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 …


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?”


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Lies, Damned Lies, And The Census

“(The Unites States), and particularly your conservative movement, is a light and an inspiration to people in this country and across the world.” – Stephen Harper, 1997

In an astonishing display of incompetence, and a complete disregard for the facts, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is forging ahead with plans to scrap the mandatory long form census. The move, cited as “government stupidity” by the former directer of the United States Census Bureau, has drawn the ire of academics, statisticians, economists, genealogists, medical associations, provincial and municipal governments, religious organizations, and charitable groups, just to name a few. It has also prompted criticism from former head of Statistics Canada Ivan Fellegi, and resulted in the very public resignation of Harper’s chief statistician, Munir Sheikh. In a letter posted to the Statistics Canada website, Sheikh wrote in part:

“I have always honoured my oath and responsibilities as a public servant as well as those specific to the Statistics Act. I want to take this opportunity to comment on a technical statistical issue which has become the subject of media discussion. This relates to the question of whether a voluntary survey can become a substitute for a mandatory census.

It cannot.

Under the circumstances, I have tendered my resignation to the Prime Minister.”

(Sheikh’s letter was quickly removed by the government. Anticipating this act of cowardice by Harper, I captured a screen shot for documentation.)

Sheikh’s revelation flies in the face of assurances given by Industry Minister Tony Clement, who claimed he’d “asked [Statistics Canada] specifically, ‘Are you confident you can do your job?’ They said ‘If you do these extra things: the extra advertising and the extra sample size, then yes, we can do our job.’ ”

Clement’s false assertion that he had the support of Statistics Canada is one of the many flawed arguments put forward by the Harper government in efforts to garner support for the unpopular, and purely ideological, policy decision.

The primary justification given for scrapping the long form census were based on Conservative allegations of ‘outrage’ by ‘ordinary citizens “who felt [the long form census] was an intrusion of their privacy.” Taking this explanation one step further, Conservative MP Maxime Bernier insisted he personally “received an average of 1,000 e-mails a day during the [2006] census to my MP office complaining about all that, so I know that Canadians who were obliged to answer that long-form census – very intrusive in their personal lives – I know they were upset.”

So, were Canadians really up in arms over the census in the past? Not according to the Canada’s privacy watchdog, whose office received a grand total of THREE complaints regarding the census over the course of the last decade. Furthermore, a comprehensive study undertaken by Statistics Canada following the 2006 census fails to substantiate the government’s claim of widespread privacy concerns from citizens. The 53 page StatsCan report, which garnered over 1,200 responses from “government agencies, municipalities, non-profits, community groups, academics, private businesses and ordinary citizens,” makes no mention of Canadians finding the census intrusive or overly burdensome.

As for the “thousands of e-mail [complaints] a day” Bernier claimed he’d received during the 2006 census period, he alleges “these messages were obviously not filed for future use by my staff and were deleted.”

Of course they were.

Regarding the reliability and accuracy of information gathered through a voluntary questionnaire, one only has to look to our neighbours to the south, who in 2003 experimented with a voluntary survey in place of a mandatory census. What resulted was an expensive mess of skewed and degraded data, prompting an about face on the very idea of a voluntary form.

Even so, despite having already proven to be a costly blunder, Industry Minister Clement took to twitter to refute criticism from experts who’ve warned that a voluntary survey would result in key segments of the population being underrepresented. Clement’s argument? “Wrong. Statisticians can ensure validity w larger sample size.”

The scope of ignorance displayed by that single tweet was summed up with devastating beauty by Andrew Potter of Maclean’s:

“Clement’s statistical illiteracy is so profound it gives one vertigo. The notion that simply making the sample bigger can’t fix a skewed sample is something undergraduates learn in first-year classes, yet is somehow beyond the mental grasp of a senior minister of a G8 country. And the comedic benefit of watching Clement fail first-year economics is undermined by the cold realization that he fundamentally does not understand the intellectual foundations of the files that he controls. When he is cornered by his intellectual betters, moreover, Clement’s instinct is to reach for the debating-hall comforts of cheap populism.”

