Legitimizing Pseudoscience: What’s The Harm?

This column ran in The National Post on March 24, 2016.

(Response to Karen Selick’s lies found below this piece)

After weeks of trying “natural” extracts and homemade remedies like smoothies cut with ginger root and horseradish to cure a suspected case of meningitis, 19-month-old Ezekiel Stephan’s tiny body had so deteriorated that he was too stiff to bend. Unable to be sit in his car seat, Ezekiel’s parents, David and Collet, loaded a mattress into the back of their vehicle to take him to a health practitioner — not a doctor.

They planned to drive to Lethbridge, Alta., to visit a naturopath, whose clinic they’d contacted days earlier in search of something to “boost Ezekiel’s immune system.”

Only after their son stopped breathing did the Stephans think it wise to call 911. In a desperate bid to save time, they drove to meet the ambulance, performing CPR en route. According to Collet, Ezekiel “was blue by the time we met up.”

Now on trial for Ezekiel’s death, the Stephans pleaded not guilty to the charge of failing to provide the necessities of life, maintaining they’d pursued a legitimate, alternative course of treatment. And for those immersed in the pseudoscientific realm of “alternative health care,” this, indeed, seems to be a perfectly reasonable defence. The same government that is now prosecuting the Stephans has also granted the College of Naturopathic Doctors of Alberta (CNDA) the power to self-govern their industry — in essence, the state is now prosecuting parents for pursuing cures from a modern-day snake-oil industry that it licenses and legitimizes.

When it granted the CNDA its powers back in 2012, Health Minister Fred Horne said that he and his fellow elected representatives “believe the practices that will be engaged in by (naturopathic) professionals are safe and effective and meet the highest possible standard.”

Dr. Allissa Gaul, founding president of the CNDA, boasted the decision meant that “Albertans can have confidence … they have a Naturopathic doctor who meets stringent competency and practice requirements.”

It’s worth noting Dr. Tannis, the Naturopath who prescribed Echinacea for a child suffering a life-threatening illness, graduated from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in 2003 and is licensed in “good standing” in Alberta. (In court, she said she told the Stephans to take their child to an emergency room.)

The profound suffering and preventable death of Ezekiel has rightly provoked heated discussion about the validity of so-called alternative medicine, prompting finger-pointing toward all who enabled and abetted the long deterioration and ultimate death of a toddler whose ailment was both vaccine-preventable and entirely treatable.

One thing is clear: Ezekiel is a casualty of pseudoscience; his death facilitated by the allure of alternative medicine.

Naturopathy, for instance, is not a form of medicine, but a system of belief; its approach to treating illness reliant on the theory of vitalism. That is, disease is viewed as being caused by an imbalance of vital forces and, thus, the treatment rests in the restoration of those forces.

Despite its claims to ancient roots, naturopathy was invented by Benedict Lust, a German immigrant to the United States and self-proclaimed “doctor” who was ultimately convicted for practising medicine without a licence. To this day, many procedures on its standard list of practices and cures have not passed scientific muster.

Naturopathy relies on dubious diagnostics — hair analysis and IgG Food Intolerance screening, for instance — to identify non-existent deficiencies or fabricated ailments. The prescribed interventions, conveniently, are on hand and sold directly by practitioners.

Treatments range from the proven-ineffective and largely innocuous, such as Vitamin C infusions and herbal supplements, to the far more dangerous and potentially fatal ozone and chelation therapies.

Naturopathy preys on the critically and terminally ill by peddling false hope and sham treatments with exorbitant financial and emotional costs; it fuels scientific illiteracy by accommodating those who misunderstand or distrust legitimate medicine, prescribing futile detox and cleanse regimens.

Naturopaths endanger public health by agitating against vaccination, selling homeopathic nosodes, which, to be clear, are entirely inert.

As Timothy Caulfield, professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta wrote in 2013: “There is no evidence that homeopathy works, and given the absurd nature of the proposed mechanism of action, no scientifically plausible reason that it should work.” None.

Although homeopathy was not prescribed in Ezekiel’s case, it remains one of the central tenets of naturopathy. And when governments capitulate to the demands of a pseudoscientific lobby, as Alberta did in 2012, such nonsense is granted authority.

Though undoubtedly lucrative, embracing and incorporating magical thinking into the realm of evidence-based medicine is both ethically questionable and professionally irresponsible.

If naturopaths, homeopaths, osteopaths or any of the numerous “natural” or “holistic” practitioners want to be regarded as heath-care professionals and afforded the same respect, opportunities and privileges earned by those working in the evidence-based medical system, they must agree to be held to the same standards in terms of education, certification and efficacy of their prescribed treatment.

Until the alternative health industry is required to demonstrate the validity of its existence, the corpses that refute it will continue to mount. And all who overtly or indirectly enable the spread of pseudoscience share the blame for the casualties.

 

————

 

On April 2, the Lethbridge Herald published an incredibly irresponsible and non-factual response to my column written by Karen Selick, a woman who is involved with the alternative / naturopathic (and conspiracy-minded) industry, and who has received financial contributions from Naturopaths for her raw milk lobbying efforts. She has also appeared at numerous naturopathic/alt-med conferences and events.

She believes Monsanto (glyphosate, in particular) is the cause of autism, along with along with vaccines, of course. She is a strident anti-vaxxer and thinks there’s a global conspiracy (thanks Big Pharma!) to prevent people from accessing natural remedies for things like cancer. (see bottom FYI for more)

Below is a line-by-line correction of her op-ed, ironically titled Clearing up factual distortions

Everything bolded is mine

——

The National Post recently published an opinion piece that exemplifies how moral panics get started.

If by “moral panic” Selick means “necessary scrutiny of an industry which, at this moment, claims (among other things) that cancer has an “emotional cause” and is cured by proven-ineffective (and expensive) ‘alternative’ methods,” then OK.

Alheli Picazo’s March 24 article, entitled “Alberta Shares the Blame” (the online version was called “When naturopathy kills”), dealt with a criminal prosecution currently before a jury in Lethbridge. David and Collet Stephan have been charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life to their son Ezekiel, who died in 2012 of meningitis.

Correct. Also: I do not write the headlines.

So far, only the prosecution has called witnesses. The case stands adjourned until April 11, when the defence will begin. But Picazo has already rushed to judgment.
She calls Ezekiel’s death “preventable” and labels him a “casualty of pseudoscience.”

Yes. Ezekiel’s death was 100% preventable, and yes, as he did not receive the vaccination to prevent the form of meningitis he died from, nor did he receive legitimate medical care before it was too late to allow him to be treated for, and recover from, said meningitis  (due entirely to his parents’ extreme anti-vax stance and belief – and personal business – in “holistic” remedies) he was a casualty of pseudoscience. 

More on the Stephan family business HERE 

Very thorough (and unvarnished) reading on this from evidence-based medical perspectives HERE and HERE

HERE and HERE are just a pair of examples of the father’s anti-vax musings. HERE and HERE from the mother. 

HERE is the father on an anti-vax radio show pleading his case 

Here are the “facts” as Picazo placed them before readers:

“After weeks of trying ‘natural’ extracts and homemade remedies like smoothies cut with ginger root and horseradish to cure a suspected case of meningitis, 19-month-old Ezekiel Stephan’s tiny body had so deteriorated that he was too stiff to bend. Unable to sit in his car seat, Ezekiel’s parents, David and Collet, loaded a mattress into the back of their vehicle to take him to a health practitioner – not a doctor.”

Those parents must be monsters, right? Actually, no. What’s monstrous is the number of factual distortions that Picazo packed into a single paragraph, with not even an “alleged” kicking around to hint that there might be another side to the story.

Notice not a single “factual distortion” was directly pointed to… because there are none. These are knowable – and known – facts. That Selick has decided she doesn’t want to believe said facts doesn’t make them any less true or warrant the addition of “alleged.”

There is no ‘other side’ to a ‘story’ here. 


Ezekiel’s “suspected meningitis” did not go on for weeks. He had started exhibiting symptoms of a cold, or at worst croup, around Feb. 27, 2012. Over the next two weeks, his symptoms disappeared and returned twice, sometimes appearing like flu, but never including seizures or rash.

Actually, yes. The meningitis did go on for weeks. In February, when Ezekiel first started showing signs of illness, his parents thought it was a croup. And it was a steady deterioration from that point – from the bacterial meningitis – until his death. 



Further, “never including seizures or rash” is meaningless.

It was not until March 12 that a family friend – a nurse who coincidentally knew that there had been a recent case of meningitis in her hospital – mentioned the possibility of viral meningitis. But based on Ezekiel’s mostly asymptomatic condition that day, she said, he’d probably be turned away from a hospital emergency room.

No, that’s not what the nurse-friend said. She told the parents to take Ezekiel to see a doctor.

The parents chose not to, and in their re-telling of the story now, they’re claiming (and allowing others, like Selick, to claim) they’d have been turned away ‘because our socialist healthcare system does that.’



Those were not the nurse-friend’s words.

