[See correction appended below.]
I am amazed that Liberals and New Democrats have not been more effective at highlighting the hypocrisy of the Harper government’s claw back of services and benefits to veterans—especially vets who suffered cruelly in
Stephen Harper’s Canada’s* Afghanistan adventure.
Demonstrations on Remembrance Day weekend protested the closure of Veteran’s Affairs offices across the country. Recent news stories have highlighted the government’s haste to drum injured vets out of service before they qualify for extended benefits.
The contrast proved too much for a Halifax friend who watched the Halifax Mooseheads organization celebrate “DND Night” Friday. He writes:
Two dignified octogenarians in wheelchairs joined an honour guard at centre ice for the ceremonies.
To them: Thank you for your courage and service. You did a fine job of representing current and former members of the armed services on Friday.
To Moosheads Inc: Where were the wheelchair-bound vets in their twenties and thirties who are demanding the same benefits enjoyed by the gentlemen on the red carpet?
I was glad to see a good number of hockey fans sitting on their hands during the club’s opportunistic ceremony. My father, a hater of hypocrisy and a decorated veteran of the Second World War, agrees with them. He’s a resident of Veterans’ Memorial Building, where receives care of inexpressible value to him and his family. The cost to him is less than renting a decent apartment in Halifax. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs picks up the rest.
But young veterans, in wheelchairs or otherwise, are absent from Veterans’ Memorial Building. The unit where my father lives will be closed once his cohort has passed away.
I explained this to my father at breakfast yesterday, Remembrance Day. He was baffled and angered by the treatment younger vets are receiving.
Obviously, the Second World War produced vastly more vets than our recent conflicts, yet Canadians were able to provide them with benefits for the rest of their lives. It’s hard to understand why we cannot provide the same to the relatively small number of people who need our help today.
So, to the Moosehead organization and thousands of glowing hearts who participated in Friday night’s spectacle: tell your government to put your tax money where your mouth is.
* [Correction] I’m grateful to Contrarian reader Ritchie Simpson for pointing out that it was Jean Chretien, not Stephen Harper, who first committed Canadian troops to Afghanistan. According to Wikipedia, Canada sent a small contingent of troops secretly in October 2001, followed by larger numbers in January and February 2002. Canada took on a larger role in 2006, when our forces were redeployed to Kandahar province. Harper became prime minister with his first minority government on February 6, 2006.
Last month, University of Massachusetts scientists working with laboratory cell cultures said they had succeeded in suppressing the extra chromosome associated with Down syndrome, a technique they predicted could lead to treatments targeted at the symptoms of the condition.
We’ve got a genetically similar community, visible minority who are being targeted and terminated globally. People think, “Well, this is the way it is and these people just shouldn’t be.”
A friend who knows I have identical twin grandchildren with Down Syndrome sought my reaction to Forrestall’s complaint. I replied:
I am not quite in the camp of those who reject any attempt to treat Down Syndrome, but I certainly understand why people with Down Syndrome and their parents (and grandparents) bristle at the assumption they need to be “fixed.”
I can only view this through my feelings about Josh and Jacob. They get excellent medical care. They have had tubes in their ears to deal with chronic infections. Josh has had heart surgery. These conditions and others result at least in part from their chromosomal distinctiveness. No one thought twice about whether they should be treated. Of course they should.
But what about the constellation of qualities that include, but are not limited to, their intellectual disabilities? These qualities are a huge part of who they are. Without them, they would be totally different. There will never be a magic bullet that increases their IQs but leaves their humour, affectionateness, willfulness, stubbornness, loyalty, laziness, warmth, and joyfulness untouched.
When I see Josh and Jacob struggle to read the simplest words, or to make their garbled speech understood, sure, I wish life were easier for them. But I don’t long for them to be different, or more like other children. I adore them as they are.
And by the way, there is already a genocide of children with Down in the form of selective abortions. We would not countenance this for sex selection or red hair or gayness, but we take it for granted with Down Syndrome.