Thus is the crux of the matter: The ill-advised move on the census is based not on tangible arguments nor on substantiated data, but on a shrewd political calculation made to play to the Conservative’s ideological base. Notice the champions of doing away with the long form census are Right Wing ideologues who read from a single script of talking points; Who share in a fundamental lack of understanding surrounding the importance of the long form census, and who exhibit a callous disregard for the people who’d be impacted the most.

Even Tom Flanagan, influential conservative and former chief of staff to Harper, fails to see the justification behind the move, noting “it’s just never been an issue in the Conservative movement. It just literally comes out of nowhere as far as I can see.” Flanagan is also critical of the underhanded manner by which the Conservatives made the change, believing “it was an exercise in bad government to suddenly spring this on the public without any previous discussion, no consultation at all. You don’t deal with the public that way in a democracy.”

Unfortunately, as recent events have demonstrated, the Harper government isn’t particularly concerned about a functioning democracy. They remain oblivious to the havoc created as a result of ill-conceived policy decisions, and at this moment, remain unfazed as a world class Canadian institution devolves into chaos. Regarded as the international gold standard, the legacy of Statistics Canada at risk of being permanently tarnished through no fault of its own; Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale, echoing the sentiment from within Statistics Canada, telling reporters that “[Statistics Canada’s] reputation is hanging by a thread at the hands of a bungling minister and a Conservative government that simply doesn’t believe in fact-based decision making.”

Indeed, ignoring evidence while crafting policy has become a recurring theme for this government; One who’d rather build talking points to support their desired legislation, than build legislation based on indisputable, real world, information.

Our current legislators would be wise to heed the advice of André Pratte of La Presse:

“Before this government does even more harm to the institution that is the government of Canada, the intelligent people within the federal cabinet have a duty to rise up and stop the pillaging. Otherwise, the Harper government may be remembered as one of the most incompetent and harmful governments this country has ever known.”

Further reading: A breakdown of how the long form census information is used, and a breakdown of the consequences of ending the mandatory long form census.

Cross-posted at rabble.ca

Who’s Influencing Policy Decisions In Stephen Harper’s Government?

In the wake Marci McDonald’s newly released book The Armageddon Factor: The Rise Of Christian Nationalism In Canada, a political firestorm has erupted on Parliament Hill, igniting debate about just who’s influencing the policy decisions made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The release of McDonald’s book comes amid the brewing tension of apparent ideological moves made by the Harper government, including the ‘Mexico City Policy’ for the upcoming G8 maternal and child health initiative, the rescinding of funds of women’s organizations who promote a full range of family planning options, and the denial of federal tourism funds for Pride Toronto.

With public focus being drawn to the back rooms of the PMO, the Harper governmentlashed out following a CBC segment featuring an interview with McDonald and a glimpse at some of the people discussed in the book. The Conservatives accused the public broadcaster of “fomenting religious division” and waging a “faith war” in an “ongoing campaign against the Conservative Party.” (Take note, this is just the latest in a string of baseless allegations made by the Conservative Party and Right Wing pundits against the CBC.)

The desperation exhibited by Conservative strategists in a fervent attempt to discredit McDonald, gives proof to explosive information contained between the covers of The Armageddon Factor; connections the Harper government would rather Canadians not be aware of. Try as they might to downplay the influence of Right Wing religious figures on policy decisions made by Harper, Conservatives cannot deny the presence of one prominent Christian activist and senior advisor in the PMO, who recently moved from his position as director of policy to become Harper’s new deputy chief of staff.

The prominent Christian activist is none other than Darrel Reid, former president of Focus On The Family Canada; Canada’s own James Dobson.

Reid served as Director of Policy and Research for the Reform Party of Canada, and in 1996 became chief of staff to then leader of the Reform Party, Preston Manning. In 1997 Reid won the Reform nomination for the Ottawa riding of Lanark-Carleton, but was ultimately defeated by the Liberal Party’s Ian Murray. The following year Reid became president of Focus On The Family Canada, an evangelical Christian organization which views homosexuality as a ‘curable condition,’ seeks to repeal gay rights legislation, equates the pro-choice movement to ‘systemic genocide,’ and believes ‘activist judges’ on the Supreme Court of Canada are a threat to democracy.

