November 10, 2009





Big Medicine is published by Team EMS Inc.


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Hal Newman  


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Perfidy! The UN and the Goldstone Libel


[October 26 2009]


“Every day at the U.N., on every side, we are assailed because we are a democracy. In the U.N. today there are in the range of several dozen democracies left; totalitarian regimes and assorted ancient and modern despotisms make up all the rest.”

Nothing so unites these nations as the conviction that their success ultimately depends on our failure. Most of the new states have ended up as enemies of freedom.” Those words were not expressed yesterday. They were spoken over thirty years ago by Daniel Patrick Moynihan while serving as US Ambassador to the UN. They are as true today as they were then.

It is in the context of “enemies of freedom” that we can best understand the perfidy of UN actions. Particularly those of its Human Rights Council. If there was ever an oxymoronic designation for anything, this is it. In recent years the Council has been presided over and guided by such champions of Human Rights as Libya, Cuba and China.

This past Friday the Council endorsed a report that accused Israel of war crimes in Gaza, passing a resolution that singled it out for censure without referring to wrongdoing by Palestinian hard-liners Hamas. A coalition of Arab, Muslim and leftist-run Latin American countries in the 47-member Council were responsible for its passage. No European democracies supported the draft, and the United States, the Ukraine and four EU members opposed it. The author of the report, South African lawyer Richard Goldstone, criticized the Council’s resolution as being one-sided. “This draft resolution saddens me as it includes only allegations against Israel,” he told the Swiss newspaper Le Temps. “There is not a single phrase condemning Hamas as we have done in the report. I hope that the Council can modify the text.”

Poor Richard. He is saddened. My oh my. One wonders if anyone living in this dangerous world has a right to such dangerous naïveté. It was inherent in the process of his own Commission that the outcome would be predetermined. His 574-page report itself largely focused on Israel, but in its conclusions suggests both Israel and Hamas investigate war crimes allegations against their respective sides. Even that small nod to equity was dispensed with by the full Council in its Friday vote.

And what did Goldstone think when he undertook his mandate, that the Council would suddenly change its anti-Israel bias? The Human Rights Council, which replaced the discredited Human Rights Commission several years ago, is still dominated by dictatorships and theocratic tyrannies.

It is obsessed with denouncing democratic Israel. It has targeted some 80% of its resolutions at one member state, Israel, while the major human rights violators enjoy, what Irwin Cotler has called, “ exculpatory immunity.” The Council has had more emergency “Special Sessions” directed against Israel than against all the other countries of the world combined. The Council hearing last week was the sixth “Special Session” on Israel in the last three years alone. And the Council excludes only one country – Israel – from membership in any regional grouping, thereby denying it international due process.

But Richard Goldstone himself must also shoulder much of the blame for the predictably biased outcome. The Commission was replete with anti-Israel prejudice . First, it’s very terms of reference drew an equivalence between the actions of Israel in self-defence and those of Hamas in blatant aggression seeking to destroy it. Goldstone had the temerity to call the 12,000 Hamas rocket attacks “reprisals”. Second, the Commission was imbalanced focusing as it did on Israel’s faults with no consideration for its right under international customary and statutory law to self-defense and self-help.

Third, the Commission failed to consider the intolerant and psychotic pan-Islamic ideology that drives Hamas and chose to treat it like any other state party. In so doing it legitimated, by inference, Hamas practices including the use of civilians as human shields. Fourth, Goldstone failed to act against London School of Economics professor Christine Chinkin’s presence on the Commission after she declared Israel guilty of “aggression” and “war crimes” in an interview with a London newspaper. Her statement was made prior to seeing any evidence. Finally, the Report spent only two pages on the thousands of Israeli victims of years of Hamas bombings.

The Goldstone Commission’s perfidious libel against Israel went even deeper in its central foundational principle. It colored with moral relativism and no distinction Israel’s thousands of cell phone calls warning Gaza civilians; Israel’s thousands of texts warning civilians; Israel’s hundreds of thousands of leaflets in Arabic dropped warning civilians; Israel’s medical facilities set up on the edge of Gaza to treat civilians.; Israel’s delivery of food to feed civilians with Hamas hiding in civilian areas; firing from the cover of Gazan civilians against Israeli civilians in Sderot and Ashkelon; Hamas use of ambulances for military purposes; Hamas’ use of mosques as armament depots and rocket launching pads; Hamas shootings of the legs of Gazan civilians refusing to help or aid in the targeting of Israel.

Richard Goldstone is at the bar of history. He has acknowledged that his mandate was “a biased uneven-handed resolution of the UN Human Rights Council” but believed that he had an expanded, even-handed mandate from the Council President. He has acknowledged that the mandate was not supported by the leading democratic members of the Human Rights Council – the European Union, Japan, Canada, and Switzerland. He has acknowledged that the Commission’s findings would “not stand up in a court.” Yet he still went on with this evil work.

The Council was not moved by truth or objective witness. Col. Richard Kemp, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, told the council that war crimes accusations against the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) were misplaced. “The IDF faces a challenge that we British do not have to face to the same extent. It is the automatic, Pavlovian presumption by many in the international media, and international human rights groups, that the IDF are in the wrong.” He argued Israeli forces took “extraordinary measures” to give civilians in Gaza notice of targeted areas, including dropping two million leaflets and making 100,000 phone calls. “Despite all of this, of course innocent civilians were killed. War is chaos and full of mistakes. There have been mistakes by the British, American and other forces in Afghanistan and in Iraq, many of which can be put down to human error. But mistakes are not war crimes,” Col. Kemp said.

No indictment could be as searing as the words written to Goldstone by his old friend from South Africa Brenda Press Fix. She wrote to him in a letter that, “I am bewildered by the direction you have taken as part of the United Nations Human Rights Council. This rogue Council has been tainted by a membership that does not condemn Iranian tyranny, Chinese oppression, African despotism but spends their time condemning one country unjustly, Israel. The Goldstone Commission bears your name. One would expect the mandate of any report to be objective so that your name could be respected and a legacy ensured. Instead your committee ignored the facts, embraced bias and rendered the report bearing your name, illegitimate.” This report did not arise from ignorance or naiveté. I am trying so hard to resist the conclusion that your role and report might represent a self-serving desire to ingratiate yourself for a more senior position in the kangaroo court called the United Nations. But if true-and one hopes that this is not the case-at what price? Association with the infamous U.N. garners no respect so why would anyone seek to be head inmate at the U.N. Asylum?”

So egregious has been the Goldstone process, that it may have actually achieved a new low in the decades long assault by the United Nationsl against Israel, the frontline nation in the family of the free defying the onslaught of Islamism. One can understand why the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism (ICCA), co-founded by Mount-Royal MP Irwin Cotler and British MP John Mann, expressed “shock at the absence of any mention in the Goldstone Report of the anti Jewish incitement in the Hamas Charter which the London Declaration obliges Parliamentarians to expose and unmask.

