Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Record of my visit to a lecture on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

A Record of my Attendance at the Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner’s Talk, May 1, 2015

I was at the Truth and Reconciliation discussion on May 1, 2015.  Murray Sinclair, the head of the commission was speaking at that event.  It was held at the church of the Redeemer in downtown Toronto.  I was one of the younger audience members; I think there were about six others close to my age.  The rest of the participants were older to the point of having retired.  There were about two hundred people in attendance. 

The talk started with a history of the Indian Act in Canada.  Sinclair pointed to some truths.  First, Sir John A Macdonald decreed that the government could not be sued for their actions.  The indian commissioner – (Macdonald) could not be sued personally for his actions.  As well, any lawyer in Canada could not give any native person legal advice whatsoever, on pain of losing their right to practice law in Canada forever.

Then there was a discussion of the residential schools.  The idea of the residential schools was not to educate; it was to indoctrinate and destroy the native culture itself.  The main way this was done was by denying those native students the right to speak in their own language.  As well, it was pointed out that someone coming to the residential school would have their head shaved.  In native culture, your hair, even if it is cut off, is part of you.  The ritual is that your hair is burned; however this did not happen in the context of the residential schools.

Two videos were shown: the first was a documentary from people who had lived in residential schools and they described what happened to them. This was a very painful video to watch, and it was at this point that some audience members got up and left.  The stories of pain and hurt were radical and deep.  They had no comfort in the narratives and the people who experienced the residential schools – even decades before they spoke – spoke with an immediacy that brought the events into the present.

The question and answer period was interesting, and one consensus was that people were saddened and angered at this hidden part of Canada’s history.  One thing Mr Sinclair said was that the young people he saw at one large gathering out west were determined to keep the history alive so that the same mistakes did not happen again.

I asked two questions:

In the narratives he heard of and saw, were there any intersections between Canada’s sterilization laws and the residential schools?

What was going to happen to the data accumulated as records, since I had heard those records were not going to be released and they would be destroyed?

The first question was answered as follows: Mr Sinclair did not hear of any points of contact explicitly, but he heard of times when those intersections were made.  Because the data on those sterilizations was provincial data, and the provinces involved refused to release the data, that information might remain hidden.

The second question was answered as follows: the data on the residential schools was stored in the government private archives; it was also in the hands of a group regulating the residential schools.  Apparently there is a complete data set, and there might be another, but Mr Sinclair was explicit in saying that his commission did not have access to that set, nor did they have authority to demand a copy.

This was an evening of learning.  The information given was supported by the videos.  I did not get a chance to take away any of the handouts that were present; but I did look at what was happening and went in with the idea of learning about this.  There is available online a document written in 2012 from the website, which outlines the residential schools.  It is available online at   

I am not sure where the article is found precisely, but Mr Sinclair invited me to access it.

This is a part of Canada’s history which has been carefully hidden.  We need to expose this part of history, both for the awareness it would bring and the opportunity to learn about this history.  If it is hidden it can be forgotten; if it can be forgotten, it can be repeated.  We do not want that to happen.  People do want to know more about this history, given that there was a full house that night.

The intersection between native rights and disabled rights is not clear to me at this time, but there are parallels.  The idea that the native communities were highly regulated and hidden away from public view; the notion that rights were curtailed as a means of achieving goals; the notion that regulations and not people came first in these narratives.  These are only the points of contact I can think of off the top of my head.  This must not be allowed to fade; we must not forget this.  In addition, we must not allow those hurt voices to be silenced.

The same is true for the disabled community: we cannot afford to allow this residential schools history to go unnoticed and unremarked; we have a stake in this too.   The reason is not for the purpose of colonization, but more for the purpose of learning and sharing to avoid these traps into the future.  Human lives were at stake then, and we did nothing.  We must not allow that to happen again.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Censorship: Or, Ontario Politics by Other Means

I am a twerp.  This is because I am a blogger and consider myself a ‘citizen journalist.’ (Okay, I realize that last is a stretch, but allow me this fantastic moment.)  I am also, according to some, a Neanderthal, although I think I’m more Cro-Magnon.  (I’m saying this based on the deep evolutionary roots of my family background, we came over to England in 1066 and all that.)  I am referring tangentially, of course, to the Toronto Star’s article on the TVO doc that Kathy doesn’t want us to see.