As president of Focus On The Family Canada, Reid described his role as mobilizing Christians in Canada to infuse their religion with their political beliefs, stating in a 2002 op-ed “it would be great to see social conservatives from all our parties and traditions begin to reinsert their most deeply-held convictions into our nation’s political discourse.” Reid later asserted that “every Christian is under an obligation to change law to reflect biblical values.”

Reid’s organization lobbied hard against same sex marriage legislation, later arguing Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides for use of a ‘notwithstanding clause’ to overturn the right for gays to marry. He argued against the inclusion of sexual orientation to the list of minorities protected against hate crimes, and promoted ‘conversion therapy’ for those ‘afflicted’ by homosexuality. Conversion therapy, referred to by many as ‘Pray Away The Gay,’ stems from the belief that homosexuality is a choice and an inherent weakness. By praying for forgiveness and seeking divine guidance ,God will ultimately ‘relieve’ the ‘sufferer’ of their homosexual urges. It goes without saying that what Reid and Focus On The Family refer to as a ‘cure’ for homosexuality, is better known as living in denial.

During his time At Focus On The Family Canada, Reid worked closely with Dobson’s American organization, and between 2000 – 2003 Focus On The Family Canada received$1.6 Million from its U.S. counterpart to assist in the fight against same sex marriage legislation. Dobson’s influence through Focus on The Family Canada continues to this day, most recently through a misleading publication appearing in Today’s Family News – a publication of Focus On The Family Canada. The article, entitled Pediatricians Reject Teens Same Sex Attraction As ‘Normal’, states

“The American College of Pediatricians is cautioning ‘well-intentioned but misinformed’ high school teachers and staff across the US against being too quick to affirm students who say they are attracted to people of the same sex. ‘Adolescents experience confusion about many things, including sexual orientation and gender identity, and they are particularly vulnerable to environmental influences,’ the Florida-based ACP wrote in a letter to every school superintendent in the country. ‘Rigorous studies demonstrate that most adolescents who initially experience same-sex attraction, or are sexually confused, no longer experience such attractions by age 25.’ Such ‘premature labelling,’ the doctors warn, could encourage some teens to engage in harmful behaviours ‘that they otherwise would not pursue.’ And while schools have a ‘legitimate role to provide a safe environment for respectful self-expression for all students,’ it is not for them to ‘affirm’ a student’s perceived same-sex attraction.”

The letter referenced by Today’s Family News, and sent by The American College of Pediatricians (ACP) to the 14,800 American high school superintendents, reads in part:

“In dealing with adolescents experiencing same sex attraction, it’s essential to understand there is no scientific evidence that an individual is born ‘gay’ or ‘transgender’ … it is also critical to understand that these conditions can respond well to therapy.”

The problem? The American College Of Pediatrics (ACP), though it sounds like an official organization, is actually an American Right Wing ‘cure the gays’ group. The the REAL medical association is the American Academy Of Pediatricians (AAP), who clearly state:

“You Are Normal. Homosexuality is not a mental disorder. All of the major medical organizations, including The American Psychiatric Association, The American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics agree that homosexuality is not an illness or disorder, but a form of sexual expression. No one knows what causes a person to be gay, bisexual, or straight. There probably are a number of factors. Some may be biological. Others may be psychological. The reasons can vary from one person to another. The fact is, you do not choose to be gay, bisexual, or straight.”

In a 2001 interview with Dobson’s Focus On The Family Magazine, which noted ‘Focus Canada was active in the debate over a recent parliamentary bill, introduced by the government, that sought to rewrite 68 federal laws to give same-sex couples virtually all the same rights as heterosexual couples,’ Reid said he “called on Canadians to challenge the proposed law, demanding Parliament respect the distinct heterosexual nature of marriage, the benefits it brings and its biblical worldview.” He added that “Dr. Dobson … fears the United States could follow Canada’s lead in social radicalism. The rest of Canada, it appears, could be following Quebec’s lead. When it comes to marriage, sexual mores and abortion, that’s not reassuring.”

Commenting on the Canadian Charter Of Rights And Freedoms, Reid told the magazine that “since the Charter came in, we’ve seen a huge shift in influence from our legislatures and elected representatives to the courts … this represents a worryingly anti-democratic trend, especially when it comes to marriage, family and sanctity of life issues in Canada.”