The Founding Conference of ICCA adopted the London Declaration to Combat Anti-Semitism which in Section 6 resolves that ‘never again will the institutions of the international community and the dialogue of nation states be abused to try to establish any legitimacy for anti-Semitism, including the singling out of Israel for discriminatory treatment in the international arena.’ The consideration of the Goldstone Report under a Special Agenda Item of the UN Human Rights Council singling out Israeli human rights violations – and now holding a ‘Special Session’ on such violations – constitutes a flagrant double abuse of UN institutions. “

The issues raised by ICCA are troubling and dark. How much of a role anti-Semitism plays at the UN is a subject for another column. But one parallel may be drawn. Anti-Semitism denies equal rights to individual Jewish expression within a particular society. Anti-Zionism denies equal rights to collective Jewish expression within the broad community of nations. The former denies Jews’ lawful particularity, the latter denies Jews’ lawful sovereignty. Both are manifestations of exclusiveness and intolerance. They represent the message and metaphor of contempt. The imagery and iconography of hate.

Sadly today, Moynihan’s profile of the UN stands. The tyrannies continue to monopolize the UN agenda with anti-western rampages and rants not for anything the west does wrong, but precisely for what it does right. Live free. These theocratic tyrants and dime-store despots cannot compete on the battlefield of liberty. They dare not expose their peoples to the bright light of freedom. And today, as a generation ago, their success ultimately depends on crushing the west, for only thus will they be able to keep plundering – morally and materially - their imprisoned peoples.



The private lives of public people


[October 14 2009]


"It is the function of vice to keep virtue within reasonable bounds." - Samuel Butler


We take no position on the morality of David Letterman's conduct. It is neither our place nor anyone else's for that matter. The private lives of public people should be just that. Private. Media feeding the salacious appetites of the lesser angels of our spirits has truly become tiresome. But there is one aspect of the Letterman affair that is worthy of comment. The refreshing candour that he has handled it with.


There is only one exception to our statement that private lives of public people should be private. That is when a public person reaches or maintains their position based on the propagation of false pieties. If they are caught, then they are fair game. You can push "family values" all you like, but you better not get hoisted on your own petard.


David Letterman certainly never painted himself as a choirboy. That alone was refreshing. But what showed even more character was his candour and directness in addressing the issue. Both in making light of anyone thinking that affairs were so scandalous, and then being open about the fact that he would have a lot of work to do making it up to his wife.


He did it all without any crocodile tears. We have seen so many public people get away with murder just by crying. It has almost become de riguer in personal crisis management. It's enough already. Letterman sets a better standard.


We as a society have to stop feeding our appetite for gratuitous cannibalism and blue-haired morality. It is fake. And lessens us as people. No one should have the right to impose standards of personal morality as litmus tests for suitability for public life unless the personal directly impacts the ability to perform public duties. This kind of self-censoring nannyism opens the door to corrosive and nanny-statism. And we don't need any more of that.


We could do worse than to look to Europe for an example. Personal morality is not under the microscope as a precursor to public efficiency. At the funeral of French President Mitterand, his wife and their children sat on one side of the church while his mistress and their child sat on the other. No hiding.


If today's blue-haired recidivism was in such public vogue, North America might have lost some its greatest leaders. FDR, Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ and Clinton all had mistresses. Our own Prime Minister Trudeau certainly had an active social life.


When Trudeau said that government has no place in the bedrooms of the nation he also meant that it had no role regulating actions of consenting adults. We should follow that notion in our daily judgments of public people. Not everything is going to be perfect in life. No person will always behave above reproach. And our public philosophy should stop forcing people into straitjacket morality that seeks to micro-manage every aspect of our lives. We need to abandon this new prohibitionism.


What the new prohibitionists share is an anti-liberal sentiment. This mindset would have cost us Modigliani's painting, Dylan Thomas' poetry, Hemingway's novels and even Tom Paine's polemics. Political correctness and temperance does not produce greatness. It makes our lives devoid of passion or purpose. It has been written that great people have great appetite. And that is perhaps as it should be.


But there is one thing that even Letterman could learn. People who live in glass houses really shouldn't throw stones.




Heed Neda's call! Tehran matters


[July 4, 2009]


The pictures flood us. They flood us with pride, poignancy and pathos. A people struggling to be free. The images come from around the world. From citizens of Tehran confronting the terror of theocratic tyrants, to students marching in the streets of Paris to Montrealers — some using walkers — standing up and being counted. The palpable reality of mankind’s transcendent yearning for redemptive change.

They flood us too with memory and witness. Budapest 1956. Prague 1968. Gdansk 1980. Wenceslas Square 1989. Tiananmen Square 1989. Berlin 1989. Kiev 2004. Tehran 2009. Everybody just wants to be free. Velvet revolutions and Prague springs. Some succeed, some fail. But what is so inspiring — particularly to a North America grown apathetic to the slow undoing of personal liberty — is that there are people ready to die for freedom. To spend one day as a lion — the symbol of pre-Mullah Iran — than a lifetime as a lamb.


But there is a series of images that overwhelm even the brutality of all the others. Of police batons cracking heads; of Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ water cannons spouting boiling water searing skin and eyes and lips. The image of a beautiful young Iranian woman dropping to her knees, her face frozen in shock as she feels the impact of a bullet. The next of her lying on the street being tended to by passersby, one screaming “Don’t be afraid!” The third of her dying, eyes rolled back and blood spouting from her mouth and nose. Neda Agha Soltan, dubbed the “Angel of Freedom” as her image sped around the world through the efforts of citizen journalists and their cameraphones, was not even a demonstrator. That made her death even more tragic. Drove home the point even more of the indiscriminate terror even against innocents of the Mullahs’ regime.

Ironically her name, Neda, means “the call”. Yes, we must all heed the call.

“Democracy is the best revenge,” Bilawal Bhutto Zardari quoted his mother Benazir Bhutto as saying soon after her assassination in January 2008. That could be the credo for those in the streets of Tehran. They fight for us all.

They fight for sanity. They represent hope. What happens in Iran over the next while will determine much. A free Iran will radically change everything from the borders of Pakistan to the Israeli seacoast. What is happening in Tehran matters.

It matters because as members of the family of the free we are reminded again that the survival and success of liberty comes at a high price and is by no means assured. It matters because despite some fleeting happy encounters with progress the history of mankind is riddled with spectacular and frequent failures. It matters because if we do not resolve to turn back the darkness those failures will haunt us forever. In the dead of night we will feel those failures like thin, humid rivulets of sweat crawling over us. Mankind’s failures to beat back tyranny has cost us dearly. Perhaps we should be haunted.

Haunted by the mounds of ashes that once were one and a half million smiling children playing in the streets of “civilized” Europe. Haunted by the bloated bodies floating in the Yangtze of Mao’s China. Haunted by the corpses frozen in the wastes of Stalin’s Gulag. Haunted by the betrayal of the free people of Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Haunted by the killing fields of Cambodia. Haunted by the bodies rotting in the jungles of Rwanda and in the fetid fields of the Balkans. And haunted today by the memory of the devastated of Darfur, victims of the 21st century’s first genocide.

The consequence of failure will be dire. We cannot afford to have the hope in Tehran snuffed out. It is a beacon for enslaved millions living under the oppressive regimes of the Islamist middle rim of this small planet. French poet Paul Valéry once wrote that «La liberté est l'épreuve la plus dure que nous pouvons infliger sur un gens. Savoir comment être libre n'est pas donné à tous les hommes et toutes les nations également. » Committing ourselves, and teaching others, how to be free is the greatest testament and witness we can propound for the bold and the brave in the streets of Tehran.



