fully embraced and tackled in full view. I remember one of my final days in the gym being ignored by one of my coaches. He wouldn’t even look at me. When I approached him, he snapped “Come back and talk to me when you’ve gained five pounds!” and walked away.

That hurt so much. And was rich, considering the other girls all had daily weigh-ins to ensure their weight remained artificially low. To their credit, my coaches (up to that point) had been nothing but supportive. They were well aware of my eating disordered days and never discussed diet, body composition, or weight with me. Another girl in the gym was falling into bulimia at the same time my intestinal issues were too severe to mask, but when vomit was found around the toilet it was pinned on me. Even though I’d never been bulimic.

Anorexia and bulimia are two entirely different disorders.

Yet everyone, save for my dietician, my grandmother, and my mother, had decided I was causing this; that I had relapsed back into anorexia and for whatever reason refused to admit it this time around.

After two years of clinging to life, an opportunity for relocation presented itself; My mother was offered a move to Calgary, and she took it. Given the lack of medical help available to me in Ontario, I opted to move with her, knowing the alternative was nothing short of death.

I faced many of the same barriers when first seeking treatment in Calgary. I’d yet to find a family doctor, and the only medical information at hand was the inaccurate report from Dr. K. My mother implored me to enter into the Calgary eating disorders program. At the very least, she thought, I’d get access to a doctor who could then address what was really going on.

So I went.

I went for assessments, meetings, an orientation, etc., but I refused to play their games. I was told the only way they’d look into my intestinal issues is if I agreed to an intensive in-patient stay, complete with daily therapy for a problem I no longer had.

I wouldn’t do it.

The final meeting with the team at the eating disorders treatment centre included my mother, and I was offered the chance to ‘prove’ my non-anorexic status by eating a chocolate bar. I laughed at the Kit-Kat so smugly being passed my way, and told the lead therapist, in no uncertain terms, to go fuck herself.

That was a long drive home. My mother went to bed, disgusted with me, with the medical system, with the whole experience.

I spent the night sobbing, trying to decide the least painful way to end my life by morning.

It was shortly after that incident that I connected with the man who would take my case, who’d become my family doctor and advocate, and ultimately, who’d save my life.

Let’s call him Dr. J.

Dr. J was the first medical professional to take me at my word with regards to the past mental health issues being, indeed, in the past. Time would tell, he argued, whether or not I was being truthful.

He quickly realized, I was.

Dr. J made it his mission to solve the medical puzzle at hand. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, however, and there were a few more instances of being written off as “the anorexic in denial” without so much as a basic examination.

But thanks to his unwavering commitment to my case and a keen interest in a good medical mystery, Dr. J built a team of specialists and surgeons who dealt with me as if I’d never had a history of anorexia; who evaluated and treated me as they would any other patient who presented with these symptoms, but who didn’t have that scarlet letter stamped on their medical chart.

Due to the lack of proper diagnosis/treatment for such an extended time, the damage to the intestine was extensive. Recovery would not only be a long one, but it was unclear as to what extent recovery could occur.

I had a segment of my large intestine removed (only one segment because it wasn’t clear I’d be able to survive a more extensive surgery) and an intestinal prolapse repaired. What remained of the large intestine was left intact, but disconnected from the small intestine at the ileocecal valve.

For the first time since 2002, I was entirely free of pain.

I was 58 pounds at that point, and it was determined my small intestine had lost the ability to function. I devoured obscene amounts of food to no avail. I could – and did – eat anything and everything, but my gut simply could not digest or absorb nutrients.

An intensive intestinal rehabilitation program was proposed as a last-ditch effort to restore the small gut’s function before I’d be resigned to a life on TPN, and, in the end, it proved successful. 18 months of round-the-clock, high-volume, high-caloric intake, in addition to a steady stream of complete meal replacement drinks, allowed the lining of the small intestine to regenerate and the gut to regain function — though at a less-than-normal capacity.

Next step was tackling the endocrine deficiencies and dealing with the fallout from the period of chronic malnutrition.

My mother remortgaged the house and I took out a $30,000 medical loan, allowing for all medications required as well as one treatment not covered by medicare (long story).