Regarding the United Nations and Canada’s contributions, Reid asserted “left-wing activists have been using the United Nations for nearly 20 years to impose their kind of anti-life, anti-family agenda … Among the leading agitators in that process are Canadians. The problem is that we send delegates to the U.N. who represent small interest groups.”

Reid is mentioned in a number of American Conservative religious publications, including a2009 newsletter from The World Congress Of Families – a worldwide coalition of Right Wing religious groups – listing the “Top Ten Best And Worst Developments Impacting on the Family in 2008.”

Among the ‘Best’ developments:

Sarah Palin
“Pro-Life Woman Is Vice-Presidential Nominee – For only the second time in U.S. history, a woman was the vice-presidential nominee of a major party. For the first time, that woman was staunchly pro-life and pro-family. The mother of five children, including one with Down Syndrome, Sarah Palin exemplifies family values. She drew larger and more enthusiastic crowds than the head of the ticket.”

Rescinding gay rights in California
“Despite massive opposition by the governor, legislature, courts and media, in November, voters in the largest state in the U.S. passed an amendment to the California constitution limiting marriage to ‘a man and a woman’.”

Reid’s appointment to the PMO
“Family Advocate Becomes Senior Advisor To Canadian Prime Minister – In July, Darrell Reid became director of policy for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Reid, who served as president of Focus On The Family, Canada (1998 to 2004), told World Congress of Families II (Geneva, 1999) ‘It is nothing less than a bald-faced lie to say it harms no one to bestow the privileges bestowed on legally married couples to other relationships’.”

Among the worst developments:

President Barack Obama
“The Election of Barack Obama – Along with Secretary of State Designate Hillary Clinton, expect a sea-change in U.S. policy regarding the family, both at home and internationally. The U.S. delegation to the United Nations, which has been resolutely pro- life and pro-family under Bush, is expected to turn 180 degrees under Obama and Clinton (both dogmatically pro-abortion and anti-traditional marriage). Obama’s judicial appointments are expected to mirror his anti-family mentality.”

Access to safe abortion
“UNFPA Nigeria Meeting Pushes Abortion In the Guise of Women’s Health – At a meeting in Sokoto, Nigeria (July 16-27) for 270 of the continent’s tribal and religious leaders, the United Nations Population Fund sought to enlist African leaders in its drive for universal abortion on demand. Under the deceptive slogan “No One Should Die Giving Life,” UNFPA equated pregnancy with a disease – in an effort to co-opt medical science for a political cause and foreclose a debate on the moral dimensions of abortion.”

Governor General Michaelle Jean
“Queen’s Representative In Canada Celebrates Androgyny – Canada’s Governor General Michaelle Jean has hung a 20-ft. mural in Rideau Hall (where Canada’s prime minister and cabinet members are sworn in) celebrating androgyny — the condition of having both male and female organs or characteristics. The mural supposedly represents the Okanagan tribe. According to the Governor General’s website, “In many native tribes, the order of life learning is that you are born without sex as a child; through learning, you move toward full capacity as either a male or female.” The Canadian gay lobbying group Eagle has pledged to fight “the discriminatory practice of labeling children male or female at birth.” Jean isn’t just another gender deconstructionist, but a gender deconstructionist who is the British monarch’s representative in Canada, as well as head of state and commander of the armed forces.”

As noted above by The World Congress Of Families, Reid was a keynote speaker at their 1999 convention in Geneva, Switzerland. In his lengthy address, Reid advocates to:

“Define Marriage in Legislation … A Definition of Marriage Act would signal that marriage is a foundational aspect of our society and should not be easily redefined. Such legislation has already been introduced throughout the U.S. and we at Focus on the Family Canada are calling for similar legislation to be introduced in our country … The key aspects of Definition of Marriage Act are:
Marriage is clearly defined as a relationship between one man and one woman.
Spouse is clearly defined as either a man or woman who are married to each other.
Marriage is established as a unique legal relationship deserving of special status before the law.”