A freer, fairer, richer Montreal


[July 4 2009]

"Ethics and transparency? Inform the people of your decisions and leave more than a few hours a month for the public to ask questions. Montreal as an international city attracting world business? Stop the culture wars and make a tax free zone downtown for tourists. Transport? Build a highway and rail link parallel to the 20 through Turcot. Economic development? Cut social engineering and nanny state programs. Get rid of the boroughs. Reduce the size of government like New York and Toronto. And give the savings back in lowered taxes to Montrealers, particularly the small business people who create 80% of our jobs. Urban planning? Develop air rights and stop the empty talk of ‘sustainable development’ in a city with a third of our households below the poverty line. Governance? Talk straight to the people. They are not stupid. Just tired.”


Sadly, Montrealers today have little choice among the leading contenders for city hall. Both sides, if still wedded to their current opportunism, would leave us all in virtual straitjackets.

We must not be satisfied. We must not be satisfied because not one of the candidates for the mayoralty of Montreal are discussing the issues that matter most. None are proposing solutions to our most basic challenges. None are examining the actions we need to take for Montreal. They run to oppose each other for a job. None has proposed needed policies. They run on the politics of demonization and deflection. They fail in their duty. It is time for a fundamental, transformational change. It is time to make Montreal freer, fairer and richer. Time to stop demonizing citizens through rules and regulations that are nothing more than back-door tax grabs. Time to stop deflecting from core responsibilities through projects and programs that are questionable in their purpose and practicality. Time to end the profligate pilferage of our pockets for ends that no need demanded and no suffrage affirmed.

There comes a time in the affairs between governors and governed that every action of the public administration excites the people’s distrust and every failure to act excites their contempt. That is where we are in Montreal. All social contracts between citizens and state inherently demand some cession of liberty and treasure. But those cessions are made for the provision of services. Nothing more. The contract does not demand abdication of our individual prerogatives. It cannot — under any concept of natural justice and equity — be allowed to dictate our personal passions and poetries. Under no circumstances may it be construed to make citizens feel culpable for the simple act of being human and bearing the heavy yoke of nullification and interposition imposed by uncompassionate authority. And finally, it does not allow for the imposition of additional
financial burdens on the public in the form of punitive penalties for services they are
already taxed for and supposedly carried out by the groaning bureaucracy of the civic administration.

Sadly, Montrealers today have little choice among the leading contenders for city hall. We have an incumbent administration that has broken much of the social contract through sins of omission. Its main challenger is an unholy alliance of two of the fiercest statocratic social engineers whose public lives have been characterized by sins of commission. The former taxes first, explains never. The latter demonizes first, discusses never. Both are manifestations of a revived prohibitionism, a recurring virus when our public life turns feckless and fey. Both sides, if still wedded to their current opportunism, would leave us all in virtual straitjackets.

Current policies leave us all victimized. We need to demand our freedom back. Perhaps it is as a coalition of victims that we need to rise up, come together and say “enough is enough”, “assez c’est assez”. Enough of years of suffocating law and legislation. Enough of students being fined $500 for sitting with their feet on the wrong side of a concrete enclosure in Emilie-Gamelin Park. Enough of garbage inspectors in Old Montreal and NDG opening our refuse bags to find our address in order to send $1,000 fines because we put the bags out too early. Enough of merchants on Park Ave. being fined hundreds of dollars for not cutting weeds on city sidewalks.

Enough of downtown landlords being fined because their restaurant or bar tenants do not have “official” ashtrays screwed in next to their entrances. Enough of fines that criminalize the homeless. Enough of increases in parking meter rates while the city is hiding record profits. Enough of merchants being responsible for cleaning public sidewalks in front of their premises. Enough of boroughs like Ville-Marie instituting some of the most egregious fines on innocent behaviour and advertising them in pamphlets with bold type that state the “guilty will be punished”. And guilty of what? Being human, dropping a candy-bar wrapper, smoking a cigarette and not willing to have the responsibilities of city workers offloaded on their backs. We need to be free again. Nous besoins un cité-libre encore!

Montrealers are already the highest taxed urban citizens in North America. Some 20 months ago we were hit with the highest tax increases in history.

Our taxes are supposed to cover the basics. Garbage collection, snow removal, public security, public transit, and water and sewage. It should not be up to the citizens to pay additional costs to manage what they have already paid for. The job of elected officials is not to engage in social engineering. To impose fines forcing citizens to do what is the city’s work — street cleaning, garbage collection, maintenance of public spaces — is stark malfeasance at worst and double taxation at best. To impose fines on citizens for making personal choices about personal risk borders on social fascism. For municipal politicians to offset their responsibilities onto the backs of the public is an admission that they can’t do their jobs.

This city’s administration has failed to address solutions to improve any of its basic core service responsibilities. Eighty percent of our water lines leak. Our world-famous potholes are now craters. The transit system is in gridlock. The Agglomeration Council and the borough system have degenerated into paralysis as we have become the most over-governed city on the continent. The Mayor and the borough mayors can’t get our blue-collar workers to pick up the garbage and clean our streets properly because they are too frightened to engage. And who can forget the abysmal failure to deal with the
cemetery lockout leaving hundreds of bodies unburied. The city’s solution was to deflect public attention from its nonfeasance by demonizing us all through needless regulation. It’s time to be free again. It’s time to revoke many recently enacted by-laws. Reduce the amount of fines in others. And we need to restrict, and in some cases eliminate, the powers or positions of smoking police, meter maids, the cleanliness corps, jaywalking cops and garbage inspectors. Nobody elected anyone to impose a control state on Montreal.


The daily connection of governors and governed is too often realized through contact with security authority. Much of our efforts at reform must be addressed at the way we police ourselves.

As much as restoring freedom must lead the reform of this city, restoring fairness must parallel that effort. As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote, “Justice must be seen to be done as well as done.”

The most visible face of justice, done or undone, is the police. Whether we, or they, like it or not that is very much the reality. The daily connection of governors and governed is too often realized through contact with security authority. Much of our efforts at reform must be addressed at the way we police ourselves. Though faulty, we have many avenues of redress in civilian matters between citizen and city hall on issues ranging from taxation to regulation. But new fairness doctrines in policing are crucial because the authority the citizen faces is so great and often so overwhelming.

The police are the public face of a civic administration. Its tolerance, compassion and fidelity to the liberty of the people may be measured by the guidelines it sets for the police. Our police need new doctrines. It is time for an administration at city hall to stop police from being involved in oversight on matters in our personal domains as much as it must rein in the brutish civilian enforcers of the control state. The foundational organizing principle of a free society is the freedom to choose. Even if we choose unwisely. Even if our choices do harm to ourselves.

A reform civic administration must restrict police checkpoints enforcing the wearing of seatbelts. Particularly at the exits of highways. They cause more harm than good and often come close to inciting catastrophic accidents as drivers hit the brakes and start checking their belts while navigating a turn.

We have to limit anti-jaywalking actions. Certainly abolish the practice of four-cornered patrols that make an area feel like an armed camp. No citizen should have to put up with cadets sticking their hands up to their faces or chests. And worse, as I have witnessed, demanding identification from citizens so they can write up tickets. This is neither Tehran nor Havana. No citizen should be obligated to carry an identification card. But there is more that is objectionable.