Picazo makes it sound as though Ezekiel was getting progressively stiffer over a period of weeks until he was loaded rigor-mortis-like into the car to visit a naturopath.

Yes, that’s because he was. Those are the facts, and entirely knowable based on the autopsy.  

Here is a thorough read of this from one who knows.

In fact, on the morning of March 13, he had been in his car seat, perfectly able to bend.

No, that’s not a fact. It’s a flat-out lie, actually. The parents’ own statements to RCMP (played in court) refute Selick’s assertion.

But he was cranky and uncomfortable, so rather than aggravate his distress, they removed him from the car seat and let him lie on his foam crib mattress on the back seat.

“Crib mattress”. That’s cute. No, it was not a crib in any way. It was just a mattress and the parents never attempted to present it as anything but.

When a crisis arose that evening – Ezekiel temporarily stopped breathing – his parents called 911 and set out for the hospital. Picazo says, “Only after their son stopped breathing did the Stephans think it wise to call 911.” But wait – 911 is for emergencies. People who call 911 because their kid has a cold can be fined up to $10,000 in Alberta for making a frivolous call.

Yes, 911 is for emergencies — as in a deathly-ill child. Can Selick point to any case where a person suspecting their child needed medical attention (even if it were a simple cold or flu) called 911 and was subsequently fined/charged?

Nope.

The unfortunate truth that Picazo omits is that meningitis is an illness that can strike suddenly and kill within a day or two. Usually, the symptoms progress very quickly from bad to worse. Ezekiel’s waxing and waning cold symptoms are not typical, and might indeed have indicated nothing other than a cold at that time.

There was no omission. I have a word count to adhere to. I’d love to have gone into great detail about the illness itself.

Also: the “Ezekiel’s waxing and waning cold symptoms” line is, again, intentionally misleading. Ezekiel’s symptoms were not mere cold symptoms, and the extent to which they fluctuated is in doubt.

Again: Autopsies don’t lie. (See above hyperlinks to physician/surgeon SBM writers)

(More on the symptoms according to testimony) 

The Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada’s website contains dozens of stories of meningitis cases that killed or seriously disabled their victims within days. In numerous cases, doctors had examined the victims not long before and sent them home with diagnoses of cold, flu, food poisoning, ear infection, gastroenteritis, pneumonia, etc.

And here Selick reveals her true motivations. She is an activist against the Canadian medical system, and is a documented agitator against ‘socialized health care.’ She regularly pulls the “but doctors make mistakes too! Hospitals kill too!” line to distract from scrutiny of the alt-med industry — one to which she belongs and believes in religiously.

(The Stephans use the same tactic)

The only definitive way of diagnosing bacterial meningitis is a spinal tap in which fluid is drawn from the spinal cord and tested. This excruciatingly painful procedure exposes patients to additional risks. Doctors do not ordinarily inflict it upon patients who appear to have merely colds or flu.

Yes, a spinal tap is a necessary diagnostic procedure, because that’s how real medicine works. And no, it’s not “excruciatingly painful.” It’s uncomfortable yes (I’ve had a few) and gross to think about if you’ve never had one, but nothing more.

And again: Ezekiel was not simply ill with – or exhibiting mere signs of – cold or flu. Further, that fear of a spinal tap was one reason the parents avoided the hospital.

So far at the trial, none of the prosecution’s doctors has claimed that they could have definitively diagnosed meningitis from the symptoms Ezekiel exhibited at the time. None has claimed that Ezekiel could definitely have been saved, even if he had received aggressive treatment.

Not true at all. They could not speak definitively on a child they had not seen, but it was testified and is knowable what the outcome would have been for a child in the exact same circumstance as Ezekiel if properly treated.

Picazo says the Alberta government shares the blame for Ezekiel’s death because it licences naturopathy.

However, she fails to mention that the ambulance that met the Stephans on their drive to hospital had been stripped of some equipment by that same Alberta government approximately a year before. Consequently, it had no air mask small enough to treat Ezekiel en route to hospital. He spent eight and a half minutes in the ambulance without air. A later CT scan showed brain injury consistent with lack of oxygen.

No, actually. That’s another lie from Selick. The CT confirmed that lack of oxygen was NOT to blame.

A week after Ezekiel’s death, infant air masks re-appeared in ambulances. I can’t help wondering whether the Alberta government is prosecuting these parents to divert attention from its own possible liability.

Gee, that sounds familiar.. 

Quite familiar, in fact. 

Karen Selick is a lawyer and writer based in rural eastern Ontario. During her cold symptoms last week, she did not suspect meningitis and did not rush to the hospital demanding a spinal tap.

Another attempt to confuse cold/flu symptoms with advanced bacterial meningitis.

Also, even if Selick had meningitis and rushed to hospital demanding a spinal tap, only a doctor can decide whether one is warranted. And only a doctor can order one.

Nice narrative, though.

FYI:

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Ugh Canadian health care, amirite?! 

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HERE she is pushing the Shona Holmes lie. And HERE are the facts.)

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( Facts on glyphosate HERE, HERE and HERE )

FTR: This is something the Stephans believe as well. Here’s the mother:

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(Links to THIS )

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(Links to THIS

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(Links to THIS

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I’ll leave it for you to judge the merits of Selick’s piece, and the wisdom of the Lethbridge Herald in running it.

—-

Update:

On April 14, the Lethbridge Herald ran my response.

The op-ed in its entirety can be found below:

On April 2, the Lethbridge Herald published an incredibly irresponsible and inaccurate op-ed by Karen Selick, a woman who’d taken issue with a column I wrote for the National Post centred around the death of Ezekiel Stephan — a preventable tragedy for which his
parents are currently on trial.

Selick accused me of “factual distortions,” yet failed to specify a single one. Why? Because there were no inaccuracies to identify. All the information in my column was accurate — and verifiably so — unlike the numerous false claims Selick resorted to in the effort to rebut my piece.

For instance, Selick wrote that the nurse-friend who paid the Stephans a visit had counselled against taking Ezekiel to hospital because “he’d probably be turned away from a hospital emergency room.” This is a fabrication by Selick. In fact, the nurse-friend suggested the child might have meningitis and specifically instructed the
parents: “I think you should take him to a doctor.”

Selick also asserted “on the morning of March 13, (Ezekiel) had been in his car seat, perfectly able to bend.” This, too, is not true. According to the parents’ own statements to RCMP — which were played in court — Ezekiel’s body was so stiff from illness that he could not sit in his car seat, which is why he was placed on a mattress (and not a specially-made “crib mattress” as Selick portrayed it as — just a small mattress) in the back of the family vehicle.

Selick then parrots a narrative directly from the father’s own PR offensive — taken either from a conspiracy-laden radio interview or one of many social media updates — alleging that Alberta Health Services was to blame for failing to revive Ezekiel once they were
finally, albeit it far too late, called upon.

“The ambulance that met the Stephans … had been stripped of some equipment by that same Alberta government,” Selick wrote. “Consequently, it had no air mask small enough to treat Ezekiel en route to hospital. He spent eight and a half minutes in the ambulance
without air. A later CT scan showed brain injury consistent with lack of oxygen.”

While it’s true the ambulance lacked a properly-fitting mask for Ezekiel, Selick’s claim of brain-death from lack of oxygen is yet another falsehood. What the CT scan confirmed was that lack of oxygen was not to blame for the child’s death. As medical examiner Dr. Bamidele Adeagbo testified, Ezekiel was brain dead when EMS met up with Stephans. Adeagbo explained what differentiates a brain deprived of oxygen from one suffering meningitis, and concluded there were no signs Ezekiel’s brain died from lack of oxygen.
Ezekiel, he confirmed, was dead before EMS intervened.

Why did Selick feel the need to respond to something I wrote in a publication other than the National Post, the paper which ran my column? I would hope it’s because, like any responsible news outlet, Selick’s submission would be seen as questionable due to the misrepresentations of the case and additional inaccuracies to the ones detailed above.

Readers should also know that Selick is an adherent to, and an affiliate of, the alternative/natural health industry and has appeared at numerous naturopathic/alt-med conferences and events. She is a long-time agitator against the Canadian health-care system, and played a prominent role in pushing the Shona Holmes story and scaring Americans into believing health-care reform was not in their best interest.

Selick seems to believe there’s a government conspiracy to keep treatments and cures from the public so that the pharmaceutical industry can profit off disease, and she is a full-fledged anti-vaxxer who believes vaccines cause autism.

Selick is free to believe what she wishes, of course. But her disregard for evidence, dismissal of science, and embrace of pseudoscience isn’t merely another point of view for a newspaper to print. Nor was her op-ed, as she argued, “another side to the story”
to be presented. Selick’s misrepresentation of the case was a dangerous effort to grant legitimacy to a modern-day snake-oil industry — one in which she has a personal stake.

As I argued in my initial column, people who view the world as Selick does, when reading such nonsense as Selick wrote, are led to believe that there is an alternative to evidence-based medicine.