Today, Mike Finnerty, summer host of CBC Radio’s The Current, carried out a series of interviews on this subject—with one of the Massachusetts researchers, with Renee Forrestall, and with Christie Hoos, a parent of a Down syndrome child whose views differ from Forrestall’s. By themselves, these interviews would have made a thought-provoking segment. What really set the piece apart was Finnerty’s final interview with Halifax actor and freelance photographer Will Brewer, who has Down syndrome, a conversation conducted without a trace of condescension on Finnerty’s part.
You can listen to the program here (after a CBC promo):
Here is a transcript of Will Brewer’s comments:
Mike Finnerty: Will Brewer was born with Down syndrome. He’s a photographer and an actor. Will, thanks for coming in and welcome.
Will Brewer: Thank you.
MF: What do you make of this scientific breakthrough we’ve been talking about?
WB: I was surprised. It would be hard for me to think about that because I am who I am, and I love who I am.
MF: Can you tell us about what sets you apart in your on mind. What do you think it is about you and the fact that you are someone with down syndrome that makes you different to others, special from others?
WB: Well, I am so special because my mom says that I am magic. But I would say that everyone with Down Sydnrome is magic because I see it in their eyes when I take their photo. I can tell that they are happy of who they are and how they came out, and who have loving parents who are just superb at what they do.
MF: Is there anything about your life that you would change if you could?
WB: No. I just. I am happy where I am because now I have found a place where I can create art and have friends and have great relationships with people who I care about, and people who have — beautiful; magical children with Down Syndrome.
MF: If you were to think about your life — you know, your 24 hours a day, seven days a week — what percentage of your life would you say is happy or joyous and what percentage is unhappy?
WB: Sometimes I do have issues. Sometimes I just feel like crying sometimes, for no particular reason, because I think that’s part of who I am, because I do have sensitive thoughts as well, but in everyday life, I enjoy it.
MF: Specifically, do you have issues — health iussues and other kinds of things that are, you know, not good in your life that you would, if you could, using these new therapies that might come down the road, that you would fix?
WB: Well, 28 years ago, when I was born, I couldn’t breathe — or like, I couldn’t cry when I was born. So a couple months later, I had heart surgery. And I do have a thyroid condition as well.
MF: What do you think about the idea that sometime in the future you could, through medical intervention, correct or suppress that extra chromosome and that would mean that they’re weren’t people who had down syndrome? What would you think of that?
WB: I would think it would be very interesting to actually see that because, I do have friends who are not Down syndrome as well, and I don’t kow if they would want to change themselves. But I would never change. That’s who I am.
MF: What would you like people out there who are listening to know about your life as someone with down syndrome?
WB: Well, first of all, if they want to have a picture taken, they should come to me (laughs)
MF: Because you are a photographer?
WB: Of course.
MF: Are you a good photographer?
WB: Oh I really am.
MF: And what else would you like people to know?
WB: That we are who we are and we love who we are. We want a place in this earth, in this generation, in this life of everyday, and we are proud of who we are.
MF: Will, thanks for talking to us.
WB: Thank you.
Almost four years ago, Contrarian reported that researchers at Stanford University had used a drug therapy to improve the learning skills of mice with a form of Down syndrome. Like Renee Forrestall, Jenn Power, community leader at L’Arche Cape Breton and mother of my twin grandsons with Down, found the research distressing. She said people with Down’s don’t need a cure; they need “a society that values what they have to offer.”
The fascinating discussion that followed produced many thoughtful contributions on all sides of the issue. (There are too many posts to link individually, but if you click here and scroll back to the earliest posts you will find them all.) The Contrarian discussions eventually spread to the New York Times parenting blog Motherlode, where hundreds of people weighed in.
Writing in the New Republic, Ben Crair has ripped off a screed against the current fashion for standing desks — that is, desks you work at while standing or, for extremists, walking on a treadmill. To prepare Screw Your Standing Desk! A sitter’s manifesto, Crair asked writers about their sitting/standing/treadmilling work habits. Most replied they had more important things to consider, but Gary Shteyngart, author of The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, Absurdistan, and Super Sad True Love Story, offered this response, dear to Contrarian’s heart:
I do not sit. I lie. I am in bed now, writing to you. All my writing is done in bed. As a result I suffer from tendinitis, rotator cuff injuries, poor posture, and hamburger helper syndrome. I’m not well. But I’m not getting out of bed either.