In a time of needed budgetary restraint, the hiring of 110 officers to enforce anti-jaywalking rules was unconscionable. Its only purpose was to further pummel citizens into believing they are criminals and meekly dole out more money to the city in fines. We have turned the law away from being an instrument for justice — a shield of the innocent and a staff of the honest — and made it into a revenue generating machine. As such we also have to eliminate the use of police in enforcing anti-smoking laws. The provincial government can pass whatever laws it wants. It can hire as many inspectors
as it wants. But how much of local police resources are used to enforce personally
invasive statutes is up to the civic administration. Our police should have a human, and
most of all a fair, face.

But the overriding reform needed in restoring fairness in policing is a new set of measures on how to deal with visible minorities. It is time for new practices so that each week does not bring yet another story of a black woman surrounded by police as she was moving boxes from her garage to her house because someone called and thought she was a burglar; or of the Arab taxi driver being ticketed for parking in a non-taxi zone while feeding the meter because he had to run to a toilet; or a young black student wrestled to the ground by police with a gun to his head in front of his friends because some nightclub bouncer said he had a gun. The names of Gemma Raeburn, Jamil Ibrahim and Courtney Bishop — along with dozens of others — cry out for fairness. It is our responsibility to make fairness a reality.


Montrealers must face hard truths. One such truth is that in a city with almost a third of our households below the poverty line social housing, mass transit, food banks, libraries and responsible development must have priority over “loisirs”, “consultations”, “urbanisme”, bike paths and sustainable development.

The primary reason for the slow undoing of our basic liberties in this city is also the cause behind the steady impoverishment of this city. Too much government! In reducing the size and manner of our governance we will not only make this city freer and fairer, but we will make it richer as well. Bill 9 that created the borough system was a devil’s stew. But Bill 133, which devolved powers to the boroughs, was a legislative abortion of unparalleled proportion. It created 19 little fiefdoms with 19 little feudal lords. It has been said that the only thing more dangerous in politics than little people exercising a lot of power is little people exercising little power but thinking it is a lot. That is what has happened in Montreal the past six years. To perpetuate their own patronage and power, borough administrations have been in the forefront of perpetuating not only needless rules and regulations but also the bureaucracies that go with them. Their mottos seem to be we enforce therefore we are. Meanwhile, we the citizens pay the burden. It is unconscionable that some 2 million Montrealers are governed by over 100 elected officials while 10 million New Yorkers and 5 million Torontonians make do with under 30. The sheer cost of 19 governments, the duplication and statocratization, costs us, by some estimates, almost $200 million

Ending the borough system would not only provide more direct and accessible one-layer government, but the savings could be immediately returned to the people through lower taxes. Even Mayor Tremblay has, I believe, recognized the folly of the boroughs and worked successfully on last year’s Bill 22 that gives the Mayor of Montreal direct control of the borough of Ville Marie. One less level of government to pay for. Those
who argue for “local democracy” as the raison d’etre for the boroughs are not only ill-advised as to modern governance, but should realize that the logical extension of their thinking would have Stalinist-like block representatives controlling us all. In this case small is not beautiful. It is a prescription for bankruptcy.

Many of the needless rules and regulations that so burden us are enacted and enforced by the boroughs. Their elimination will also mean the elimination of the bureaucracies that perpetuate them. The functionaries and inspectors. Eliminating boroughs would make it easier for Montreal’s Mayor to clean up the system. Tens of millions of additional savings could be passed on to Montrealers. As it stands now the Mayor’s most powerful executive imperative is to veto funding to pay for the enforcement establishment of needless oversight in the boroughs. The Mayor cannot actually overturn borough by-laws.

We need efficient government, not a self-indulgent one. Montrealers are desperate for the tax savings that could be generated. The tax hikes over the past four years have meant that small businesses, that account for eighty percent of new jobs, are paying the equivalent of three months of their rent in taxes. They cannot survive. Relief has to
be quick and direct. It is the most catastrophic situation since the last years of Mayor Jean Dore.

In public finance, we have witnessed the squandering of too much of public funds on pork barrel vote grabbing schemes. Those inevitably lead to statements from elected officials that they have to fine and tax more just to keep up. Well, we did not need some $13 million spent on skateboarding rinks in the west and east ends; $10 million more on bike paths that destroyed commuter arteries and city streets; a Quartier de spectacles that meets no needs whatever and now a potential $7 million on new recycling containers. These and other projects and initiatives should be shut down and the funds distributed back to the people in lowered taxes as well. A city that cannot get the core basics of municipal services right – public transit, roads, snow and garbage removal, water and sewage provision and treatment and public security - , should not have a budgetary line totaling some $450 million on “arts, loisiers and urbanisme”.

Our false piety on environmental issues must also be brought to a halt. We all agree that the internal combustion engine does damage to the environment. But that is not something municipal administrations can affect. It will take federal government initiatives to make hybrid cars more affordable. Municipal governments nationally control areas of jurisdiction that affect only 2% of greenhouse gas emissions. Instead of speaking these truths, Montreal has witnessed an anti-car mania among elected officials. They use a convenient lie to pander for votes from environmentalists who they think vote with greater frequency. But their measures perpetuate lies. Anti-car measures will further assault an already battered center city. And they will contribute nothing to the environment. As the Frontier Center for Public Policy has demonstrated, no amount of parking increases or other levies have reduced car use in major North American cities by more than 2%. A Mercer International study demonstrated Montreal was cleaner than most cities including Toronto . It is time for an administration at Montreal’s city hall with the courage to end the pandering. With some eighteen percent of storefronts vacant in the city center, and many bars and restaurants suffering a 25-33% drop in revenues since the smoking ban, it is time to let downtown breathe and build again. Finally, we need to get our development policies kick-started. We all agree that development must be responsible. But there is clearly a limit to horizontal growth. Land is limited. Green spaces should be appropriately protected. But what we can do – and what has been done by environmentally conscious cities like Toronto and Vancouver – is encouraging air right development in the city’s core. Heritage buildings can be preserved and respected and in many cases incorporated into new buildings. As much as we cut unnecessary social engineering programs and reduce government size, we will have to create new sources of tax revenues if we are to keep pace with passing savings from the former on to citizens. The best solution is air rights.

The problems outlined above are not limited to any party. There has been a general mindset that is adverse to limited governance. Mayor Tremblay seems to have realized many of the errors. Louise Harel would, I fear, perpetuate a prohibitionist, controlling, tax-and fine agenda.

Montrealers deserve a civic administration with the courage to face hard truths. And to speak of them with clarity and candour. The truth that we live in a time of austerity. That city hall cannot, and should not, be all things to all people. That we have to get the basics right and then see what more we can do. That we should not be spending over $100 million a year on outside consultants when we have 10,000 white collar bureaucrats. That we must make savings and pass them on in reduced taxes. That Montreal’s Mayor must have the resolve to sit down with the leaders of our blue-collar
workers and hammer out a new deal.

The truth that we must concentrate on cleaning up our debt and ending the debt-incurring tradition of bread and circus projects. That in a city with almost a third of our households below the poverty line, social housing and mass transit and food banks and libraries will have priority over “legacy” projects and “loisirs”, “consultations” and “urbanisme”. That we will create new sources of tax revenue by encouraging appropriate development instead of fining and penalizing the public for so many personal, human acts. That our social contract can be restored to produce a freer, fairer and richer Montreal for all our citizens.