This, in turn, leads to naturalistic fanatics feeling confident in their deeply-held beliefs that some mythical ‘alternative’ exists to necessary medical intervention should they, or their children, come down with a serious illness — the consequence of which is on display
in a certain Lethbridge courtroom.

More facts about this case and further information on Selick’s connections to the Stephan family and her role in their co-ordinated misinformation campaign can be found  HERE. 

Rebel Without A Spine

Facts often prove a nuisance to those with an agenda to push or a narrative to sell. Just as those who peddle snake-oil rely on manufactured illness to hawk miracle cures, those who ply their trade in fear rely on ignorance to further an ideology.

I’ve long used social media as a means to combat misinformation, and it just so happens that one of my earliest fact-checks involved a media personality who wears his well-established history of “reckless disregard for the truth” as a point of pride.

In September 2010, ahead of the Sun News Network’s launch, future-host Ezra Levant penned an astonishingly libellous column for the Sun chain of papers accusing billionaire philanthropist George Soros of, among other things, having been a Nazi collaborator.

I combed through Levant’s column, countering each false assertion with documented facts, and soon learned my effort had made its way to Soros himself, who then notified Sun Media of his intent to sue for defamation.

A full retraction and apology was issued, noting there was “no basis for the statements in the column … Sun Media 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 him.”

I continued to follow Levant’s work – and that of his colleagues – after Sun News went to air, documenting mistruths, mocking hyperbolic absurdities, and when possible, pairing false reports with links to the facts.

Though I’d become somewhat of a thorn in Levant’s side, it was my possession of the only recording of his racist anti-Roma tirade after Sun News thought they’d effectively purged it from existence – a recording which aided in forcing him to, again, issue a grovelling apology – which cemented his disdain for me.

And perhaps explains why the self-described “fearless Rebel Commander” is so, utterly terrified of me.

When The Rebel, Levant’s online vanity project launched after Sun News’ demise, promoted an “EMERGENCY PUBLIC MEETING” regarding Alberta’s future under the “extremist” Notley regime – an event billed as “an independent, non-partisan meeting, open to the public for free” – I reserved a pair of seats.

After receiving a confirmation email from Amanda Achtman, Levant’s loyal apprentice who first served him at Ethical Oil before joining him at Sun News and now The Rebel, I was surprised to find another email, this one directly from Levant, notifying me of his personal intervention to cancel my reservation, claiming to be “concerned from your past conduct that you will be disruptive and profane.”

Knowing Levant’s assertions were fabricated, I requested evidence to support his allegations of my “past conduct” or “track-record” of being “disruptive and profane.”

posted a screenshot of the exchange to twitter, and quickly received numerous invites to be another’s +1 for the Calgary event.

I sent a number of follow-up emails to both Levant and Achtman, requesting proof of the various allegations cited to justify cancelling my reservation, and specifically asked whether I’d be barred from entering if I attended as someone’s guest.

Despite repeated requests, neither opted to respond.

After being asked to write about the presentation, I took a right-leaning friend – a Levant fan – up on the ‘+1’ offer and agreed to meet at the Carriage House Inn, the town hall’s location, a half-hour before its scheduled start.

I arrived in good time, maneuvered my way through the steady-stream of attendees and proceeded to the check-in tables. Before I had a chance to confirm my attendance, however, I was whisked away by a pair men whom Levant hired, it seemed, to specifically watch for me and prevent my participation. When I asked for an explanation as to why I was disallowed from this “open to the public” forum, I was told it was open to everyone — except me.

Neither man could explain why, only that they were under strict orders to ensure I didn’t get in.

When Levant ventured out to greet people, he accidentally offered me a hearty “Hello, and welcome!” before recognition set in, after which he frantically turned-tail and rushed away, shouting that I was “not welcome here,” refusing to answer when I asked him to come back, face me, and explain why.

As I stood in the lobby he passed by twice more, perhaps hoping I’d pull a Levant and cause a scene, but I simply continued to request explanation, and he continued to remain silent as he hurried by.

It was the same with Achtman who bolted when she first saw me, later making a few extra passes, each time refusing to stop and answer my queries. I offered to leave once I received an explanation as to why I was barred, but was told by one of Levant’s hired henchmen that I’d get no explanation, and if I did not leave I’d be arrested.

Knowing I’d done nothing wrong, I offered to face arrest, to stay and wait for the police to sort things out. When the police arrived, they seemed completely baffled by the farce. According to his gatekeepers, Levant claimed I’d “long been banned” from the Carriage House Inn, though I’d never once before set foot there. He also alleged I had a “track-record” of disrupting his events – his guards even claimed there were pictures, though neither I nor the police were allowed to see them – and he had a documented history of my ejections — again, flat-out lies.

Once the police determined all the allegations Levant provided were false, they simply shrugged and said there were no grounds on which to arrest me, nor could they force me to leave. One officer suggested I could “make better use of the night in this beautiful weather” than wait on an explanation which likely wouldn’t come, and I agreed.

I thanked them for their time and went on my way.

In the end, the “EMERGENCY” town halls were nothing more than an effort by Levant to build his fledgeling Rebel brand.

Employing his usual strategy – creating a threat (radical outsiders intent on destroying Alberta), presenting himself as the saviour (the “mainstream media” are complicit and incompetent) and, of course, asking for money fund his ‘heroics’ – Levant is working to rescue The Rebel from sharing the fate of his previous media ventures. Through this overwrought grasp at relevance, Levant sought to recruit a new generation of “severely normal” Albertans to his Rebel army; to rouse their anger, stoke their fear, and demand they fight to restore Alberta to her glory.

As evidence by Levant’s own photos of the audience, there are, indeed, a handful of Albertans eager to take up the pitchforks and torches, call themselves Rebels, and “take Alberta back” from the “socialist insurrection” — so long as it doesn’t interfere with Bingo night.

Correction/clarification: BigCityLib informs me he, too, had a recording of Levant’s anti-Roma screed, which was made for people pursuing the complaint. And though I wasn’t aware, it seems he has quite a history with the Rebel Commander himself. His chronicling of Levant’s growing trail of lost legal battles – and the subsequent financial payouts/grovelling apologies – is rather impressive and well-worth exploring.

Here is the full email exchange between Levant and myself, and eventually Achtman too:

From: Alheli Picazo 
Date: Fri, Jun 5, 2015 at 9:07 PM
Subject: Town hall meeting
To: Amanda Achtman, Ezra Levant 
Hi Ezra,

I’m still waiting on your response to my questions, as I have multiple invites to the event and I do plan on attending.

I’ve now added Amanda to this exchange, as she approved my RSVP, just in case you’d rather respond through her — you know, how middle-school girls communicate when they’re mad at each other.

Clock’s ticking.

Alheli
From: Alheli Picazo 
Date: Thu, Jun 4, 2015 at 3:27 PM
Subject: Re: Town hall meeting
To: Ezra Levant 
Hi Ezra,

I eagerly await your response to the questions I’ve already posed, both in my previous email and over on twitter, and now that I’m up to 9 invites to be another’s +1 for the evening, clarity as to whether the event is indeed “an independent, non-partisan meeting, open to the public for free” is necessary.

I find it quite amusing that you’re so frightened by a wee Calgary lass who is quite literally less than half your size, and who is known (in real, offline life) by those who count themselves your followers – even some who are your personal friends – as quiet and gentle, and nothing but respectful. And it’s these hard-right leaning friends who want me to accompany them to the event. If I take one up on the offer, will only s/he be admitted and myself turned away? Are there any other unwritten rules for the night that I, or others, should be aware of?

Looking forward to your response in this exchange which, might I add, you initiated.

Alheli
On Tue, Jun 2, 2015 at 9:08 PM, Alheli Picazo  wrote:
Hello Ezra,

I’m sorry to hear that despite being billed as “an independent, non-partisan meeting, open to the public for free,” you’ve taken it upon yourself to screen the guest list. I suppose that means if there is to be a Q & A, the questions/questioners will be pre-selected (if not staged) as well.

And that’s fine. It’s your event, you can do as you wish. Funny though, given your history of making hay over being kicked out/off premises – subsequently demanding those seeking to exclude you respect your freedom and face the tough questions; accusing them of being cowards, afraid of real scrutiny – you’re so quick to do the same.

But I must ask what you’ve based your assertion of my apparent “track-record / past conduct” of being “disruptive and profane”? Perhaps someone who doesn’t actually know me has misinformed you? Or maybe you just made it up, as is your penchant? Because we both know you’ve made an entirely fabricated assertion. Why? There’s no need. If you’re so intimidated at the thought of my presence, just say so.

Though yes, admitting as much would take away from that whole Rebel thing. And I wonder, should someone ask me to be their guest, will I be turned away at the door? Will there be a blacklist to ensure only the like-minded are admitted? If so, you really should change the event’s description.

Though it’s unfortunate you won’t allow me to attend, at least by your personal intervention in the matter you’ve once again revealed the depth – or lack thereof – of your commitment to ‘freedom.’

Hope all goes well, and I’ll watch for the (hopefully full, unedited) event video.