So, after two years of fighting the stigma assigned to me based on a battle from childhood to find a doctor who’d look beyond, followed by proper investigations and diagnoses, two intestinal surgeries and six years of intestinal and endocrinological treatments, I find myself where I am today.

That, being the final stretch of the treatment plan, preparing for one final surgery and planning for life after the completion of treatment.

I can only imagine where I’d be right now had I received prompt medical attention; had the ulcerative colitis not been allowed to get to the point of severity it did. It’s somewhat comforting to know the medical professionals I’ve dealt are now using my case to teach new doctors how not to handle people with a history of mental illness.

It’s nice to think that, in the future, someone will be spared the barriers to treatment that nearly cost me my life.

At least, I hope they will.

Ezra Levant vs Reality – A Prelude To Fox News North

The battle between supporters and opponents of Sun TV News – the Fox News style channel headed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former communications director Kory Teneycke – reached new heights when members of the ‘Fox News North’ team took issue with a growing online petition urging the CRTC to reject Quebecor’s (QMI) request to “make it mandatory for cable and satellite networks to provide access to the channel ‘for a maximum period of three years to effectively expose and promote its programming to viewers across Canada’.”

In an article entitled Anti-Sun TV News campaign in U.S., Sun Media (QMI)’s Brian Lilley alleges the petition is the work of “a group of left-wing Americans supporting interests in Canada that don’t want to see competition in news broadcasting … backed by MoveOn.org a lobby group that has taken millions of dollars from currency speculator George Soros.”

What followed is known as the “saga of the Great Sun TV Petition,” in which Teneycke, fellow Sun Media (QMI) personality Ezra Levant, and Conservative blogger/activist and founder of the BloggingTories.ca Stephen Taylor, took to twitter to express their ‘outrage’, as ‘someone‘ spammed the petition with the names of journalists, actors, and fictional characters, and simultaneously penned an editorial about “why Canada needs Sun TV News.”

In their co-ordinated effort, Teneycke, Levant, and Taylor not only attacked Avaaz.org – a global online advocacy community whose co-founder and Executive Director, Ricken Patel, happens to be Canadian – as a foreign operation, but specifically, and repeatedly, refer to George Soros – a progressive philanthropist who is despised by Right Wing America.

By connecting Soros to the Avaaz petition, Lilley, Levant, Taylor, and Tenycke aim to stoke fear in their followers who, more often than not, are avid consumers of extreme Right Wing media such as Fox News, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Ann Coulter, Andrew Breitbart (BigGovernment.com), Pamela Gellar (AtlasShrugs.com), WorldNetDaily.com, and Judi McLeod (Canadafreepress.com).

Soros can be found at the centre of nearly every conspiracy concocted by the aforementioned, widely discredited media sources, who’ve alleged:

Soros is a Nazi Collaborator
Move over, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. There’s a new kid on the block: Soros
Obama-Soros Blueprint For US Surrender To Islam
Soros’ New World Order
Soros is Obama’s Secret Boss
The Oil Spill Was An Obama-Soros Act Of War Against The United States
Soros Is The Anti-Christ
Soros is The Biggest Enemy Of Freedom
Soros And Obama: Crime Inc.

As if on cue, Levant – who spent the summer of 1994 in Washington, D.C., in an internship arranged by the Right Wing Charles G. Koch Foundation Summer Fellow Program – used his Sunday Sun column to import the ‘Soros is scary’ propaganda from his conspiracy theorist counterparts in the U.S.

In his piece Moral hollowness at work, Levant claims Soros, a Hungarian Jew born in 1930, survived the holocaust by ‘collaborating with the Nazis.’

“First he worked for the Judenrat,” writes Levant. “That was the Jewish council set up by the Nazis to do their dirty work for them. Instead of the Nazis rounding up Jews every day for the trains, they delegated that murderous task to Jews who were willing to do it to survive another day at the expense of their neighbours.”

This oft repeated ‘nazi collaborator’ smear is taken from the pages of The Shadow Party: How George Soros, Hillary Clinton, and Sixties Radicals Seized Control of the Democratic Party, a thoroughly discredited book written by right-wing pundits David Horowitz and Richard Poe.