The State of the City: Montreal's demonization of Bela Kosoian


[May 21 2009]

When we crawled out of the mists of the jungles of history to create communities – villages, the origin of cities - it was not out of what  today’s politically correct zeitgeist would consider a noble purpose. It was done out of selfishness. As it happens, one of mankind’s more creative instincts if husbanded properly.

We realized we could protect ourselves better against the wolves of the forests if we acted together. Defense was the primary motivation for the organization of the community. The word for that organization in Greek is polis. The origin of our modern day “politics” and “policing”. But it was not the sort of policing we have come to suffer through today.

It was not the imposition of some collective will over individual conscience. Nor the brute force that demonizes citizens merely to collect money through the enforcement of prohibition and nullification. It was organization – policing -  so that through common defense we could have more time for the fullest flowering of our individual possibilities. The fullest flowering of our individual passions and poetries. 

Though those first social contracts demanded cessions of some our treasure for the provision of the service of defense, they  did not demand abdication of our individual prerogatives. The village – the city – did not dictate our passions and poetries. It did not dictate our behavior insofar as it concerned our  personal domains. It did not seek to protect us from ourselves. City governance was about the provision of services. As simple as that.

Indeed, the city-state, the precursor to the nation-state, may have been the highest and best form of social organization. Even today our personal identity is most closely tied to the city we live in. We are Montrealers or New Yorkers or Torontonians. From the time of the renaissance, it was the liberal cauldron of the cities that produced  our greatest art, music, philosophy and literature. The spirit of man was forged in the crucible of the cities. From ancient Athens and Rome, to the Florentine renaissance, to turn of the century Vienna to modern day New York, London and Paris.

Sadly today, our city, the jewel of the St. Lawrence, has lost sight of all this. The power of its officials is used as much for the oppression and impoverishment of its citizens as for the provision of any services. And as Edward R. Murrow once wrote, it’s always the small story that tells us so much about the big picture.

This past week the story was about Bela Kosoian. Bela is a 38 year old mother of two studying international law at UQAM. In speaking with her she told me that she had come out of the former Soviet Union to live free. That was in her thoughts all weekend. On Thursday last Bela had entered the Montmorency metro station in Laval. She was on the escalator when a transit guard told her to hold onto the handrail. She replied that she didn’t have three hands as she was searching for something in her handbag. The guard persisted. She asked to be left alone. The guard called over a police officer. He asked her for identification. She refused. He handcuffed her and took her to a holding room where she was not allowed to call a lawyer. After twenty minutes she was released with a $100 ticket for not holding the handrail and a $320 fine for obstructing justice. Nothing I could add here would be a more eloquent indictment of the state of our city than the bare facts. As Bela said, “Stalin may be dead, but Stalinism lives on.”

Montrealers are tired of this. Tired of students being fined $500 for sitting with their feet on the wrong side of a concrete enclosure in Emilie-Gamelin Park. Tired of garbage inspectors opening our refuse bags to find our address to send a fine because we put them out too early. Tired of merchants on Park Ave. being fined for not cutting weeds on city sidewalks as they are now obliged to do. Tired of landlords being fined because their restaurant or bar tenants do not have “official” ashtrays screwed in next to their entrances. Tired of fines that criminalize the homeless. Tired of increases in parking rates at the same time that the city is hiding record profits. Ca suffit! Enough Alice in Wonderland!

Montrealers are already the highest taxed urban citizens in North America.

Our taxes are supposed to go for the basics. Garbage collection, snow removal, public security, public transit and water. It should not be up to the citizens to pay additional costs to manage what they have already paid for.

Too many politicians today squander public monies on pork barrel vote grabbing schemes, then complain that they have to fine and tax more just to deal with the basics. An example of that at the municipal level is some $13 million spent on skateboarding rinks in the west and east ends, and needless bike paths destroying commuter arteries and city streets downtown.

The job of elected officials is not to engage in social engineering.  To impose fines for citizens doing what is the city’s work, or making choices about personal risk is criminal. One of the latest examples in nanny-statism are the fines levied at storekeepers in town who don’t clean the public sidewalks in front of their establishments. That should not be their responsibility. Their taxes pay for the city to do that.

For municipal politicians to offset these responsibilities on citizens is an admission that they can’t do their jobs.

Before the next municipal elections, perhaps we should demand that those running for office outline specific plans for rectifying the problems in the five core areas we mentioned above. If they have no ideas, then maybe they should be disqualified from running. Before we allow municipal leaders to engage in harebrained schemes of bike paths and tramways in a city with six months of winter, we need to know that they can handle the basics.

Montreal didn’t need the cleanliness fines; or the garbage fines or the non-regulation ashtray fines. This city is about as clean as an urban centre can get. The only reason that officials engage in demonizing the public is that it deflects from their inability to get things right. And that inability stems not only from a lack of imagination but also from a lack of resolve in dealing with city employees to get the kind of quality and quantity of work every big city needs.

Perhaps it is time for all of us to demonstrate a bit of civil, and civic, disobedience. Perhaps it is time for a tax revolt. After all, it seems the more you pay the more fines and extra rates are levied. So maybe we should all stop paying until the pols get real. And for those who think that all laws, even unjust ones, need to be obeyed. Reflect on what Gandhi once said. “We are a society of laws and not of men. But when bad men make bad laws, and when unprincipled officials compromise good ones, then citizens have a responsibility to protect their rights and exercise responsible agitation to keep governments from staggering drunkenly from wrong to wrong merely to preserve their own immortality.”

Words to build on if we care about the state of the city.



The Israel ‘Apartheid’ lies 

[Mar 11 2009]

”Israel is not South Africa”

~ Prof. Edward Said, author of “Orientalism”


"The false equation of Zionism with racism is simply an Arab ploy to take the focus off of the real enemies  of humanity. Zionism is a healthy form of nationalism."

- Edward H. Brown, Jr., former chief United Nations representative for the Congress of Racial Equality

Last week and into this, we have witnessed the fifth Israel Apartheid Week manifestations. In cities from Oxford to New York to Montreal we saw the usual collection of Islamist apologists and their fellow-travelers in academic, political and diplomatic circles. These events sought to portray Israel as an apartheid-era South Africa in relation to its Arab citizens.

It would have been tempting to ignore it. But silence would be a submission that cannot later be overcome. These propaganda campaigns are the psychological and intellectual germ warfare of the naked aggression of hate. And they debase our public discourse. Witness Canadian Arab Federation president Khaled Mouammar calling Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney a “professional whore” for his support of Israel. These campaigns have already wiped out much of the historical and institutional memories of many in one generation of citizens in the free world, and are well on the way to infecting another, younger, generation.

The Islamist propaganda blitz in this new World War creates an enormous challenge for those still dedicated to the fate of freedom in the world. For the propagandists are engaged in an effort to destroy the legitimacy of one specific nation, a sister democracy, that is the free world’s frontline guardian against the spread of theocratic tyranny. And for only one reason. That reason was eloquently expressed by Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff when he recently wrote, "Israel Apartheid Week singles out one state, its citizens and its supporters for condemnation and exclusion, and it targets institutions and individuals because of what and who they are--Israeli and Jewish." 

Freedom of expression

Perhaps one of the most eloquent testaments to the fact that Israel may be many things (and one can disagree with it on many policies) but an apartheid state it is not, is that Jamal Zahalka, an Israeli Arab Muslim Member of the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, has travelled freely, and frequently, in the west pronouncing on the “myth” of Israeli democracy. Zahalka is not just any ordinary MK. He is a member of the Balad Party.