Alheli

On Tue, Jun 2, 2015 at 7:32 AM, Ezra Levant wrote:
Dear Alheli,

I see that you have signed up for our Calgary town hall. I am concerned from your past conduct that you will be disruptive and profane, and that you are not attending in good faith.

Given your track-record, and given that this event will likely sell out, it is my view that we cannot set aside two seats for you, and so I am cancelling your reservation.

If you are genuinely interested in the event, we will be putting a video of it on our website.

Yours truly,

Ezra Levant

Do you know what would be terribly awkward, further showcasing the depth of Levant’s hypocrisy? If there were video of him doing precisely what he claimed he feared I’d do as justification for my exclusion from a public event:

Here’s one of the ever-so-brave Levant’s passes.

(No idea why the audio isn’t cooperating.)

It’s disappointing how much vitriol has been directed toward CANADALAND and Jesse Brown for daring to publish my run-down of events. For a crowd who claims to be the defenders of free speech, they certainly are quick to condemn anyone who dares publish something they’d rather not read — or would prefer not have been written

You know: “Free speech for me, not for thee!” Their master has taught them well.

As for Levant: if you are reading this Ezra, my invitation to meet face-to-face stands. I’m happy to meet-up – with a neutral third-party (mutual conservative friend, perhaps) if it’ll make me seem less intimidating – and see if we can work things out.  Because we both know all your allegations about me were lies, and you continue to misrepresent (through your underlings, natch) what actually happened at the Calgary event.

I won’t hold my breath. But I will leave this here, as a friendly reminder that by your own admission, nothing you say should be mistaken for fact:

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 4.12.23 AM

On June 16, a shorter version of this piece (without the additional media) appeared on CANADALAND.

Circus At The Levant

“Being a Jew isn’t like being Black or being gay or being a woman, or even Israeli where many Jews come from. Being a Jew is a choice, like being a Blood or Crip.

Jews are the medieval prototype of the Occupy Wall Street movement; a shiftless group of hobo’s that doesn’t believe in property rights for themselves – they’re nomads – or for others.  They rob people blind.

Jew is a culture synonymous with swindlers.  The phrase Jew and cheater have been so interchangeable historically that the word has entered the English language as a verb.  He ‘jewed’ me.

Well the Jews have ‘jewed’ us.

This scourge has come to Canada as false refugees, here to jew us again, to rob us blind, as they have done in the Middle East for centuries.”

In September 2012, the star of a Canada’s “most controversial news channel” took to the air, refused to be cowed by those who’d surely “blow (their) hate crime whistle,” and proudly read what is arguably the most racist, offensive monologue the news channel has aired to date.

And for a network whose very existence depends on fomented outrage, that’s saying something.

Impossible, you might think. Surely if any network, particularly one billing itself as “Canada’s home for hard news and straight talk,” aired such a repulsive screed, Canadians, who’d never stand for such intolerance, would be up in arms, calling for the censure of the network; the termination of the news personality in question.

Or at least, being Canadian and all, would politely request an apology.

Indeed, you’d be right. The excerpt seen above has been altered ever-so-slightly: The word Gypsy replaced with Jew; gypped with jewed; Europe with Middle East.

Are you still repulsed?

The network in question, Sun News, and the personality, Ezra Levant, certainly had no qualms about what aired.

In fact, it wasn’t until Kory Teneycke, former spokesperson for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and current Vice President of Sun News, was pleading to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council for his networks’ inclusion in basic cable packages across the country – a full six months after the segment aired – that Levant expressed any reservations about that episode, prompting a surprise on-air apology, followed by a farcical you’ve-been-a-naughty-boy! finger-wagging from Teneycke for good measure.

Should you think the apology was at all sincere and unrelated to Sun News’ application to the CBSC, consider that shortly after the original broadcast, a joint op-ed from three respected, influential Jewish figures – former CEO of Canadian Jewish Congress Bernie Farber,  Holocaust survivor Nate Leipciger, and president of Ve’ahavta: The Canadian Jewish Humanitarian and Relief Committee Avrum Rosensweig – appeared in the National Post, condemning Levant’s “contemptible screed;” Noting that, just as the Jews were targeted during the Holocaust, so too were the Roma.

“There is even a Roma proverb that speaks of Jews and Roma trudging to the gas chambers together,” wrote Farber et al. “Andje jekh than hamisajlo amaro vushar ande’l bova: ‘Our ashes are mingled in the ovens’.”

What was Levant’s response to Farber, a man Levant has never shied away from sparring in the past? Absolute silence.

Though, after the apology, Levant was back to lobbing insults, calling Farber a “self-hating Jew,” a “censor and a liar”, and “too stupid to really be Jewish.”

You see, Levant likes to style himself the ultimate defender of all things Jewish; the decider of who qualifies as a ‘real’ Jew, the exposer of traitors and pretenders, labeling anyone who dares cross him, a “jew-hater.”

And, as evidenced by his attacks on Farber, not even fellow Jews are safe from Levant’s  nonsense.

In 2010, Levant penned an atrocious, ripped-from-the-furthest-corners-of-the-conservative-conspiratorial-blogosphere column for The Sun chain of papers titled Moral Hollowness At Work in which he, in great detail, slandered philanthropist Geroge Soros – a favorite boogyman of the American far right fringe – alleging, among other things, that Soros, a Hungarian Jew who survived the Holocaust, was secretly a “Nazi collaborator (who) turned on other Jews to spare himself.”

After Soros threatened both Levant and Sun Media with a hefty lawsuit, both a retraction and apology were issued, reading, in part:

“A column by Ezra Levant contained false statements about George Soros and his conduct as a young teenager in Nazi-occupied Hungary. 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.”

This is what Levant does: He deliberately mischaracterizes, misconstrues, and misrepresents – and often entirely fabricates – facts to suit his narrative.

His most recent misreporting stems from a confrontation that erupted between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian demonstrators at a rally in Calgary on July 18th; a gathering initially meant to express solidarity with the people of Gaza.

To hear Levant tell it, “Pro-Hamas thugs … took over the streets of Calgary,” streets where “Arab extremists (chase) Jews and Gentiles;” where “Queen Elizabeth’s laws don’t rule … Sharia law does.”

It was “a throwback to anti-Semitic ground troops of Germany in the 1930s!” That’s right. An otherwise uneventful rally, according to Levant, could have been mistaken for Hitler’s Brownshirts carrying out street violence against Jews.

How on earth could Calgary, in a few short minutes, have transformed from a beacon of tolerance to a scene straight out of Gaza and/or Nazi Germany?

First at fault: Nenshi.

Apparently Levant learned nothing from his previous attempt to smear Calgary’s Mayor: His campaign to paint Nenshi as an intolerant Muslim who targeted Christians was so mind-numbingly absurd that even The Calgary Sun refused to climb aboard.

Still, on Twitter, Levant recycled the accusations against the Mayor, claiming Nenshi ‘harassed’ the noble Artur Pawlowski — Canada’s own Westboro Baptist preacher: a rank homophobe who claimed the historic floods of 2013 were a result, in part, of God’s “weeping for the perversions of homosexuality;” who protested this summer’s World Pride in Toronto with a giant “Satan Loves Fags” banner — yet hadn’t condemned the “violent Arab thugs.”

On air, Levant called Nenshi “a disgrace,” a man who “never shuts up about anything” but “hasn’t said a word” about July 18th.

In truth, however, Nenshi, who announced on July 15 that he was off to a family wedding, wasn’t even in Calgary in the days leading up to, during, or following the rally. And upon his return, he did, in fact, speak on the issue.

Of course, had Levant acknowledged either of these things, he wouldn’t have been able to rally his troops to spend days hurling slurs and accusations at the Mayor on Levant’s behalf.

Second at fault: The Calgary Police.

Granted, CPS’ approach, or lack thereof, at the rally was bungled from the get-go, and the police admitted as much. However, Levant’s assertions of political influence, calling the police liars, alleging bias, willful blindness, and a hand-off approach out of concern for maintaining diversity  is not just untrue, but grossly irresponsible.

Alas, responsible journalism is a lousy means of inciting backlash.

While there’s no excusing the violence that occurred at the July 18 rally, as the police rightly noted: both sides were at fault.  What transpired was the result of a small segment of agitators from both sides looking for a fight.

There’s a reason Levant failed to delve into the profiles of some of the Pro-Israel protesters as did those on the pro-Palestinian side: It would kill his narrative.

For example: Two of the pro-Israel demonstrators involved in the scuffle – including the man in the orange shirt featured in the ‘evidence’ photos Levant himself helped circulate – are well-known provocateurs Merle Terlesky and Jeff Willerton: a pair notorious for an altercation at Calgary’s 2006 Pride parade, where, waving “No Pride In Sodomy” signs and shouting homophobic slurs at marchers, Terlesky was punched to the ground.

But facts be damned, Levant’s got an axe in desperate need of grinding and persecutory delusions screaming for validation; So on Thurday, July 31, Levant will host his own rally, a “REAL Canadian” rally.