“Promote Abstinence Education: Governments need abandon safe sex education and begin promoting abstinence education. Decades of sex education programs have done nothing to lower teen pregnancies … abstinence education works whereas “safer-sex” programs do not … Abstinence education leads to fewer teen pregnancies, fewer abortions and fewer children in single parent homes.”

“Reform Welfare and Other Social Programs: Social programs should not take the place of a spouse nor should they encourage irresponsible parenting. Yet this is exactly what many of our current welfare programs do. Single moms are rewarded not for getting married, but rather for having another child. Not only has welfare become more lucrative than getting a low-paying job, it is also more lucrative than marrying someone with a low paying job. These disincentives to marriage are one of the biggest contributors to the problem of fatherless families. Society should not encourage single parenting and more importantly it should not help fathers abandon their responsibilities to their children. Fortunately, many states in the U.S as well as provinces in Canada have begun to lower benefits to make working and marrying someone who works more attractive. Some jurisdictions are limiting the benefits available to those who have another child well on welfare.”

In my quest to unearth documents written by Reid during his time at Focus On The Family Canada, I obtained two audio recordings of a November 2003 Focus On The Family seminar held in Singapore, in which “Dr. Darrel Reid, a Political Historian and President of Focus on the Family Canada” presented “Deconstructing Marriage and Family: Canada’s Present, Singapore’s Future? —- Homosexuality: Myths & Truths.”

‘Dr. Darrel Reid’ began, ironically, by telling the audience “I’m not a doctor, my specialty has been in the area of public policy.” Among other things, Reid claims “the (Canadian) court redefined federal and provincial marriage laws by itself; It said those laws are discriminatory and ordered the governments to change, to comply with that ruling … that has caused a certain amount of upset in Canada … because the majority of Canadians believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman … but the federal government began a propaganda campaign to sell (same sex marriage rights) to the public.”

He rambled at length about the evils of “no fault divorce”, “co-habitation/living in sin” (common law marriage), spanking laws, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, before returning to the issue of same sex marriage; specifically how ‘the gays’ managed to achieve equal rights in Canada.

“In the gay lifestyle, sexual identity is paramount. According to the homosexual arguments in Canada, gays are an oppressed minority … it’s very key to become an oppressed minority, because nobody wants to see that … The media has been very, very active in promoting and bringing these stories forward. The line is that ‘we’re just folks, we’re just like you but our lifestyle may be a little bit different’ … and that plays very well in the media; it does have an impact on our legislators and on our judges. Then (they) seek and receive special protection by governments.”

“… In canada we have federal human rights commission and provincial ones … these are not courts but they speak with the authority very much, or often times courts back them up. We have human rights tribunals in provinces which often champion and emphasize gay rights causes using words like ‘oppression’ and ‘discrimination’. The cases are inevitably highly publicized … on these issues we often refer to (the Human Rights Commission) as a kangaroo court.”

“If you’re concerned about your religious freedom … you need to know your rights will come secondary to same sex groups.”

By far the most incendiary remarks came when Reid spoke about the ‘myths & truths of homosexuality.’

“I am sorry to say tonight I will not be speaking about myths and truths,” Reid begins. “I will just be talking about truths, and that is what has happened in the Canadian experience … we as a culture have been taken over by an activist court; by radical lobby groups, that have changed the country beyond the wildest imagination … in a way I’m ashamed and sorry to be standing before you as a Canadian and telling you this, but my reason for doing so …is that perhaps our present will never be your future.”

“Marriage is no longer determined by how we’ve been created by God. You read in Genesis : 2, you read in Matthew : 16; It’s not good for man to be alone. We are created for community. We are created for that marriage bond. It is encoded in out genetic structure. In (Canada), that’s not what the courts say.”

“Same sex marriage is better understood as a co-habitational relationship. There hasn’t been much research on this. The only research that’s been published on this is a study that was done in the Netherlands on same sex marriage … what they found is that gay marriage was very different than heterosexual marriage. You see, the average same sex marriage in the Netherlands lasted 18 months and had an average of 8 different sexual partners involved in that relationship. So whatever you want to call it, don’t call it marriage because it’s not and it never will be. In every way it is inferior and socially disruptive.”

“In Canada today, children to not have the right to have a mother and a father.”