Levant’s fictitious claim that Soros “collaborated with the nazis” and “worked for the Judenrat,” is based wholly on unsourced allegations, originating in The Shadow Party, and echoed by Right Wing pundits.

Moving on, Levant writes:

“(Soros’ father) hatched a better plan for his son. He bribed a non-Jewish official at the agriculture ministry to let (Soros) live with him. (Soros) helped the official confiscate property from Jews.

By collaborating with the Nazis, (Soros) survived the Holocaust. He turned on other Jews to spare himself.

How does Soros feel about what he did as a teenager? Has it kept him up at night?

Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes asked him that. Was it difficult? ‘Not at all,’ Soros answered.

‘No feeling of guilt?’ asked Kroft. ‘No,’ said Soros. ‘There was no sense that I shouldn’t be there. If I wasn’t doing it, somebody else would be taking it away anyhow. Whether I was there or not. So I had no sense of guilt.’

A Nazi would steal the Jews’ property anyways. So why not him?”

The assertion that Soros confiscated property of other Jews – including the imaginary interview Levant creates by cropping and rearranging portions of the actual 60 Minutes Soros interview – was debunked years ago, when the 60 Minutes interview was first selectively edited by conservative columnist Martin Peretz.

As evidenced by the unedited portion of the interview, the conversation between Kroft and Soros bears little semblance to the version scribed by Levant:

Kroft: You’re a Hungarian Jew …

Soros:Mm-hmm.

Kroft: … who escaped the Holocaust …

Soros: Mm-hmm.

Kroft: … by posing as a Christian.

Soros: Right.

Kroft: And you watched lots of people get shipped off to the death camps.

Soros: Right. I was 14 years old. And I would say that that’s when my character was made.

Kroft: In what way?

Soros: That one should think ahead. One should understand that — and anticipate events and when, when one is threatened. It was a tremendous threat of evil. I mean, it was a — a very personal threat of evil.

KROFT: My understanding is that you went out with this protector of yours who swore that you were his adopted godson.

SOROS: Yes. Yes.

KROFT: Went out, in fact, and helped in the confiscation of property from the Jews.

SOROS: Yes. That’s right. Yes.

Kroft: I mean, that’s — that sounds like an experience that would send lots of people to the psychiatric couch for many, many years. Was it difficult?

Soros: Not, not at all. Not at all. Maybe as a child you don’t … you don’t see the connection. But it was — it created no — no problem at all.

Kroft: No feeling of guilt?

Soros: No.

Kroft: For example, that, ‘I’m Jewish, and here I am, watching these people go. I could just as easily be these, I should be there.’ None of that?

Soros: Well, of course, … I could be on the other side or I could be the one from whom the thing is being taken away. But there was no sense that I shouldn’t be there, because that was — well, actually, in a funny way, it’s just like in the markets — that is I weren’t there — of course, I wasn’t doing it, but somebody else would – would — would be taking it away anyhow. And it was the — whether I was there or not, I was only a spectator, the property was being taken away. So the — I had no role in taking away that property. So I had no sense of guilt.

As they say, context is everything.

Soros had ‘no feeling of guilt’ because the property was going to be taken whether he was standing by watching, pretending to be the Christian Godson of an employee of Hungary’s Ministry of Agriculture, or whether he was among the Jews apprehended by the Nazis.

He did not, himself, take any property, nor did he condone it. He was an adolescent who watched it happen; who was powerless in the face of certain death; who could have done nothing to stop what he witnessed.

The remainder of Levant’s article plays out in the same fashion; inaccurate claims, misattributed quotes, baseless allegations.

Borrowing again from the Right Wing blogosphere, Levant claims “(Soros) called the world’s financial crisis ‘the culmination of my life’s work’.”

Had Levant bothered to locate the original source of this claim, he’d have learned the entire article has since been pulled, and replaced with a statement acknowledging that Soros “in fact made no such comment.”

The article reaches an ultimate low, however, when Levant invokes Soros’ dead mother, stating “he is a man who boasted he offered to help his mother commit suicide. Apparently he didn’t see enough death in Hungary.”

This repulsive attack reveals far more about Levant than it does Soros; Especially given that, in full context, Soros in no way ‘boasts’ about offering to help his mother end her life.