A “rally to take back Canadian streets from violent thugs!”

The successful, peaceful, pro-Israel rally which was held in the days following the contentious rally was an inadequate repudiation of the violence, it seems.

And not-at-all lucrative.

Just as freedom isn’t free, outrage doesn’t come cheap, and Lord knows Levant isn’t about to fund this traveling circus.

As Levant admits in his call to action/invitation to the rally/plea for donations: “This isn’t about Israel or Gaza at all.”

Indeed. This is about Levant; about feeding his ego and growing his brand, not to mention his bank account.


 

Link Byfield – Another Thorn On The Wildrose

Though it took longer than I anticipated, it seems Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, gag order and all, has failed to contain the radical views held by some in her party from seeping out into the public sphere. These views would have been discovered eventually, mind you, as Smith cannot muzzle her candidates (or MLAs, for that matter) forever. However, the candidates who have come under fire in recent days provide a glimpse into the more extreme elements of the Wildrose party.

First there was Edmonton-South-West candidate Allan Hunsperger, a former Pastor, who wrote how tolerance and acceptance of gay people “is cruel and not loving.” You see, gay people should choose “to not live the way they were born,” according to Hunsperger. “You can live the way you were born, and if you die the way you were born, then you will suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell, a place of eternal suffering … Warning people not to live the way they were born is not judgment or condemnation — it is love!”

Smith’s reaction to Hunsperger’s commentary was as off-putting as the homophobic screed itself.

“When a person is making personal statements in their capacity as a pastor, which he was, I don’t think anybody should be surprised that they’re expressing certain viewpoints,” Smith explained. “I’m not going to be the sort of politician who engages in discrimination against religious candidates.”

But when it comes to her candidates themselves ‘engaging in discrimination’ toward a group of people? No harm, no foul, apparently; so long as the discrimination is  expressed under the guise of religion.

Ron Leech, Wildrose candidate for Calgary-Greenway, was the next candidate to come down with foot-in-mouth disease. On a weekend radio program, Leech suggested he holds an advantage over his rivals in the riding simply because he’s white.

“I think, as a caucasian, I have an advantage,” explained Leech. “When different community leaders such as a Sikh leader or a Muslim leader speaks they really speak to their own people in many ways. As a caucasian I believe that I can speak to all the community.”

Once again, Smith’s reaction was one of indifference.

“I’m not concerned about (the remarks),” Smith assured reporters. “I think every candidate puts forward their best argument for why they should be the person the way represent the community. I know Dr. Leech runs a private school that has a large number of people from cultural communities. He has a very ethnically diverse riding. He’s made great friendships and in roads with leaders of different cultural communities.”

In other words, he’s not racist because he knows some ethnic people.

Unlike Hunsperger, however, Leech quickly apologized for, what he calls, his poor choice of words. Smith, being the ‘true leader‘ she is, broadcast the apology on twitter and Facebook, thus washing her hands of all responsibility.

As yet, however, there has been no apology or clarification from either Smith or Leech regarding the latter’s 2004 ‘defense of marriage:’

”I do not hate homosexuals, lesbians, adulterers or, for that matter, rapists. What I do hate is sin and its devastating effects on people’s lives … the foundational institution of all human society, always and everywhere.

[…] Redefining marriage to allow the deliberate exclusion of either a father or mother sends a terrible message to the next generation. It says children don’t deserve both parents, and it will further demoralize their own efforts to become parents themselves.

[…] It is biblically, morally and practically reprehensible for the government to pretend that two men or two women engaged in mutual stimulation are the same as a husband and wife, as potential parents. Marriage is not about equal rights; it isn’t a special-interest group. It is a repository for the future of humanity.

All Canadians — including childless homosexuals — benefit from a healthy marriage culture. All Canadians pay the price in increased taxes, mental illness, crime and human suffering when mothers and fathers choose to divorce or not marry. Adding same-sex marriages to a hodgepodge of family groupings will only worsen the confusion.

So I am against same-sex marriage for four reasons:

First, were homosexuality at all legitimate, the Bible would include options other than natural heterosexuality; yet homosexuality is only ever condemned.

So, second, homosexuality, like every other sin, is a conscious rebellion against divinely created order. Scriptures (like Romans 1:26-32) clearly call homosexual behaviour sinful. To deliberately choose to practise a sin is intentional rebellion.

Third, deliberately sterile homosexuality violates God’s intention for human creation itself. The Bible says, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. So God blessed them and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.’ ” (Genesis 1:27-28)

Fourth, homosexuality distorts the image of God. The image of God comprises both male and female, a complementarity eternal and everlasting.

To affirm homosexuality is to distort the image of God, to insult the nature and being of God.”

To his credit, and in direct op[position to Hunsperger, Leech does state “gays and lesbians have the right to live as they choose,” so there’s that …

But I digress.

The purpose of this piece is to provide a glimpse of another Wildrose candidate who, so far, has avoided media scrutiny. In addition, it seems someone has gone to great lengths to cleanse the internet of his written work.

Link Byfield, editor and publisher of the (now defunct) Alberta Report magazine, is the Wildrose candidate for Barrhead-Westlock-Morinville. A former ‘senator-in-waiting’, Byfield is beloved among social conservatives everywhere. What puzzles me is, being such a prominent figure, why he has remained silent throughout the campaign on various issues that he was once so eager to write about?

No matter. I archived much of his work years ago.

Whether Byfield’s writings are of any value to potential voters, I suppose is open for interpretation. However, given the public reaction to both Hunsperger and Leech, I suspect more than a few will appreciate having a complete picture of their potential candidate of choice.

Because I do not have (publicly accessible) links to the articles, the following excerpts can be lengthy. But I feel it is important to include as much of the original content as possible.

March 18, 2002 – On the issue of ‘conscience rights,’ the case of Dr. Stephen Dawson, a born again Christian who “refused to prescribe the birth control pill to single women or sildenafil to single men because of his religious beliefs.” Dawson not only abdicated his duties as a medical professional, but distributed photocopies of Bible passages to patients, one of which read “when you do not warn nor dissuade an unrighteous man from his evil ways, he will lose his soul for his iniquity, and his blood will be on your hands.”

He faced charges of professional misconduct, but in the end the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) and Dawson ‘ended their confrontation’ by agreeing a detailed policy statement be posted in his waiting room, and that he refrain from proselytizing to patients.

(Ironically enough, Dawson would later have his license revoked for having “committed an act of professional misconduct in that he engaged in the sexual abuse of a patient.”)

Here is Byfield’s take, in part, on the matter:

“Note well the case of Dr. Stephen Dawson … Not only could it sound the death knell of freedom, but of society as we have known it.

Dr. Dawson is a Christian of no particular denomination. He reads the Bible and I’d think he prays. […] He realized, he says, that he should stop abetting the sins of his patients, so he sent them all a letter explaining that he would no longer write birth-control prescriptions for unmarried women, or dispense Viagra for single men, since this would promote adultery. Nor would he refer anyone to a more compliant doctor.

If any such letter came to me, whether I agreed with it or not, I’d rejoice. […] Last summer four women, even though they were perfectly free to find themselves another contraceptive dealer, complained to the provincial college of physicians. The CPSO has since charged him with “professional misconduct in that he failed to meet the overall moral and professional standard of care.” How ironic. His case is set for April.

Dr. Dawson has sinned against modern sensibilities in two ways, or so I would gather by reading the scathing comments about him in the press. First, he is discriminating against unmarried, sexually active women. This is hopelessly cruel and inconsiderate, apparently …Women have a God-given right (or at least a government-given one) to copulate as they wish without hindrance and lectures from him. Worse, granted that he himself has this mental thing about chastity, he has refused to send them along to someone with views more up to date. He has said that if he did, he might as well give them what they want himself; his responsibility is to discourage them as best he can.

Such intransigence has provoked outrage. “Suppose someone said, ‘I’m uncomfortable with treating a minority,”‘ countered science and religion Professor James Robert Brown in the Barrie Examiner. “I’d say, ‘So long, scum.’ You have no right letting your private beliefs affect your public behaviour.”

If Prof. Brown is the best the University of Toronto can find to moralize on the rights of conscience, God help Ontario. Anyone who could utter a remark so moronic belongs on a human-rights commission somewhere … Only a weak or perverse mind would equate race with sexual behaviour. To refuse medicine to a man because he is white or yellow or black is morally a totally different thing than saying that certain occasions of sexual intercourse should be discouraged. There are no “wrong” races unless you are a racist. There are, however, many, many “wrong” forms of sex, unless you are an imbecile.

[…] There is a growing tendency to mistake hurt feelings for criminal assault, especially on behalf of politically favoured “victim” groups: women, homosexuals, ethnic minorities, etc. To criticize their attitudes or behaviour is to “attack” them, which amounts to sexism, homophobia and racism. Thus freed from unkind comment, they do what they like.