Balad was founded by Azmi Bishara, also a member of Israel’s parliament, who started his political life as a communist. On the 8 of February 2004 the High Court sitting in Nazareth found that members of Balad were “…guilty of having put in place a Hezbollah proxy terrorist cell inside Israel in order to carry out suicide bombings…” Bishara himself declared in Beirut’s “L’Orient-le-jour” on the 13th of June 2001 that, “I do not consider Hezbollah to be a terrorist organization.”

Despite this, Balad has not been banned in Israel nor have its members, like Zahalka, been stopped from traveling. Indeed, Israeli diplomats in the various cities he has spoken in could not criticize him because Israeli protocol demands respect for a Member of the Knesset. Meanwhile Jews  still cannot obtain visas to most Muslim countries. One more thing. Zahalka obtained his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. in pharmacology at Hebrew University. Hebrew University’s student body is some 25% Arab. 

Political participation

Zahalka is not a rare case. There are about a dozen Arab Muslim members of the Knesset. They represent several Arab political parties including two who expressly support terrorism. Those two had been disqualified by Israel’s election authority but re-instated by order of the Israeli Supreme Court.

In fact Israeli Arabs, overwhelmingly Muslim, turn out to vote in greater percentage numbers than North Americans do. Arabs serve in the diplomatic corps with no glass ceiling. Israel’s Ambassador to Finland is Arab. It was Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who appointed the first Israeli Arab, Salah Tarif, to the Cabinet. In May 2004 Salim Jubran was appointed to the Supreme Court of Israel.

Though making up some 18% of Israel’s population, 22% of the membership of the Israeli Labour Party that ruled Israel for most of its existence was Arab as of May 2005.

Civil rights

Arabic is an official language in Israel, even posted on all road signs which is more than we can say for English in Quebec. More than 300,000 Arab children attend primary and secondary schools in Israel. In 1948 there was only one Arab high school in Israel. Today there are hundreds. There is of course one “discrimination” in relation to Arabs in Israel. They are not obligated to perform military service though there are many, - particularly Bedouin, Druze and Circassians - who volunteer.

Though discrimination in employment and social services is outlawed, there are certainly many cases of individual prejudice. But a 2000 study published in the Jerusalem Post shows just how close the living standards are between Arabs and Jews in Israel. Unemployment among Jews stood at 6.8%; among Arabs it was 10.4%. The average Jewish household had 1.80 persons for every room; the average Arab household 2.30 persons for every room. Life expectancy for Jews averaged 75; for Arabs 73.

One of the big issues in every year’s Israel Apartheid Week is that the Jewish National Fund and Israeli government agencies control most of the land in Israel and won’t sell to Arabs. Well the fact is that those lands aren’t sold to anyone. They are leased. And there are no religious or ethnic restrictions whatever on who can lease it. A reality affirmed in an Israeli Supreme Court judgment written by Chief Justice Aharon Barak. 

The “wall”

The real story of “apartheid” is on the flip side. The “Waqf”, the Muslim Religious Authority, has the protection of Israeli law to possess land and the Waqf – with no Israeli interference - has openly issued proclamations that its lands are strictly reserved for sale or lease to Arab Muslims only. In fact the Palestinian Authority has from its inception enforced the Jordanian law in place since the Jordanian occupation of the West Bank that no land be sold or leased to anyone other than Arab residents of the West Bank on pain of death.

“Apartheid” week has of course railed against the security wall calling it an “apartheid” wall.  Speakers at various events always point to the World Court decision demanding that Israel change the route of the wall. What is always neglected is that the Israeli Supreme Court demanded the same thing months before the World Court and the Israeli government complied. And has complied with several other route changes demanded by courts. I am not the strongest advocate for a security wall as a permanent solution to anything, but let’s keep in mind that most of it hugs the 1967 border. And Israel has special cause for concern. When the Palestinian Authority was organized it was Israel that supplied 150,000 arms for the PA’s militia only to see many of those arms used against Israel’s citizens by both Fatah and Hamas factions, in addition to the suicide terrorist attacks. And finally, one last thing. Where in the Arab world would you ever see the Supreme Court ruling against its government and the government complying? 

The justice system

Another big lie of Israel Apartheid Weeks is that Israel has created in the West Bank a regime of separation based on discrimination, applying two separate systems of law in the same area and basing the rights of individuals on their nationality. This is the classic half-truth. Residents of the West Bank can choose the legal jurisdiction they want to have recourse to. Including religious courts if they like. Part of the reason West Bank Arabs choose Israeli justice is the abject failure of the Palestinian Authority in implementing not only a constitution, but a functioning court system with legislation it can act on. What legislation there is, is nothing but a remnant of the Jordanian occupation from 1947-1967.

A December 2002 study by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research of residents of the West Bank and Gaza showed just how mistrustful they are of Palestinian justice. To the question “How would you evaluate the state of democracy and human rights in the Palestinian Authority?” 19.1% said good; 28.4% said satisfactory; and 50.5% said bad. When that question was asked of these same residents about Israel 65.5% said good; 11.9% said satisfactory; and only 17% said bad.  

Land and international law

The fact is that whatever one may think of the occupation, aside from the settlement policies which are objectionable in far too many instances, Israel is exercising the same rights in international law as France and the United States did after the Second World War of holding onto territory acquired in its own defense after surviving an aggressive attack until peace is achieved. And under Israeli occupation, Palestinians have the highest percentage of university students; the lowest infant mortality and the longest life expectancy of any front-line Arab state. All that due to the assistance from the Israeli social service infrastructure.

The intellectual godfather of Palestinian nationalism Edward Said once wrote that “Israel is not South Africa.” As Irshad Manji has pointed out, he could have stated nothing less since an Israeli publishing house translated his seminal work “Orientalism” into Hebrew. Israel is not so much the Jewish state as a state of Jews. The only preferential legislation that exists is the “Law of Return” that gives a Jew automatic citizenship while other prospective immigrants must wait three years. That law reflects the reality of a world that butchered millions of Jews and no country would take any in. Including Canada with its infamous “none is too many” policy. Israel was a haven for many Vietnamese boatpeople when Saigon fell, but there was no haven for the Jews of Europe. 

The real facts on the ground

Had the early socialist Zionists had their way there would have been a secular bi-national state. But even before Hitler, the Palestinian Muslim Arabs’ religious and political leader Haj Amin al-Husseini of Jerusalem encouraged the wanton slaughter of Jews in Palestine under the British mandate, particularly in the years 1929-1940. He spent the years between 1941 and 1945 as Hitler’s personal guest in Berlin broadcasting Nazi propaganda in Arabic and helping raise two Muslim divisions for the SS. He was to be tried at Nuremberg as a war criminal, but with the help of the French and British got back to his home and continued his bloodlust even after Israel became the only nation to recognize the Arab state of Palestine by accepting the UN’s partition plan. Al-Husseini’s frontline Arab cousins’ response was to invade Palestine and hold the West Bank and Gaza prisoner for twenty years. His nephew Feisal was a member of Arafat’s inner circle.

These are the facts on the ground. Facts that the Palestinians must reconcile with their history if they are ever to achieve maturity as a people and as a nation.


Stimulate this!