I destroy chairs. One quasi-executive model from staples is ready for the dumpster. The pieces of two other wooden veterans clutter a spare bedroom, waiting for me to hammer them back together with a rubber mallet and Elmer’s glue. The legs of the current victim, a press-back kitchen jobby, splay ominously.
In some ways, at least. Our old friend Hans Rosling (previous Contrarian appearances here, here, here, and here) brings us up to date, and highlights the amazing recent prograss in (parts of) Ethiopia:
Rosling’s Gapminder data visualization software now has some tools you can download to your own computer.
Huffington Post’s Canadian edition yesterday published an investigative report by a team of student journalists from the University of King’s College detailing the housing crisis facing Nova Scotians with intelectual disabilities.
There is not enough room in the system for all of the people who need a place to live. They languish on waiting lists that are hundreds of names long. Their families, in turn, must support them with scant financial, caregiving or community programming resources. Eventually the families get too old or sick to do it, making the situation for their relatives in rehab even worse.
With so little room, placements are driven by crises. These crises, in turn, lead to inappropriate placements that only exacerbate individuals’ disabilities and sometimes cause mental health issues.
It is a bureaucratic system driven by policies, not people’s needs. And in the instances where policy would help to improve lives – in properly licensing, regulating, staffing and overseeing housing options – the system falls short.
Successive provincial governments have known all about this crisis and have repeatedly promised to fix it. The current NDP government is no exception.
After years of inaction, the Department of Community Services (DCS) recently produced a report — more accurately a discussion paper — about options for dealing with the crisis. The new document repeats sweeping promises of change, but DCS continues to ignore the findings of a 2001 report it commissioned that could have served as a basis for action 12 years ago.
“The Kendrick report is now over 10 years old and basically the fundamentals of the Kendrick report are no different now than … 10 years ago,” Dr. Brian Hennen, a past president of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, told the student journalists.
Jenn Power, Atlantic Regional Co-ordinator for l’Arche Cape Breton [and—disclosure—my daughter-in-law] summed up the crisis on her Possibilities blog.
[T]he primary struggles of the individuals profiled in the piece are not their disabilities per se, nor the way those disabilities might affect their mobility, learning skills, or emotional health. Instead, the suffering they endure arises from the way the provincial “support” system treats them as a result of their disabilities. They are reduced to their diagnoses, their difficult behaviours, their classification level. They languish on endless waiting lists with no idea of the future, then are hurried into last-minute crisis placements at warehousing facilities. They are forced to fit into an existing (outdated) system; the system is not expected to change to fit the needs of individuals.
This is not news to any of us who have friends or family members with intellectual disabilities, or who have been involved in this field for any length of time. Our people are overlooked, patronized, ignored, devalued, and abused. Their voices are not heard. But boy, do they have something to say.
At Nova Scotia’s l’Arche communities, and many other DCS-funded homes, bureaucratic rules often deepen the impact of disabilities, rather than lighten them. Here’s one of several examples Power cites:
Lindsay and Tanya, both of whom graduated from high school and hold down full time jobs, would say that they deserve the right to stay home alone and watch TV or read a book or relax on the couch for a couple of hours every now and then. But because they live in a provincially funded group home, they are denied this dignity of risk and are forced to join whenever their housemates leave the house.
Of the ways Darrell Dexter’s government failed to achieve its supporters’ aspirations, none is more disheartening than its failure to bring order, purpose, and humanity to the Department of Community Services. Will the next government do any better?
Jon Stone writes:
Thanks for sharing that wonderful video. It is inspiring to see what creative minds can do when faced with a challenge.
There have been some astonishinglynegativecomments posted on various web sites with respect to the recent generosity of the Fountain family in creating the endowment for Dalhousie’s performing arts program. The gist of much of the derogatory discussion was that there is no value in training people in performance skills.