But the worst part of Dr. Dawson’s prosecution is this. He is defending the principle of sexual purpose: that it isn’t just for recreation; it’s to transmit life through the natural institution of the family. Suppress his right to defend the natural family and you render inevitable the only ultimate alternative–the spiritually vacuous Brave New World that is the subject of this week’s cover story by Terry O’Neill. We always want to think that “choices” don’t really matter. They really do. Some paths lead to heaven, others to hell. If as a society we choose to suppress genuine freedom in favour of some fraudulent synthetic substitute, we will soon find ourselves in hell. Dr. Dawson could be forgiven for thinking we’ve already arrived. “

January 1, 2001 – On the issue of same sex marriage.

“ […] Registered Domestic Partnership (RDP). This singularly unattractive label would be affixed to any two people who want to declare themselves mutually dependent for tax and pension purposes, be they a married man and wife, common-law cohabitants, two siblings, two gays or just two long-time friends.

[…] First, all of our “houses of worship” worth the name always have and always will reserve marriage solely to heterosexuals … homosexuality being what it is, relatively few homosexuals and lesbians want to be married anyway. They may want the right, but few seem to want the reality. This whole struggle has been about political mastery, not equal rights, for this is not a right they use … the few who do form more lasting partnerships already have the same tax and benefit rights as normal married couples… the Liberals gave them that last year: everything except the use of the word “marriage.” And now, needless to say, a few activists are determined to get that too, and nothing seems likely to stop them … the goal now is status.

This debate is not … between “traditionalists” and “progressivists.” It’s between nature and perversity; between reality and illusion. The triangle of father, mother and child is a permanent and inescapable norm of human nature. You can always find some workable exceptions to it, but they have to be recognized as exceptions. Any society foolish enough to pretend there is no norm will soon enough suffer grave, even fatal, consequences.

The danger of homosexual marriage is not that there will be many such marriages. There will be few. The danger lies in recognizing them, or affirming them, or pretending they’re just as good as the real thing. It debases the whole institution.

I don’t think it is possible to have a free and orderly society if the state refuses to affirm certain natural moral norms. It’s one thing to say that we should tolerate differences, but quite another to insist that the state not recognize any norms at all. Yet that is what we keep trying to do.

Christians say that man is inclined to rebellion against both God and his own better nature–that his good inclinations have been corrupted by ungodly, unnatural contrary impulses: pride, anger, dishonesty, lust, laziness, jealousy and greed. A good government sets itself to discourage these bad impulses, but can’t succeed unless (a) the government itself can tell good from bad, and (b) most people actually govern themselves. Families are an essential–in fact the essential–agent of that self-government. They are the first and most effective authority of all. Forget that simple fact and you are very soon left with a choice between anarchy and slavery. Which increasingly is our emerging circumstance. “

February 5, 2001 – On homosexuality, apparently being in the same class as, and promoting, pedophilia.

“The like-minded groups we now discreetly refer to as “sexual minorities”–homosexuals, lesbians, pedophiles, etc.–loomed large in the news in January. There was worldwide media attention on two gay pseudo-weddings in Toronto, which were described as a “first” despite the fact that such illegal ceremonies have been occurring in a few obscure renegade “churches” for years.

[…] The January 1-8 edition of the U.S. Weekly Standard newsmagazine carried a chilling story … (documenting) how pedophiles are gaining acceptance as a legitimate “sexual minority,” especially the homosexual variety. This astonishing tolerance is not to be found among the general public … rather it exists among the various social, medical and psychological establishments, and many (though not all) of the homosexual organizations, where it has been incubating securely for over a decade. Now it is creeping stealthily into the areas of high culture and gay literature, cutting-edge cinema, classy advertising, “gay studies” departments, and into the legal system.

The process is identical to the one that has succeeded so well for homosexuality–behaviour which, you may recall, was a crime until 32 years ago. First, pedophilia ceases to be an immoral act; it becomes merely an illness. All the terminology is carefully neutralized: to go on calling it “sexual abuse” is denounced as pedophobic. It then rapidly ceases to be seen as a disease, and becomes merely a different orientation.”

March 19, 2001 – On homosexuals as parents, caregivers, and (apparently incompetent) competent human beings.

“A lesbian in our vicinity named Teresa O’Riordan, I read in our weekly Morinville-Gibbons Free Press, has been appointed to the local Community Justice Committee. She and seven other volunteers will help try to keep young offenders out of jail by giving them guidance and encouragement to turn their lives around.

[…] four years ago Ms. O’Riordan was something of a celebrity, when she had a run-in with the Alberta social services department over her suitability as a foster mother. […]

Ms. T O’Riordan and her then-husband had the reputation in foster-parent circles of being excellent substitute caregivers; in fact, they specialized in severe and difficult cases … but in their middle years in, the middle ’90s, Mr. T departed, Mrs. T discovered herself to be a lesbian, kept possession of the house and brought in a female spouse. Word got around, and when she applied for two more foster children, having only one remaining in her care, she was asked if her new live-in was “more than just a friend.” Having thus run afoul of an Alberta Social Services policy against employing “nontraditional families” for foster purposes, she shared her unhappiness with the Edmonton Journal. Ever vigilant against homophobic intolerance in Alberta’s Tory government, the Journal loudly proclaimed her cause against then minister Stockwell Day.

But Mr. Day soon moved on to Treasury, and his social services successor, Lyle Oberg, put the “nontraditional” policy under “review.” The Alberta government was by now under attack about human rights from lesbians in Calgary, homosexuals in Edmonton, sterilization victims, nine sarcastic judges in the Supreme Court of Canada, the United Nations, federal cabinet ministers, its own addlepated human rights commission, Desmond Tutu and media-driven lobby groups everywhere. So on the question of homosexual fostering and adoption it quietly buckled.

[…] According to the Free Press, she is now a government-paid family counsellor in Athabasca during the day, and presents after-hours family life courses about parenting and anger management in Edmonton. And to boot she’s on one of federal Justice Minister Anne McLellan’s new Gentleness and Compassion Committees.

All of which goes to show how absurdly our public attitudes have been turned on their head. Here we have a divorcee teaching families how to succeed, a lesbian teaching about parenting, and all on the state payroll. Here we see a noted permissivist assigned to monitor young criminals whose most urgent need is probably a good hard kick in the pants.

As for anger management, I can’t help but wonder (bigot that I am) if Ms. T’s household suffers the kind of domestic violence and discord for which lesbian relationships are so notorious. The odds are that it doesn’t, but short of a police complaint or hospital emergency visit, how would anyone know? Did anyone ask? Is anyone these days allowed to ask?

[…] The trouble with Ms. T is not that she is a bad person; I assume she’s a very nice person, a nicer and more caring one than I. Nor is the problem that she’s “different”; we are all in some ways unusual, and if we weren’t it would be a dull world. No, the trouble with Ms. T is simply that there is no Mr. T, and every child should, if at all possible, have a mother and a father. It’s the way nature intended it, and no matter how many lobby groups and judges claim otherwise, the government can’t change nature. Moreover, anyone who can’t see something so obvious has no business teaching others about family life. Of all the things Ms. O’Riordan might have made a livelihood doing, it’s odd she chose this one. And it’s even odder that the people who hired her saw nothing odd about it. I suppose they sensed that the sexual misfits are unaccountably in control of things, and feared that if they didn’t hire Ms. O’Riordan they’d find themselves beset by her ruthless media attack dogs. Rather than risk such a calamity, they put her on the payroll. That’s how it’s done these days.“

November 20, 2000 –  On … Eminem?!? (and Byfield’s selective support for censorship and really, really Big Government.)

“There was much rolling of eyes two weeks ago when authorities in Ontario tried to prevent the loathsome white rapper Marshall Mathers (alias Eminem) from entering Canada. The attempt failed, the concert sold out and there was predictable tut-tutting about the self-defeating futility of anyone trying to censor “freedom of expression.”

Now like most people of reasonable taste, I have never listened to Mr. Mathers’ noise. Reading about it is enough. […]

It probably was a mistake for Ontario Attorney General Jim Flaherty even to suggest there was a chance Mr. Mathers could be kept out for violating Canada’s Criminal Code hate law … he demonstrated his and our utter impotence to establish community standards of any kind at all.

Small-l liberals seem to like it this way. Mr. Mathers “is no more shocking for our time than Elvis and his swivel hips were for his, not to mention Alice Cooper and his chopping up a baby doll on stage in the 1970s,’ wrote Edmonton Journal pop culture apologist David Staples … he thinks the rapper deserves “respect” for giving the “raging ambitions and hormones” of young males a safe outlet. “It crosses a line,” conceded Mr. Staples, “but it’s nothing too horrific, and it certainly expresses feeling.”

Well, yes. And all feelings are equally good, right? So say the liberals. All emotions, no matter how depraved, unreasonable, destructive, self-indulgent, violent and vile–all deserve an unrestrained airing on a public stage, and life will go on. Nothing is shocking, nothing is shameful. Just learn a little tolerance.