“What we’ve seen in Canada is that the gender distinction has been erased. The gay groups in Canada really believe there’s really functionally, ultimately, no difference between men and women; it’s just a matter of plumbing.”

“What about education? … What we’ve seen in Canada is that (homosexuality) is beginning to be promoted at the earliest education levels. That means kindergarten which is age five, grade one which is age six. Already same sex groups are being brought into the classroom to talk about how normal it is.”

“There’s a very narrow definition of religious rights (in Canada) … our legal people, our media, our academic elite don’t care what you believe (against same sex rights), they just don’t want you to talk about it to anybody or act upon it. Now I’m a historian … the best parallel that I can think of historically is in Germany in the 1930s, as the rise of the Nazi party and Adolf Hitler came to power. You see, Adolf Hitler and his friends didn’t care what you believed, you only became dangerous when you talked to somebody else about it, or you acted on it. I believe the same rational is taking place (in Canada.)”

“On freedom of expression, there’s been a chill on democratic discourse in our country, that is the strength of our democracy is that we can say what we believe … There’s a move afoot in Canada to clamp down on that. There’s a bill in our House of Commons that’s well on it’s way to being passed that would criminalize statements of hatred toward homosexuals. Now what do we mean by statements of hatred? That’s the problem, because nobody knows what that means. We do know that a judge one of our provinces has taken passages from the Bible … and has already ruled that those passages of scripture constitute hatred … we’re coming close to losing our religious liberties and religious freedoms in Canada.”

You may have noticed that Reid has an issue with so called ‘activist’ judges, whom he blames for Canadian gay rights legislation; This common cause of the religious right continues, most recently by president of Canada Christian College, Charles McVety.

Earlier this month, as noted by Macleans, McVety took to Parliament Hill, “on behalf of an alliance of evangelical Christian and family-values groups,” calling for Harper to ” ‘restore democracy’ by filling any vacancies that might open up on the country’s top court with judges who won’t insist on writing their own laws.”

May 5 press release from the Institute For Canadian Values coincided with McVety’s march on Parliament Hill. It reads:

“The President of Canada Christian College, Dr. Charles McVety says ‘This is the most important issue of our time. Out-of-control lawmaking judges have legalized two types of child pornography, reduced the age of consent for anal sex to 14 and redefined marriage.’ As part of a campaign to inform Canadians the importance of Supreme Court appointments, we have produced the full feature documentary film ‘Besieged, Democracy Under Attack.’ Viewers can watch Canada’s Chief Justice articulate the current judicial lawmaking philosophy and judge for themselves.”

Indeed, you can watch the trailer (and buy the DVD!) at www.besieged.tv. The short video features dramatic music, ‘1984’ visuals, and the requisite ‘shocking’ information:

“Democracy is under attack … Judges have made themselves lawmakers, usurping Parliament … Canadian activist judges have legalized fictitious child pornography, reduced the age of consent for anal sex to 14, legalized sex clubs for orgies, and redefined marriage and family … Get your copy while you still can. Warning! This film contains information the government does not want you to hear.”

Though I found the ‘Besieged’ video comical, it’s important to remember that Reid, who now works directly with Harper, is part of a group of Christian activists who hold beliefs such as this. During his tenure at Focus On The family Canada, Reid worked hand in hand with McVety an other extremist religious figures, and is now considered an ‘inside man’ by the various religious Conservative organizations.

One only has to look at decisions made by the Harper government over the last 12 months to see the effects the Right Wing religious organizations are having on Canadian policy:

-Defunding KAIROS
-Defunding Rights & Democracy
-Defunding multiple women’s NGOs
-Rescinding funds for Gay Pride events
-Implementing a ‘Mexico City Policy’ for the G8 maternal health initiative
-Initiating a ‘Don’t ask, Don’t tell’ policy for Abortion rights in Canada

While religion remains an integral part in the lives of many Canadians, it has no business in the halls of Parliament, and certainly does not belong in the process of crafting government legislation. The separation of Church and State serves an important purpose; the beliefs and desires of a given religion are not necessarily beneficial to society as a whole. Any religion or belief system that seeks to ostracize or blacklist a group of individuals for not adhering to a given set of rules, works against the message of the ‘loving God’ they purport to represent. If God has an issue with homosexuality or access to safe abortion, the use of contraception, or a whole host of other social issues, ultimately it’s between each individual and God. It’s troublesome enough to have religious figures spreading misinformation about lifestyle choices to suit their own religious agenda, but to have these religious figures directly influencing Government policy is a serious cause for concern.