Let's help real people, not fund fake profits


[Feb 6 2009]


The current frenzy of economic stimulus packages sweeping around us like so many forest fires will not — and more importantly, should not — work. The reasons are threefold. First, they are stimulating the perpetuation of a false economy that has caused nightmares for tens of millions. Second, the packages are based on outdated Depression-era models without taking into consideration today’s much different realities. And third, they provide insufficient protection to get people through the tough three to seven years that are to come.

Through the funny-money years of the eighties and the go-go years of the nineties, the money hustle industry created a new vocabulary. The fictional Gordon Gekko in the movie “Wall Street” set the tone. “Greed is good,” Gekko proclaimed. “Greed built America!” The money hustlers put a twist on that. “Debt is good,” they proclaimed. “Never ending growth will pay the bills. Don’t worry. Be happy. Spend.” They lied. Too many bought into the lie.

Home ownership became a “right.” As did the second car, the third vacation, the boat and the country cottage. Mortgages were an “asset.” Borrow as much as you like. Shares were not debts owed to stockholders. They were trinkets to dole out to the public to raise IPO capital just as Peter Minuet used trinkets to buy Manhattan from the Indians. Everything became worthless because everyone knew the price of everything, but none knew the value of anything. The idea of living within one’s means was considered “unfashionable.” Those who did, were considered as ignorant of the “new economy.”

Debt became a commodity. New games called derivatives were invented — with the blessing of the Clinton and Bush administrations as well as Greenspan’s Fed. Bet on anything. Any war, any event, even the weather. Well, a Ponzi scheme is a Ponzi scheme whether in the twenties or today, and suddenly everything old was new again. The new “economy” that is.

A bubble built on bad bets, bad debts, and a self-delusion that made Sisyphus pushing the proverbial rock up the mountain look like an iron-headed realist. Okay you might say, but didn’t we have the same scams leading to the crash of 1929 and the Depression that followed? And didn’t FDR’s stimulus packages — the national recovery programs — work? The answer to both questions is no.

It is true that the scams and schemes of the twenties blew the lid off the economy and sucked capital out of businesses much as today’s shenanigans did. The critical difference is that in the thirties, though money was lost, productive capacity remained. The factories and assembly lines were there. The assets of what is called the “real” economy continued to exist. The United States, Great Britain and even Canada to a point, were the productive nerve centers of the western world. We made stuff! All that was needed was a stimulus — an injection — of capital that had been lost in market speculation to restart the engines. Today is different.

We don’t make most of the stuff anymore. The productive capacity is in China, India and points east. Yes the United States is the largest economy in the world. But again, vocabulary has been perverted. Its size is not measured by what it produces — once called value — but by what it consumes — today called price. In other words dear readers, unlike the thirties, there are precious few economic engines to stimulate. As just one case in point, people like Japanese cars more than American.

What we do have, and what these stimulus packages are trying to save, is an economy that creates debt and hopes to keep it going with ever higher fees and interest payments. The hope behind these packages — both infrastructure spending and tax cuts — is that it will enable people to keep paying interest on existing debts by having temporary project jobs and encouraging them to spend their tax savings on more consumption acquiring more debt still. The prayer the policy makers are chanting is that some new industry will arise — like the Internet in the nineties — to save their collective skins before the massive printing of money creates uncontrollable hyper-inflation. Here’s why there is faint hope for that.

The model of FDR’s 1930s reconstruction that governments of the left and right are using to achieve the above did not have within it three malignancies that plague the west today. First, only some 20 percent of North Americans owned their own homes. Second mortgages were almost unheard of, and first mortgages were given under strict borrowing guidelines with equal equity ratios. There was no such thing as five percent down to buy a home. It wasn’t considered a right. Today’s mortgage debt is so huge that no government can print enough money to cover it. When Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac went under, the debt they had underwritten was conservatively estimated at $5 trillion. That is $1 trillion more than the budget of the United States of America.

Second, credit cards didn’t exist in the thirties. The amount of personal consumer debt in North America is almost on a par with mortgage debt. In Canada alone there is $30,000 of consumer debt for every man, woman and child. Third, the thirties did not have broad-scale sector-wide union agreements in place. Agreements that today leave little wiggle room as workers are rightly furious at seeing the “masters of the universe” enrich themselves beyond the dreams of Croesus. Just last week President Obama rightly labeled as “shameful and outrageous” the news that Wall Street had paid out $18 billion in executive bonuses. The sixth highest on record in the worst year ever.

Did our current disaster come on suddenly? No. It was about to happen in the 1990s, but the Internet industry created a new centre of productivity. Did governments learn and tell their citizens to “cool it”, start saving and get out of the bubble? No. Most followed the lead of the United States that in 1999 abolished the Glass-Spiegel Act. That 1933 piece of legislation was critical to FDR’s restoration of the financial system. The Act mandated the separation of commercial banks from investment banks and set up firewalls between banks, insurance companies and brokerages. Financial services companies had to stick to their knitting. Other western nations followed America’s lead and tore down the barriers that for more than 60 years had protected consumers.

Suddenly financial behemoths sprang up that combined banking, insurance and stocks. All money was played and the big push for more equity capital sucked from the public became a stampede. That led directly to the dot.com bubble of the first years of this decade. Today’s crash should have happened then for the second time. But American Federal Reserve policies of cheap money kept the game going. One problem though. Since the west wasn’t producing anything but puff, where to raise sovereign debt to finance the cheap money policies? China of course. Since China was producing — and saving in its centralized Stalinist manner — it ended up holding up to a third of western debt. A situation that continues today and is pushing us toward a precipice overlooking a chasm even more frightening than the current crisis.

So what is to be done? We do need a stimulus. But a stimulus for real people not for fake profits. We need, as a friend of mine reminded me, a paradigm shift. To accomplish that we need statesmanship. And we need our leaders to look not to 1933 for solutions, but to 1973.

In 1973 two disasters happened. OPEC was created and America went off the gold standard. The economy went into a spiral and worse was foreseen. President Nixon, the man who it was said was the only American politician who could go to China without being labeled a Communist, did another surprising turnaround. He called in a Kennedy liberal policy specialist named Daniel Patrick Moynihan - later UN Ambassador and New York Senator - to come up with a plan to protect Americans from a coming economic disaster that could last a full business cycle. Moynihan devised a plan for a Guaranteed Annual Income. He famously quipped, “We subsidize planes, we subsidize trains, why can’t we subsidize people?”

The plan, amongst other proposals, would have created a floor, 15-20 percent above poverty lines, for people starting at entry level positions in new jobs created at existing businesses through government stimulus. The GAI was not a permanent plan. It would be in place until economic recovery was achieved. It was a parallel track to government dollars going to create real jobs at functioning companies. Not government dollars going to create stop gap infrastructure positions, or bailing out failing businesses without rewarding and encouraging successful companies to withstand the current hard times. It is the model for today. Everyone in government should be forced to read his “Politics of a Guaranteed Income.”

Why do we need it? Because the suffering is greater than we are told. The current unemployment rates we read about are only those people still on the rolls. The percentage of able-bodied Canadians who can’t find work, but are off the EI rolls, is far higher. These numbers are climbing. And this in a country where less than 10% of the population has a net worth of $5,000 or more. Great Britain has poured out 23 percent of its GDP in stimulus dollars with little to show for it. That’s far above the 13 and 11 percents Canada and the US are considering. Stimulus dollars won’t save failing industries and shouldn’t save the fast-buck artists. We need to let the economy adjust to new realities. Let the bad industries die and make room for new ones.