[…] Why should we tolerate Eminem? He is bad for music, bad for social peace and trust, bad for morals, bad for his fans, bad for everyone, including himself … That liberals like Mr. Staples can behold 20,000 fans worshipping someone with the manners and morals of pimp, and imagine no evil will come of it if we just look the other way, surely represents some kind of cultural death wish.

It’s time–long past time, in fact–to admit that we have stopped even trying to defend community standards of decency. The job entails someone saying “no” to the parade of creeps who pander for profit to humanity’s worst instincts and impulses. Until about 40 years ago we were willing to do this, and we were a stronger and better people as a result.

What we need is a Criminal Code amendment authorizing municipalities to empanel a jury of citizens, half of them men and half women chosen at random, to arbitrate community standards. If Valerie Smith thinks Mr. Mathers has squandered his right to appear in Toronto, she should make her case to the jurors, and if two-thirds agree with her the concert should be shut down. If a record or video store sells such material, and a jury majority finds it outside community norms, the merchant should be fined.

Horrors! the liberals will cry; that would be censorship. Yes, indeed it would. But what is the alternative? To say there must be no such thing as community standards? To insist that our social norms must always be set by those who are consciously determined to destroy them?

No credible case can be made that a free society never censors anything. A few lingering vestiges of censorship can be found even in our own; public sexual intercourse is still forbidden, for example, at least for now. (But just wait for the chorus: How intolerant of us! How would it harm you?)

The real question is, who gets to say what the community standard is? To whom do we entrust that task? To government bureaucrats? Not likely. To judges? No, they’ve spent the last four decades telling us they don’t feel qualified. But that leaves only one source of authority–namely, the public itself.

So let’s ask the public. Empanel a jury and let the Marshall Mathers of this world make their case.”

When Danielle Smith insists, so long as she is the leader of the Wildrose, she will not legislate on moral issues, I believe her. However, that doesn’t mean Albertans should be electing individuals who have yet to escape the mentality of the 19th century.

One of the more amusing moments to emerge from the Leaders’ Debate was Liberal Leader Raj Sherman’s quip: “This is Alberta, not Alabama.”

The Wildrose would do well to remember that.

Cross-posted at CalgaryPolitics.com

#OccupyWallStreet – Calgary edition

So much has been written about the Occupy movement, it’s difficult to discuss it further without a sense of redundancy. At the same time, it’s difficult for the apolitical to fully appreciate the scope of the protests without understanding the motivation behind it.

It’s also difficult to examine the #OccupyCalgary movement without first studying the original cause.

Below are snippets of some of the best analysis / commentary:

Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman:

It remains to be seen whether the Occupy Wall Street protests will change America’s direction. Yet the protests have already elicited a remarkably hysterical reaction from Wall Street, the super-rich in general, and politicians and pundits who reliably serve the interests of the wealthiest hundredth of a percent …  (the) people who got rich by peddling complex financial schemes that, far from delivering clear benefits to the American people, helped push us into a crisis whose aftereffects continue to blight the lives of tens of millions of their fellow citizens.

Yet they have paid no price. Their institutions were bailed out by taxpayers, with few strings attached. They continue to benefit from explicit and implicit federal guarantees — basically, they’re still in a game of heads they win, tails taxpayers lose. And they benefit from tax loopholes that in many cases have people with multimillion-dollar incomes paying lower rates than middle-class families.

Former Clinton labour secretary and economist Robert Reich:

Barack Obama is many things but he is as far from left-wing populism as any Democratic president in modern history. True, he once had the temerity to berate “fat cats” on Wall Street, but that remark was the exception – and subsequently caused him endless problems on the Street.

To the contrary, Obama has been extraordinarily solicitous of Wall Street and big business – making Timothy Geithner Treasury Secretary and de facto ambassador from the Street; seeing to it that Bush’s Fed appointee, Ben Bernanke, got another term; and appointing GE Chair Jeffrey Immelt to head his jobs council.

Most tellingly, it was President Obama’s unwillingness to place conditions on the bailout of Wall Street – not demanding, for example, that the banks reorganize the mortgages of distressed homeowners, and that they accept the resurrection of the Glass-Steagall Act, as conditions for getting hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars – that contributed to the new populist insurrection.

The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof:

The frustration in America isn’t so much with inequality in the political and legal worlds, as it was in Arab countries, although those are concerns too. Here the critical issue is economic inequity. According to the C.I.A.’s own ranking of countries by income inequality, the United States is more unequal a society than either Tunisia or Egypt.

Three factoids underscore that inequality:

-The 400 wealthiest Americans have a greater combined net worth than the bottom 150 million Americans.

-The top 1 percent of Americans possess more wealth than the entire bottom 90 percent.

-In the Bush expansion from 2002 to 2007, 65 percent of economic gains went to the richest 1 percent. […]

The banks have gotten away with privatizing profits and socializing risks, and that’s just another form of bank robbery.

‘We have a catastrophically bad misregulation of the financial system,’ said Amar Bhidé, a finance expert at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. ‘Its consequences led to a taint of the entire system of modern enterprise.’

Economists used to believe that we had to hold our noses and put up with high inequality as the price of robust growth. But more recent research suggests the opposite: inequality not only stinks, but also damages economies.” 

Other notable supporters of the movement include Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney and renowned economist  Jeffery Sachs (video).

Although the #OccupyCalgary demonstrators voiced their solidarity with the American people, the Calgary ‘occupiers’ were generally more concerned about the issues here at home.

Among the issues discussed were an income gap widening faster than that in the U.S, a government whose ‘austerity’ measures conveniently overlook corporate welfare while slashing key governmental agencies, and an electoral system that awards a ‘majority’ to a party which garnered just 40% of the vote.

It seemed more an #OccupyParliamentHill movement than an #OccupyCalgary one.

Nearly all in attendance were content Calgarians who were happily employed, representing, among others, the financial and oil sectors, health care and education industries, and student body. Even the police in attendance were happy to count themselves as the 99%. After all, they *are* part of the public sector. They are also unionized. This makes them part of the Horrible Terrible No Good Very Bad ‘union thugs’ and ‘public sector leaches’ Conservative politicians (and media) regularly villainize.

Four legs good; Two legs bad. Private sector good; Public sector bad.

But I digress.

What impressed me most about the #OccupyCalgary demonstration was the overall friendliness, politeness, and respect displayed by all in attendance. There were no instances of vandalism or violence; no abuse or disrespect shown to the authorities present.

Following the events at Bankers Hall, the protestors marched down Stephen Avenue toward Olympic Plaza, where they held a general assembly and set up camp, vowing to remain as long as they’re permitted.

Cross-posted at rabble.ca

Further reading: Parsing the Data and Ideology of the We Are 99% 

Below are some of the images I captured over the course of the day.


Secondary Suites And The Right To Affordable Housing

In December 2007, at the height of Calgary’s housing crunch, a report emerged from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation that confirmed what many had long suspected: the cost of renting a two bedroom apartment in Calgary eclipsed that of all major Canadian cities, marking the first time since the CMHC started tracking the data that Calgary tenants paid more than their counterparts in Toronto and Vancouver.

What’s more, the cost of that two bedroom apartment had grown by 83% over the span of a decade, from the $595 paid on average in 1996, to the $1,089 required to rent an equivalent unit in 2007.

A poll conducted in 2008 found that due to this dramatic cost increase (combined with a critically low vacancy rate), half of those sleeping on Calgary streets were employed, including 200 working families – 190 of which included one or more children.

Even those fortunate enough to have secured affordable accommodations before the vacancy rate plummeted to 0.5% were’t immune.

Some Calgarians found themselves among the 2500 tenants unilaterally evicted as landlords raced to convert entire rental complexes into more profitable condominiums, while others faced seemingly obscure rent increases, leaving them little option but to pay hundreds of dollars extra per month in order to stave off eviction.

Such was the experience of Marni Armstrong, whose landlord hiked her rent by 150%, from $600 to $1500 per month in an effort to force her and others from their units so to hasten the process of condo conversion.

Despite widespread calls for the Province to implement rent controls, a measure overwhelmingly supported by homeowners (78%) and renters (92%) in both Calgary and Edmonton, the Stelmach government flatly rejected the idea, even refusing to consider it as a temporary measure.

Because of the Tories’ reluctance to intervene, hundreds, if not thousands, of Calgarians were effectively priced out of the market during the housing crisis, forced onto the streets despite having steady, if not multiple, sources of income.

Skip ahead to 2011, and evidently, little has changed.

According to the most recent data from the CMHC, the average cost of renting a two bedroom apartment in Calgary sits at $1,069 per month, virtually identical to the 2007 market. A 2011 report released by The City of Calgary Community and Neighbourhood Services Social Research Unit outlines the continual need for affordable housing alternativesin the city.

On affordable housing and homelessness, the report states “homelessness is not only a housing problem, but it is always a housing problem.”

“In order to rent a two-bedroom apartment in Calgary in the Private Rental Market without overspending on shelter, a person would need to earn a minimum wage of $20.62 per hour, which is an hourly shortfall of $11.82 over the current Alberta Minimum Wage of $8.80. Stated another way, 2.3 people would need to work full- time for a full-year at the current Alberta Minimum Wage of $8.80 to affordably rent a two-bedroom apartment in Calgary.”