Cross-posted at rabble.ca

For further information regarding Harper, the CPC, and the U.S. Religious Right, visit THIS page and download the PDF.

UPDATE! – December 9, 2010 – Darrel Reid leaves the PMO to join the Calgary School.

Ex-Harper aide gets ethics exemption to take University of Calgary post


OTTAWA — A former top aide to Prime Minister Stephen Harper was given an exemption from an ethics rule that restricts the jobs public officials can take after they leave government.

Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson waived a post-employment requirement for Darrel Reid, who served as Harper’s deputy chief of staff and director of policy until earlier this year, so he could take a fellowship at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy.

The Conflict of Ethics Act prohibits public-office holders from taking a job with an organization they had “direct and significant official dealings” with in the final year of their government employment.

Although Dawson’s ruling makes no mention of it, lobbyist registration records show Reid had contact with lobbyists from the University of Calgary on two occasions in 2009, with “education” and “Strengthening links with U of C” listed as the subjects discussed.

“In reviewing this request, the Commissioner has determined that because of Mr. Reid’s experience and expertise in the field of public policy, the public interest in granting this waiver outweighs the public interest in maintaining the prohibition,” the waiver notice on Dawson’s website says.

“Mr. Reid continues to be subject to all post-employment obligations that would otherwise apply.”

In an email, Reid wrote: “She has made her ruling and I will abide by it.” He did not comment further.

The lobbying records show that Reid is only the second public-office holder to receive the same kind of post-employment exemption from Dawson.

Earlier this year, she granted an exemption to Kenneth Watkin, the former judge advocate general in the Canadian Forces, so he could accept an appointment from the Israeli government to be a foreign observer in an inquiry into the Gaza flotilla affair.

Reid is a past-president of the evangelical organization, Focus on the Family. He left the Prime Minister’s Office this summer and became the executive director of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, a conservative group founded by his old boss, former Reform party leader Preston Manning.

At the School of Public Policy, Reid will join another Harper alumnus, Ken Boessenkool, who served as Harper’s chief of staff in Opposition, then became a lobbyist with Hill and Knowlton before the Tories formed the government. Because he left before the Federal Accountability Act took effect, Boessenkool was allowed to lobby his former colleagues in the party.

Boessenkool is now listed as a fellow at the school.

At The G8, Refusing To Be Silenced On Women’s Rights

A Monday gathering of Canadian and international women’s rights experts on Parliament Hill was intended to discuss Canada’s role in the maternal and child health initiative at the upcoming G8 summit; To voice their concerns over the erosion of gender equality and women’s rights in foreign policy under Stephen Harper, and address the omission of abortion rights in the maternal health initiative.

But rather than taking into consideration the issues brought forward by those in attendance, Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth offered some raw advice in an effort to silence further debate on the abortion issue.

“We’ve got five weeks or whatever left until G-8 starts. Shut the fuck up on this issue. Let it roll out. I hope I’m not proven wrong, but I have every confidence that it will include family planning and so on … and I hope I’m right. It’s just, if you push it, there will be more backlash. This is now a political football. This is not about women’s health in this country.”

The threat of potential ‘backlash’ validates the suspicions already percolating throughout various Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs), that in criticizing the Harper government you run the risk of having your organization defunded. In fact, over the past two weeks alone, many women’s rights groups have already been stripped of their funding:

-Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW)
-Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA)
-Conseil d’intervention pour l’accès des femmes au travail (CIAFT)
-New Brunswick Pay Equity Coalition,
-Réseau des Tables régionales de groupes de femmes du Québec
-Alberta Network of Immigrant Women,
-MATCH (30 year old organization fighting for equality for poor women),
-Centre de documentation sur l’éducation des adultes et la condition feminine
-Association féminine d’éducation et d’action sociale (AFEAS)
-Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses (OAITH)
-Womenspace Resource Centre (Lethbridge, AB)
-Feminists for Just and Equitable Public Policy (FemJEPP) in Nova Scotia

The rescinding of federal funds from these organizations strikes an eerie resemblance to George W Bush’s infamous Mexico City Policy, also known as the global gag rule, which prohibited all federally funded NGOs from performing, promoting, or advocating for abortions in other countries. This poorly conceived policy is supported and promoted by the religious right, where ideology always comes first and scientific fact is often ignored.