In 1994 at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, Soros reflected on the experience of dying and bereavement in America while endorsing the Oregon Death With Dignity Act.

In his address, Soros explained how he “chose the problem of dying” as an area promote a better understanding “because of some very personal experiences in connection with the death of my parents, both of whom I was very devoted to and loved dearly.”

“My father died at home in 1963. He was terminally ill. Although he agreed to an operation, he didn’t particularly want to survive it because he was afraid that the combination of the illness and the operation would invade and destroy his autonomy as a human being. Unfortunately, that in fact is what happened. After the operation he had very little time left. I’m afraid I kind of wrote him off at that point. I was there when he died, yet I let him die alone. I could see him, but I wasn’t at his bedside. The day after he died I went into the office. I didn’t talk about my fathers death. So I kind of denied his dying, I certainly didn’t participate in it. Afterwards, I read Kubler-Ross and learned that I might have maintained contact with him if I tried. Had I read Kubler-Ross earlier I would have probably held his hand, because I did love him. I just didn’t know that it might make a difference. I forgave myself because I did not know any better

My mothers death was more recent. She had joined the Hemlock Society and had at hand a means of doing away with herself. I asked her if she needed my help; I offered it, although I wasn’t particularly keen to do it. But I would have helped her because I felt that I owed it to her. At the point of decision, however, she did not want to take her own life, and I’m glad she didn’t. Her decision gave the family a chance to rally around and be there as she prepared to die. And this time we did maintain good contact right to the end.”

Hooray for context.

Before ending this piece of fiction disguised as an article, Levant labels Soros as a “sociopath” who “has turned his attention to Canada” using “one of his front groups, called Avaaz” to petition the CRTC to reject “Sun Media’s license for a TV news channel.”

“The petition is a fraud!” Levant rages. “And the whole campaign is run out of New York.”

Cue the scary music for Levant’s grand finale:

“Do you think Soros should determine what you can watch on TV? Do you think that decision should be made in New York? Is our freedom of speech just another trinket for him to buy and sell? Hasn’t Soros silenced enough voices in his life?”

Really, Ezra?  “Hasn’t Soros silenced enough voices in his life?”

Classy.

As stated earlier, Avaaz is a global operation. Launched in 2007 with the intent to “organize citizens everywhere to help close the gap between the world we have and the world most people want,” Avaaz “has grown to 5.5 million members from every country on earth, becoming the largest global web movement in history.”

Being a global operation, Canadians are able to launch petitions for Canadian interests; Decisions “made in New York?” Not at all.

So where exactly does Soros factor into this debate?

He doesn’t.

Despite the repeated assertions of the contrary, Avaaz is not a “front group” for Soros, and by all accounts (excluding the unproven claims saturating conservative websites), Soros is, in no way, involved with this organization.

But why let facts get in the way of a good story, eh Levant?

After all, it helps draw attention away from reports of last year’s New York lunch date between Prime Minister Harper, Teneycke (driving force behind Sun TV News, who was still Harper’s director of communications at the time), News Corp. (parent company of Fox News) chairman Rupert Murdoch, and Fox News president Roger Ailes.

Though they’re (now) claiming not to be a Canadian version of Fox News, the ‘journalism‘ exhibited future Sun TV News host Ezra Levant provides a clear example of what Canadians can expect from Teneycke’s tabloid news organization, post ideological purge.

Fair and Balanced.” “We Report, You Decide.” “Hard NewsStraight Talk.”

They distort, you comply.

The CRTC wants to hear from the public regarding Sun TV News’ application. Make your voice heard in a single click!

You can also weigh in by signing the Avaaz.org petition.

Cross-posted at rabble.ca

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Two updates:

First, Kory Teneycke has resigned from Sun Media (QMI) as an RCMP investigation into the spamming of the Avaaz.org petition edges closer to him. (Replacing Teneycke is former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s spokesman, Luc Lavoie — so it’s one Tory insider for another.

*Note – as of January 2011, Teneycke is officially back in the saddle at Sun Media (QMI) *

Second, George Soros is threatening to sue Sun Media (QMI) – which includes Levant.