Well, here is one excellent example of the value of performers to society. I won’t be surprised if this goes viral and breaks all records for fundraising for the Janeway.
[Update] Greg Lukeman points out a New Zealand children’s hospital fundraising video posted August 27, 2012, that may have provided inspiration for the creators of “Please Whatever Your Name Is” (posted May 15,. 2013).
Newfoundland has always had way better tourism ads than Nova Scotia (or pretty much anywhere else on the planet for that matter). Now it turns out they have way better children’s hospital ads, too. (Stay with this at least until the music starts, about five minutes in. Hilarious.)
[Video link]. H/T Calvert’s own Jenn Power.
Take this one-minute eye test. Right now. On your computer, tablet, or smartphone.
Designed by Toronto ad agency Agency DraftFCB Toronto. Via Digg.
Not surprisingly, yesterday’s Contrarian post on the furore over Rehtaeh Parsons’ death has produced a lot of email, pro and con. Much of the angry reaction appeared on Twitter, where Contrarian tweets as @kempthead.
Before sampling the reader response, two important preliminaries:
- What Rehtaeh’s family has been through this week is about as awful as human experience gets. They have been loyal in support of their daughter, and courageous in their rejection of vigilante action against those accused of abusing her. Whatever one’s views on the issues I raised, compassion for this family ought to be universal.
- As I said yesterday, if you or anyone you know are having suicidal thoughts, please call the toll-free Kid’s Help Line at 1-800-668-6868 or the toll-free Suicide Prevention Line at 1-888-429-8167. Also please check out this website, and this list of warning signs.
- Any effort to completely decouple sex and alcohol is bound to fail, but by the time they reach puberty, all boys and girls ought to clearly understand that a person of any age who is drunk to the point of throwing up cannot legally consent to sex, and anyone who has sex with someone in that state is committing a sexual assault.
Jeremy Akerman writes:
Just because we think we know something does not make it fact. Nor does something become fact because we want to believe it. Actually, we know very few actual facts about this whole affair. Of the original incident, we know what one person said that another person said had taken place. This whole matter has been subsumed by mob hysteria. The role of Anonymous is particularly sinister. They talk of sending “teams of investigators” to uncover the truth. More like a few self righteous people picking up gossip around cafes and school gates. These “investigators” got the Amanda Todd case horribly wrong when they “outed” a totally innocent man. It is surprising he was not killed. What I have been saying is this: Leave the torches and pitchforks in the shed for the time being. Let us wit until we get all the facts before we start lynching people.
A reader called Patrice (no last name) writes:
Did you read Anonymous’ response? According to the boys’ peers, they were bragging that they committed the rape, even while showing them the picture they took to prove it. Similarly to the way teens sometimes arrange, film and upload videos of school beatings to Youtube.
Did they feed false testimony to the RCMP? Did their parents? Maybe all the kids who heard them brag but didn’t report it should be charged as well for not reporting it.
I would read Patrice’s comments and those from Anonymous, in the context of Jeremy Akerman’s remarks. Anonymous is not gathering evidence. It’s gathering rumours, gossip, and multiple hearsay in a superheated environment from excited and possible distraught or fearful young informants. Such activity has no place in the justice process.
A reader who asked that her name be withheld out of concern for her employment wrote:
In the rush for a salacious story, the media have—with a couple of notable exceptions—told one side of this story, while ignoring the pivotal issue: mental health.
Parents sometimes want someone to blame because they cannot accept that this happened to their child. But it does. And sometimes there is no blame. Ask the Fountain family, which lost their much-loved son to depression. Or the family of Jay Smith, who was talented, popular and loved.
I take issue with the media coverage of this case for the reasons you have mentioned. They have—with a couple of exceptions—made her death a one-cause suicide, which is the very thing that psychiatrists advise them not to do. They have glorified her death and made her a martyr. Mental health is more complicated than that.
We don’t know if she was medication, some of which produces suicidal tendencies. We don’t know why she released from hospital. We don’t know if she was raped because we have only heard from her mother, who is devastated and grief-stricken. The RCMP say it was a he-said, she-said case, but we have not heard from the he side.