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated during her appearance at the G8 foreign minister’s meeting, “if we’re talking about maternal health, you cannot have maternal health without reproductive health; and reproductive health includes contraception and family planning, and access to legal, safe abortion.”

In what it bills as ‘The Preventable Pandemic,’ the World Health Organization (WHO) compiled a sobering report on the “urgent public-health and human-rights imperative” of unsafe abortions. The report sheds light on the fact that “unsafe abortion remains one of the most neglected sexual and reproductive health problems in the world today,” providing stunning statistics to back up the assertion. The report estimates about 68 000 women die every year from unsafe abortions, 97% of which occur in developing countries. In Africa alone, over half of all maternal deaths come as a direct result of unsafe abortions.

Death isn’t the only consequence of so called ‘backstreet’ abortions; morbidity, or permanent injury, including haemorrhage, sepsis, infection, and trauma to the uterus and abdominal organs is a common occurrence. The report states that when access to safe abortion is made more difficult or illegal, women’s health rapidly deteriorates. By contrast, women’s health rapidly improves when abortion is made legal, safe, and easily accessible.

The WHO report also details the impact unsafe abortions have on the medical system, noting “treatment of abortion complications burdens public health systems in the developing world. Conversely, ensuring women’s access to safe abortion services lowers medical costs for health systems. In some low- income and middle-income countries, up to 50% of hospital budgets for obstetrics and gynaecology are spent treating complications of unsafe abortion.”

“The cost per woman to health systems for treatment of abortion complications in Tanzania is more than seven times the overall Ministry of Health budget per head of population. Estimates from Uganda comparing costs of treatment of abortion complications with costs of providing safe, elective abortion show the potential resource-savings to health systems. Post-abortion care offered in tertiary hospitals by physician providers was estimated to cost health systems ten times more than elective abortion services offered by mid- level practitioners in primary care.”

Perhaps the most compelling argument for the inclusion of access to safe abortion in the G8 maternal health initiative deals with the sensitive issue of rape. It’s undeniable that rape is used as a weapon of war, and women and young girls are targeted as a means to punish others. Some people in South Africa hold the belief that intercourse with a virgin will cure HIV, so children are preyed upon and victimized, many becoming pregnant as a result. Why should these victims, having already been traumatized, be forced to carry the child of the man who raped them? More importantly, why should children who are impregnated following a rape, be subjected to a full pregnancy at the tender age of 11?

In Canada we’re fortunate to have the freedom of choice; When a woman is faced with a dangerous or unwanted pregnancy, she has a full range of options available to her. The fundamental advantage of a pro-choice policy is safe access to abortion when necessary, but not necessarily an abortion. It means protecting and preserving life in the vast majority of pregnancies, while providing safe access to a service that, in various circumstances, is medically necessary.

The NGO’s and advocates speaking on behalf of women’s rights understand the importance of a woman’s right to chose. The foundation from which they craft their policy is based on sound research, verifiable data, and direct input from medical professionals. The push for the inclusion of access to safe abortions in the G8 initiative is not based on a political agenda or religious ideology; It’s based on the desire to craft a comprehensive foreign aid policy that will best enhance the lives of women and children in developing nations.

These tireless crusaders for women’s rights must continue to speak out, demanding to be heard. At a time when their voices are more important than ever, they mustn’t surrender to the threats and intimidation from the Prime Minister and his Conservative colleagues. If Harper is genuinely interested in improving the health and welfare of women and children abroad, he’d do himself a great deal of service by heeding the advice of those who’ve dedicated their lives to the very initiative he espouses.

Cross-posted at rabble.ca

Further reading:
Congo Rape Victims Jailed For Seeking Abortions
Top medical journal chides Harper on abortion funding: “hypocritical and unjust”