It estimates nearly 40,000 renters in Calgary who “simply cannot afford to pay average market rent [leaving] them at considerable risk of becoming homeless.”

Though Calgary’s city council cannot change decisions made at the provincial level (rent control, minimum wage), they posses the ability to expand the market of safe, affordable housing for both renters, and home owners, simply by making secondary suites legal throughout the city.

The measure currently being considered by city council, and endorsed by influential organizations including the CMHC, Calgary Chamber of Commerce (CCOC), Calgary Real Estate Board (CREB), Canadian Home Builders’ Association – Calgary Region (CHBA), Commercial Real Estate Development Association (NAIOP), Urban Development Institute (UDI), Fraser Institute, Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF), and the YWCA of Calgary, would be beneficial to all Calgarians, irrespective of age, race, gender, or income.

As noted by the CMHC, legalizing secondary suites is “a relatively inexpensive, low impact way to provide safe, affordable housing to Calgarians [which] affords the opportunity for renters to live in locations … close to their places of work, educational institutions or important services.”

Calgary home owners, both current and prospective, would also benefit from the legalization of secondary suites because rental income from legal suites can assist in paying down, or count toward qualifying for, a home mortgage. In essence, secondary suites make housing more affordable for all Calgarians, regardless of socioeconomic status.

Much of the opposition toward the broad legalization of secondary suites arises from the disconnect between the reality and perception of what constitutes a livable income, as well as attitudes toward those on the lowest end of the bracket.

A Salvation Army report examining Canadians’ attitudes toward poverty found over half of those surveyed believe a family of four “can get by on $30,000 a year or less, including 21 per cent who think $20,000 is enough.” According to Statistics Canada, a Canadian family of four earns, on average, $84.800 annually – more than double what is believed to be the absolute minimum.

On those living in poverty:

– 49 per cent believe if the unemployed really want to work, they’d find a job

– 43 per cent believe all you need to escape poverty is “a good work ethic”

– 41 per cent believe those in poverty “take advantage” of assistance programs

– 28 per cent believe those in poverty have lower moral values

– 23 per cent believe people live in poverty because they’re lazy

The fact is, people who live at or below the poverty line include  students, seniors, and those with struggling with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities. They include single parents, working families, and immigrants new to the Country. Many living in poverty aren’t unemployed, but underemployed – possessing an extensive range of skills and training, but only able to find work in low paying positions.

For these people, having access to safe, affordable accommodations is often the vital first step toward escaping life on the brink.

Affordable housing should never be considered a privilege, but a basic human right.

Calgary prides itself on being a world class city, welcome to all who wish to enjoy the vast array of culture, diversity, and opportunity the city provides.

How attainable this ideal will be for future generations will depend entirely on the ability to afford the opportunity to call Calgary home, and the looming decision on secondary suites could prove to be the deciding factor.

Cross-posted at rabble.ca

Calgary City Council will decide the fate of secondary suites THIS COMING MONDAY, March 7. It’s time to  Take Action, Calgary!

Contact Mayor Nenshi and/or your local Alderman and tell him/her to support the legalization of secondary suites – ALL contact information can be found HERE

Together we can keep the city moving forward, beyond outdated policies, and toward a Better Calgary.

Facts Matter In The Debate Over Water Fluoridation

It’s known as one of the top ten public health achievements of the 20th century : a “classic example of clinical observation leading to epidemiological investigation and community-based public health intervention,” remaining “the most equitable and cost-effective method of delivering [health benefits] to all members of most communities, regardless of age, educational attainment, or income level.”

It’s a service that has benefitted Calgarians for two decades, backed by peer reviewed research and conclusive scientific data demonstrating the undeniable role it plays in the field of preventive medicine.

Raise a glass to Community Water Fluoridation (CWF), that is, while you still can. Because Monday, City Council will vote on Ald. Druh Farrell’s regressive motion to scrap Calgary’s water fluoridation program.

Armed with unsubstantiated claims and assertions gleaned from sources such as the discredited Fluoride Action Network, (or perhaps from the uninformed and poorly researched editorial in the Calgary Herald), Farrell and other luddites on city council are on the verge of rescinding an effective program based entirely on conspiracy theories and misinformation.

Claim: It’s not cost effective / other sources of fluoride do a better job at protecting teeth.

Fact: Despite the increase exposure to other sources of fluoride, “particularly from fluoride-containing dentifrices,” water fluoridation “continues to be the most far-reaching preventive [dental health] measure, [offering] an unmatched return on investment – saving $38 in dental treatment costs for every dollar spent.”

The U.S. Surgeon general reports that savings provided by CWF are “a rare characteristic for community-based disease prevention strategies. The mean annual per capita cost of fluoridation systems serving populations greater than 50,000 is [a mere]$0.68.”

Claim: The overall downward trend in cavity rates is due factors such as better oral hygiene, not water fluoridation / It doesn’t benefit adults.

Fact: Children living in communities with water fluoridation experience an 18% cavity reduction compared to those in communities without access to fluoridated water. Adolescents and adults in communities with fluoridated water experience an average of 25.6% and 20-40% respectively, than their counterparts living in communities without access to fluoridated water.

The U.S. Surgeon General reports “other evidence of the benefits of fluoridation comes from studies of populations where fluoridation has ceased … In Wick, Scotland, which began water fluoridation in 1969 but stopped it in 1979, the [cavity] prevalence in 5- to 6-year-olds … increased by 27 percent between 1979 and 1984. This was despite a national decline in [cavities] and increased availability of fluoride-containing [dental products].”

Claim: Studies show the risks of fluoridation outweigh the benefits / there is growing credible research demonstrating the dangers of ingesting fluoride.

Fact: Research into the effects of fluoridated drinking water “predates the first community field trials. Since 1950, opponents of water fluoridation have claimed it increased the risk for cancer, Down syndrome, heart disease, osteoporosis and bone fracture, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, low intelligence, Alzheimer disease, allergic reactions, and other health conditions. The safety and effectiveness of water fluoridation [is regularly] re-evaluated, and no credible evidence supports an association between fluoridation and any of these conditions.”

Specifically, from a study done by Dr. David Locker, Community Dental Health Services Research Unit – Faculty of Dentistry, University of Toronto:

Regarding acute toxicity: “Fluoride is a poison in large doses but toxic levels cannot be achieved by drinking fluoridated water.”

Regarding bone health (osteoporosis; weak, brittle bones): “…the studies conducted to date do not provide systemic and compelling evidence of an adverse effect on bone.”

Regarding cancer: “… there is no reason to believe that exposure to fluoridated water increases rates of cancer either of bone or other body tissues.”

Regarding immune function: “…a review paper examined studies of fluoride and immune response … and found no support for the suggestion that fluoride affects immunity.”

Regarding mental development: “Recent studies emanating from China have claimed that children exposed to high levels of fluoride have lower IQ’s than children exposed to low levels. The two studies claiming such an effect are deeply flawed and provide no credible evidence that fluoride obtained from water or industrial pollution affects the intellectual development of children.”

The merits of water fluoridation are unmatched and undeniable. Endorsed by Medical and Dental Associations worldwide, CWF is considered an investment in the future health and overall wellbeing of a given population.

Perhaps the most important, and overlooked, aspect of CWF is the extent to which it benefits the underprivileged members of society. As outlined in a 2009 report from the European Archives of Pediatric Dentistry, “water fluoridation is unmatched in its ability to reach all sectors of society, including those who are least likely to avail of other sources of fluoride or to access regular dental care … water fluoridation seems to reduce inequalities in children’s dental health across social classes in 5 and 12 year olds. Further research in this area has shown that water fluoridation benefits all social strata, and supports the finding that it may reduce inequalities in oral health, which is seen as one of fluoridation’s greatest strengths.”

This counteracts recent claims from Tea Party/Libertarians that CWF somehow deprives them of their choice to consume un-fluoridated water; that it violates their ‘personal freedoms‘.

Unlike the disadvantaged who have neither the money for, nor the access to, expensive dental procedures, those demanding ‘freedom’ and ‘choice’ are the very ones who have the opportunity to exercise it.

If Calgarians are unsatisfied by the water provided by the city, they can opt to invest in a water filtration system, or chose to consume bottled water. It really is that simple.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi, a fellow fan of scientific research and hard evidence, has expressed his desire for input from the scientific community, medical experts, and the general public, regarding the future of Calgary’s water fluoridation program.

It’s my hope that the medical, dental, and scientific communities heed the Mayor’s call for expert, informed opinion. Whether City Council votes to end Calgary’s fluoridation program or not, it’s important that votes are based on accurate information and conclusive evidence.

Three months ago, Calgarians opted for progress and advancement when they elected Nenshi as mayor. Let’s hope the 14 Aldermen chosen to represent the will of the people will continue to do just that, and keep the much beneficial water fluoridation program.