I have come to the conclusion that Kathleen Wynne’s whole politics is one of behind the scenes control, and she just wants to control all, and make it look like she’s nice.

She’s all about that power base.  No discourse.  You see, there is a deep groundswell of dis-satisfaction in this province, and as I have said elsewhere, I think it’s getting worse.  We have numerous ways and reasons to be dis-satisfied, but this attempt at censorship is disturbing on a different level.

It’s because of a few things Kathy says in the documentary, according to the Star.  First, she calls a Star reporter who is dogging her a twerp.  So this journalist, asking questions in a democracy (for now) is labelled by Kathy as a twerp for doing his or her job.  Hmm….

And then she calls Monte McNaughton a Neanderthal.  This is because of his apparent views, views which, by the way, anyone can hold as a point of conscience, but she doesn’t apparently explore in the documentary.  No, she just labels.  And then there is the paragraph leading up to that labelling of Mr. McNaughton:

‘‘We worked it out in the morning. But Jane (Rounthwaite) said, ‘Don’t give him (McNaughton) the word.  Make him say it,’ the premier recalls.  Adds Rounthwaite, seated beside her for the interview, ‘Let everyone fill in the word.  Don’t give him the gift, he doesn’t deserve it.  This guy is a Neanderthal and we just won’t help him.’’

Here’s a problem: Rounthwaite is dictating policy?  Is that the take-away of this?  Or is Wynne driven by something other than political considerations in this exchange?  Who did we elect?  And why is it that we have someone in power who is so cynically willing to call a reporter a twerp, or another politician a Neanderthal?  That is the accepted level of political discourse in this province, and it was dictated by someone else.  That is what the apparent majority of voters in Ontario are willing to accept.  Wynne admits she is not in control: if that is the case, then she is not as powerful as she would have others believe.

And that is probably what keeps her up at night, and that is why she resorts to name calling.  She’s got nothing left.
In another part of the story, Kathy says, ‘They can’t stand what I stand for and they are going to look for any way to make me look bad.’  Um, pot kettle black there, Kathy?  If you can’t take that sort of grilling, get outta the frying pan.  And she decides, according to the article, that she is never going to speak to an un-named reporter ever again.  So her position is so weak it can’t withstand public scrutiny…

That’s when she apparently calls a reporter a twerp.

So here’s my take-away: Ontario has politically-caused problems, like province-wide discriminatory carding; gas plants; ORNGE (an ambulance service so expensive they can’t afford to buy another vowel); the sex-ed debacle; and now we have Kathy wanting to keep a lid on this documentary.

And now that this documentary is in the can, Kathy has shit-canned it.  So much for wanting little chats, huh?  What are you so afraid of, not allowing this documentary to be shown?  What is it that you don’t want ordinary Ontarians to see?  On the other hand, if you treat reporters and fellow politicians the way you do, how much worse will you treat the citizens if they confront you?  Like young Ontario citizens who need to lobby for Kalydeco because it’s not listed?

Anyway, I’m kind of glad she won’t let us see the documentary.  She doesn’t need the free publicity.  Even though the Ontario taxpayers paid for something else the government is wasting.  Remember, she knew she was being filmed, and she treated people the way she did, only to complain about it later.  The people she complained about in my examples are parts of a well-functioning democracy.  The rest of us, who don’t have that clout, social power or standing really don’t have a hope.  Personally, I’d like to see the documentary, but if Kathy says I can’t, well I can’t.  ‘Cause if I did, she might call me names.