HERE is a snippet of Levant’s twitter attacks on Soros, and HERE is a snippet of Levant’s attacks on me following the publication of this article.

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Update – Saturday September 18, 1:00 am

Sun Media (QMI) and Levant issue a retraction and apology for Levant’s column:

On September 5, 2010, a column by Ezra Levant contained false statements about George Soros and his conduct as a young teenager in Nazi-occupied Hungary.

Upon receiving a letter of complaint from Mr. Soros’s legal counsel on September 13, 2010, Sun Media Corporation always intended to publish a retraction and apology for this column. Despite constant efforts on both sides, Sun Media and Mr. Soros’s counsel were unable to reach agreement on the content of a retraction.

The management of Sun Media wishes to state that there is no basis for the statements in the column and they should not have been made.

Sun Media, this newspaper and Ezra Levant retract the statements made in the column and unreservedly apologize to Mr. Soros for the distress and harm this column may have caused to him.

Canadian Immigration, Conservative Xenophobia

In the United States, debate surrounding Arizona’s new harsh immigration policy – the ‘papers please‘ law – moved from arguing the merits, necessity and constitutionality of SB1070, to a nonsensical discussion about the 14th amendment; the part of the constitution which guarantees American citizenship to all persons born in the United States. Republican lawmakers, seemingly unsatisfied with even the most draconian elements of the ‘papers please’ law, felt it necessary to take immigration reform to the extreme, calling for a repeal of the 14th amendment.

Explanations given to justify the radical proposal have ranged from the farcical (‘anchor babies‘), to the downright hysterical (‘terror babies‘). Less conspiratorial, but equally inaccurate, is the mysterious ‘crime wave‘ Republicans argue demonstrates the need for immigration policy overkill. This argument was recently discussed, and debunked, on the Rachel Maddow Show:

MADDOW: You might have also heard the one about Phoenix, Arizona, now being the number two kidnapping capital of the world.That‘s become a mainstream conservative talking point trotted out over and over again by Republicans. But when PolitiFact, Texas checked out that claimed when it was made by the lieutenant governor of Texas in June, they found it to be, and I quote, ‘false.’ Nevertheless, Republican Senator John McCain repeated it a few weeks later on Meet the Press.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Why is it that Phoenix, Arizona, is the number two kidnapping capital of the world? Does that mean our border is safe? Of course not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Same claim, same results-and I quote, ‘false,’ according to PolitiFact. Despite that, Republican Senator Jon Kyl, undaunted, is still going for it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: Phoenix is a very large source of kidnapping. It‘s called the kidnapping capital of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: It‘s like it‘s too good of a talking point to stop using it even though it‘s not true. Jon Kyl also distinguished himself by going to great detail about how awful illegal immigration has made crime in his home state of Arizona-a state you would think he would take care to know some factual things about.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRY SMITH, CBS NEWS: In some of these border towns that were thought to be susceptible to lawbreaking of illegal immigrants, the crime is actually down. Crime in Phoenix, for instance, is down significantly over the last couple of years.

KYL: Well, that‘s a-that‘s a gross generalization. Property crimes are up. Certain property crimes on certain parts of the citizenry are up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Property crimes are up, violent crimes are up-define up, Senator Kyl. Let‘s take property crimes first. There were about 231,000 property crimes in the state of Arizona last year, in 2009. That was down from the year before, which had about 262,000 property crimes-a number that was down from the year before that, which was down from the year before that. Property crimes there, down in Arizona right now.
Senator Kyl also mentioned violent crimes being up. Let‘s have a look at what he thinks about up in this context. In 2009, there were 26,000 violent crime offenses in Arizona, a number down from the year before, which was also down from the year before that, which happened to be down from the year before that.
So, down, down, down, down, down-also known in anti-immigrant white people politics as up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: The United States of America has an unsecured border between Arizona and Mexico which has led to violence, the worst I have ever seen, and numbers that stagger those who are unfamiliar with the issues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Yes, they are staggering numbers-for the exact opposite reason of what you mean.Whether or not you want to run on an anti-immigrant platform is up to you. It‘s a political decision. Everyone gets to choose their own political strategy. But as they say, you do not get to choose your own facts.