The one thing I did find unsettling about this story was the family’s contention that it took the RCMP ten months to interview the alleged rapists. If this is accurate—and hopefully we will find out—then I do not believe that was acceptable.
This is one point I hold in common with those demanding an inquiry. If the facts Rehtaeh’s family hve reported are true—that it took 10 months to interview the boys, and they were interviewed in a group—then this requires an explanation. But there may be an explanation. No one is compelled to give evidence against themselves, and the boys may have had legal counsel who set the conditions for the interview. The point is: we just don’t know, and assuming the worst is unhelpful.
Colin May writes:
We don’t know all the facts, and never will. TV news has been treating this quite sensationally, including Evan Solomon. The lust for ratings knows no bounds, although CTV this afternoon had a very good interview with a Toronto criminal lawyer; tasteful and sensitive.
Chris McCormick quoted the moving public statement by Rehtaeh’s father, Glen Canning. [Link is to the Toronto Sun, because Canning's website has been overwhelmed by traffic and knocked offline.]
“You have the opportunity here to do something good and let’s face it, the court system in Nova Scotia was just going to rape her all over again with indifference to her suffering and the damage this did to her. My daughter wasn’t bullied to death, she was disappointed to death. Disappointed in people she thought she could trust: her school, and the police. She was my daughter, but she was your daughter too. For the love of God do something.
“I’ve been contacted from media outlets from all over the world and as a past member of the media I understand why you all want to speak with me. You have all been very courteous, professional, and respectful. Please know, however, this is the only statement I am able to make. I’m [too] devastated. I feel like I’m dead inside.”
From Ian Johnston via Facebook:
I’ve appalled by what I’ve been reading from here in Toronto. Come on folks. Get a grip. It’s like hysteria….
[T]he most telling repeated line I continually see is that, “We need an investigation to get justice….” assuming of course a re-investigation will reveal an injustice. Seems a bit of a leap. As you said, folks seem to have leapt to the assumption of wrong-doing and are unprepared for if a new investigation gets the same result.
From another reader who asked me to withhold his name because, “I do not want to be attacked by a vigilante mob, or hacked by a bunch of outlaw geeks.”
Thank you for publishing your thoughtful perspective on the Parsons case. I find it deeply troubling on a number of levels – not just the obvious and utterly justifiable grief her family and friends must be enduring, but perhaps even more due to the apparent public reaction or, perhaps more accurately, overreaction.
This is an extremely complex situation, and as seems to happen far too often, the news media is appearing to overlook some basic questions that seem rather obvious.
[This reader then speculates on certain unknowns about the case, which I will omit out of concern for those involved, and the fact that, just like the inflammatory comments of those demanding vengeance, they are pure speculation.]
…I am deeply troubled by the knee-jerk reaction by far too many people towards wanting to lock the alleged perpetrators up forever without due process. I am equally troubled by those who in one breath blame our public institutions for what happened, and in the next call for MORE institutional intervention to solve such problems. The disconnect there seems rather obvious to me…
I am going to try to tune much of this out over the next while. I fear nothing good will come out of this, and vigilanteism is never pretty
Longtime Contrarian reader Denis Falvey writes:
While I agree with you that there should be a high bar for conviction, I do think it would be a good idea to formally register society’s disgust with these “boys’” alleged behaviour, by at least challenging them to prove their innocence—likelihood of conviction notwithstanding. The facts as know would then be before the public, and there would not be the suspicion of the matter being swept under the rug. As it is, the public has only bile and innuendo on which to gnaw.
Innocence until proven quilt should not mean that everyone charged is somehow automatically quilty; nor should it mean that if you are not charged, you are therefore innocent.
There is talk on an enquiry now, probably at great expense. But isn’t that what could have been achieved by a judge and jury, at less expense?
Also, sometimes maybe, proving one’s innocence of the accusation of wrong doing may be enough to trigger self-examination of behaviour against acceptable standards of society? Isn’t that what we want in this type of situation?
Your underlying point is correct; we don’t know what happened here.
Thanks to all who contributed. Join in by clicking the “Email a Comment” link near the top of the page. More later…