She calls a reporter a twerp, Monte McNaughton a Neanderthal, and these are public figures.  What would she call ordinary citizens behind the scenes, citizens like Madi Vanstone, who needed the province’s help getting a delisted medication?  What would she call an ordinary blogger like me?  Let’s be glad we don’t know the answer to that…

I’d like Kathy to know I’m a mature enough voter I can make up my own mind, not have it decided for me.  But she’s too afraid of losing control for that to happen.  Because I might decide for myself, and then what would she do?  For the record, I’m not afraid of her name-calling.  I’m mature enough, I can take it.  I just wouldn’t return the favour if she called me names.  Oddly, it’s not surprising she’d hold a kindergarten level of discourse: she was the Education Minister, after all, so at least she paid attention to somebody once.  Too bad she didn’t apply that lesson other places.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Book Review: Gerbert van Loenen, Do You Call this a Life?

Book Review: Do you call this a Life?: Blurred Boundaries in the Netherlands’ Right to Die Laws
By Gerbert van Loenen,
Ross Lattner, London, Canada, 2015

This is a good book, out of a Dutch translation.  The author is an investigative journalist who noted a friend’s suggestion at a dinner party that his partner, who was disabled, had no right to complain if he was unhappy with his situation: he could always get euthanasia.  So if there is euthanasia, stop complaining or die already.

The inhospitable nature of this statement, said at a dinner party no less, reflects the socially and medically inhospitable climate in which people with disabilities live every day.  Even if the statement is not said aloud, the assumption can be there in attitudes, resources or voiced or silent opinions.  It was this statement, said casually, which launched the research giving rise to the book.

The social setting for the context of this book echoes the work of Katharine Quarmby’s Scapegoat: How we are Failing Disabled People  and McIver and Wyndham’s After the Error: Speaking Out about Patient Safety to Save Lives.  Do You Call this a Life? sits easily on the shelf next to either of these two books.

Whereas Quarmby’s book is based in the experience of disability in the UK, and McIver and Wyndham’s book is based on the Canadian experience of medical errors, this book is based on the Dutch experience of euthanasia.

Without getting into too much detail: if I did that I would replicate the book, it is important to note that the author uses real examples, not hypothetical or theoretical issues.  Given that the author is Dutch, this also shows that the experience and the research is Dutch; that means this book cannot be easily dismissed as not applying.

As well, there is a section of the book in which van Loenen refutes the ‘slippery slope’ argument, showing systematically and in historical, legal and social contexts how euthanasia went from a person’s own choice and request – you can only request death in Holland, not demand it – to killing infants with disabilities to killing those in comas or with dementia or who are tired of life.  Furthermore, he uses the euthanasia enthusiasts’ own words against them.

Between pages 81 and 94, van Loenen illustrates 22 arguments used to normalize medical killing in Holland, and shows the counterpoints.  In addition, in that section he highlights the contradictions of these arguments and provides in some cases concrete examples of where this has gone wrong.

So in addition to an historical and social context, this work also encompasses a very practical view of the situation in Holland.  His writing is fair and he does show the various proponents.  In the first section he confronts the readers with a series of movie reviews, pointing out that their fictive descriptions of euthanasia on screen do not match up to the reality.

This is the theme of the book: the ideals do not match reality, and reality is tortured for it in practice.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone who thinks the Dutch experience is a model for our own; I would also urge anyone who can get a copy of this book to do so.  It is clearly written, although there are some places where the translation can be a bit slippy.  This does not take away from the overall clarity of the writing, and this adds to the veritas of the book.

The fact that is written by someone who has experienced the rise of euthanasia in Holland and that it is written and researched from the Dutch perspective makes this a compelling book to read.  The work is highly referenced, although the titles are in Dutch, but there are English translations provided.

I would hope that anyone who is neutral on the subject of medical killing would consider reading this book; it should help them understand the social and medical consequences of what they are not resisting.  Well worth reading, well written and clear in its aims and objectives, this book provides a sober and real-world counterpoint to the fantastic idealisms of those who would kill dying and disabled people.  For this reason, this book is an important piece of writing.