The common thread linking the various Republican arguments for repealing the 14th amendment is fear – fear of non-white citizens; fear of men, women, and even children, who ‘don’t look like you.‘ To justify their deeply held anti-immigration ideology, Republicans are presenting misinformation as fact, disseminating fear as a means to a legislative end.

Canada, for the most part, has been immune to such radical immigration demagoguery, as we are a nation built on immigration; from the Europeans who first explored in the 15th century, to the estimated 1.5 million displaced persons, war brides, evacuated children, and refugees who passed through Pier 21 – the gateway to Canada – between the years of 1928 and 1971.

Canada’s history of immigration is so cherished, the stories of migrants so important, that on June 25, 2009, Prime Minister Stephen Harper designated Pier 21 as a National Museum of Immigration.

“No country in the world has benefited more than Canada from free and open immigration,” Harper declared. “In every region and across all professions, new Canadians make major contributions to our culture, economy and way of life. It takes a special kind of person to uproot and move to a new country to ensure a better future for your family. Anybody who makes the decision to live, work and build a life in our country represents the very best of what it means to be Canadian.”

What a difference a year makes.

The harrowing voyage of the MV Sun Sea, in which 492 Tamil refugees endured months of squalor in dangerous waters to escape “mass murders, disappearances and extortion” following 25 years of brutal civil war in Sri Lanka, mirrors the experience of so many migrants who passed through Pier 21.

However, unlike Pier 21, there were no counsellors waiting to hear the Sri Lankan’s stories; no team of volunteers eager to swiftly process and fairly evaluate the prospective new residents. Instead, the men, women and children aboard the MV Sun Sea arrived to allegations, leveled by the Harper government, of ties to terrorism and human trafficking; accused by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews of being a “test boat” for an apparent mass immigration conspiracy.

As for the Prime Minister, compare the above remarks made at Pier 21 just fourteen months ago, to this statement he gave following the arrival of the MV Sun Sea:

“Canadians are pretty concerned when a whole boat of people comes – not through any normal application process, not through any normal arrival channel – and just simply lands.

We are responsible for the security of our borders, and the ability to welcome people, or not welcome people, when they come. This trend gives us some significant concern, and we’ll take whatever steps are necessary going forward … We will not hesitate to strengthen the laws if we have to.”

So Harper, who one year ago asserted “it takes a special kind of person to uproot and move to a new country to ensure a better future for your family,” no longer feels those “who make the decision to live, work and build a life in our country represents the very best of what it means to be Canadian.”

Instead, he seems to have adopted the Republican ‘immigrants are scary’ mantra; using the MV Sun Sea as a political prop in an effort to appear ‘tough on immigration.’ Furthermore, like his ideological equals to the South, Harper has proposed changing existing legislation to suit his ideology; specifically the 1985 Supreme Court Ruling which guarantees constitutional charter rights to refugee claimants in Canada.

The Conservatives’ anti-immigration demagoguery has been amplified by Sun Media (QMI), the organization known as Fox News North, now headed by Harper’s former director of communications Kory Teneycke. Sun Media (QMI) has fervently tried to vilify, discredit, and slander the Sri Lankan migrants, even going so far as to incite violence against future refugees.

The xenophobia propagated by both the Harper government and their colleagues in the press is disgraceful to who we are as a nation. It is an insult to our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents who went to great lengths to journey here; who are among the proudest residents to call Canada home.

To discredit those who seek refuge within Canadian borders, fleeing circumstances such as war, poverty, oppression, and corruption, before they have a chance to present their case, does a great disservice to the generations of migrant Canadians on which the Country was built.

Those who’ve attacked the migrants aboard the MV Sun Sea would be wise to listen to the stories of past immigrants, for “too many people in Canada forget that people crawl across minefields to get here.” ~ Ignat Kaneff, Bulgarian born Great Canadian.

Cross-posted at rabble.ca

This is the ‘General cc Ballou’, the ship that carried my Polish grandparents to Pier 21 from a camp in Germany following the Second World War.

 

 

I encourage you to read the personal accounts of those who came to Canada through Pier 21 HERE. It’s a proud part of our history.