But these dollars can save people. Especially our $40 billion plus EI surplus that successive governments have refused to return to Canadians. These dollars are the very dollars that should be pumped into successful businesses, to create new jobs even at below entry level salaries, buttressed by a GAI plan that could even be funneled through employers as direct subsidies or long term loans. The plan would prevent these low salaries from expanding even more our class of working poor.

Our dollars should be used to cushion people’s lives until there is a real recovery, not a fake recovery doomed to quick collapse. But for even this stimulus to work we need one more ingredient.

We need our leaders to morph from politicians to statesmen. They need to find the courage to speak the hard truths of what brought us to this point and tell their citizens that things must change. That, in the words of Edward Abbey, “growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” That consumption for the sake of consumption is quicksand. That living within our means is “in”. That we can rebuild at lower levels, and that’s okay. It may take three years, or five or seven. But that at the end of the day we can finally defeat the threat that Bobby Kennedy warned of 40 years ago. The revolution of rising expectations.


Hate in the streets

The Montreal Hamas Rally


[Jan 7 2009]


“A totalitarian culture treats mere opponents as subversives; a democratic culture treats subversives as mere opponents. The reason is that the latter seeks never to betray its principles, while the former has none to betray.”

~ Jean-Francois Revel

It was the images as much as the issues that got to you. You couldn’t intellectualize in your own mind what you were seeing. You wanted to ask the demonstrators questions.

You wanted to ask why they are not protesting the Hamas murder of some 20,000 opponents in Gaza. You wanted to ask them why they had never protested the murders of thousands, tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of Muslims by fellow Muslims in Chechnya, in Iraq, in Somalia and in Darfur. You wanted to ask why they were not protesting the holding hostage of a million and a half Gazans by theocratic thugs who don’t have the courage to come out from behind the protection of the civilian population and fight in the open. You wanted to ask what they would have free, democratic Israel do when faced with over 3,000 rocket attacks — many landing in schools and hospitals — since leaving Gaza three years ago. You wanted to ask if it would be “proportional” if Israel targeted Gazan schools and hospitals with land launched rockets as Hamas does. You wanted to ask why the lies on the signs about the deliberate targeting of Gaza civilians when Israel has telegraphed each attack and given time for evacuation. You wanted to ask why the lies about starving the population when only Israel is sending food and medical supplies — by the UN’s own admission — and taking Gazan wounded to Israeli hospitals while Egypt keeps its border closed. But then you realize that they don’t want discussions. They simply need somebody to hate. Hate to perpetuate a culture of death.

The Hezbollah and Hamas flags. The veils, masks and Korans held high. The burning of Israel’s flag. The accusations of “Holocaust” and “genocide” hurled at Israel at the very moment when the masters of Hamas, the mullahs of Iran, are both denying the Jewish Holocaust and planning a second. The chanting of “Khaybar Khaybar, Ya Yahoud, Jaysh Mohammad sawfa yaud” harkening back to a 7th century massacre of Jews at Medina and calling for the return of the armies of Mohammad. These were the sights and sounds that flooded Montreal streets in the pro-Hamas demonstration this past Sunday that started out at Cabot Square.

Over on Peel Street, at the same time, religious Shia Muslims were marching to commemorate the Iman Hussein. It is an annual religious event. But this year, in front of high, black banners, marchers carried a long white sign with red letters shouting out “The tragedy of the Kabbala”, denouncing the esoteric books of Jewish mysticism. What Kabbala has to do with Iman Hussein even Madonna couldn’t answer. But the common denominator with the other demonstration was the same. They needed somebody to hate. And it’s always the Jews. The canaries in the mineshaft of history.

A police officer told me that here in Montreal everybody demonstrates for everything. But there is a limit. I am not suggesting legislative restriction. Freedom must remain indivisible. But I am suggesting that it is time for Montrealers to think deeply and clearly as to what we are witnessing. These are not ordinary demonstrators manifesting differing points of view. These are purveyors of hate who, for the most part, originate from totalitarian cultures. They do not even make a pretense of reason.

They want all the freedoms of a liberal society — expression, religion, association and assistance — but they reject any fidelity to the principles of liberty, veracity or loyalty to sister democracies. They separate themselves out by demanding — with stunning and revolting regularity — submission to the most retrograde and revanchiste theocratic tyrannies. And more, they seek to shove their reprehensible revisionist historical “truths” down everybody’s throats. They take us for fools. They may well be surprised that someday soon the “fools” will be on the march. If they seek a separatism to celebrate deceit, duplicity and a culture of death, they may well see themselves ostracized by a citizenry that has had enough of reasonably accommodating what Jean-Paul Sartre once called “cultures of exclusiveness and intolerance.” This time in Cabot Square there were no leaders of Quebec civil society as there were in 2006 at the Hezbollah rally. None except newly elected Quebec Solidaire MNA Amir Khadir who is very good at throwing shoes at the American consulate but has yet to condemn the messages of hate and chants for the murder of the Jews.

Maybe we are finally ready to act on the challenge Daniel Patrick Moynihan gave us some three decades ago. “Everybody has a right to their own opinion,” Moynihan declared about the United Nations, “but nobody has a right to their own facts.”



Trivializing hate

Quebec's hallmarks of intolerance


[Dec 13 2008]


This week Rouba Elmerhebi Fahd, mother of the United Talmud Torah fire bomber, received a sentence of only twelve months probation after having been found guilty in September of being an accessory after the fact in the firebombing. The trial judge qualified the attack on the Jewish school as a terrorist act.

I am by no means a believer in punitive punishment. Much evidence exists that incarceration does little toward rehabilitation. Tough sentences may not even be much in the way of deterrent. But the severity of sentences on terrorist acts do go very much to the character and courage of a society in how it confronts terror.

For Mrs. Fahd to not even receive a sentence of community service, and received what amounts to a suspended sentence for complicity in a terrorist act, is an abomination. Just two week ago convicted race crime perpetrator Azim Ibragimov was given a sentence that amounted to several months for each of his acts. Ibragimov committed three criminal acts motivated by hatred of Jews, including a firebombing of another Jewish school. The sentence given to Rouba Elmerhebi Fahd makes Ibragimov’s term look serious. The judge in the Elmerhebi Fahd case stated that he could understand the actions of a mother seeking to get her son out of the country and “protect” him. I would submit that hers were not the actions of a mother. They were the actions of a co-conspirator

The Ibragimov file

The Ibragimov sentence raises the same stark concerns. What is striking in reading the judgment in the sentencing of 25 year old Azim Ibragimov are the judge’s words. Judge Gilles Cadieux quite rightly characterized Ibragimov’s actions as “racist” and “terrorist acts”. What leaves one disheartened is the light sentence. Yes, we know that headlines have been declaring that the sentence “sends a message” and that it is “exemplary”. But when you consider the evidence, you have to ask yourself “what kind of a message?”

Azim Ibragimov pleaded guilty earlier this year to firebombing the Skver-Toldos Orthodox Jewish Boys School in Outremont in 2006, and attempting to attack the Snowdon YM-YWHA the following year. The actions were not those of a schoolboy. Ibragimov, 25 now, was a grown man when he committed these attempted murders.

His four-year sentence, with credit for time served, means that he will be imprisoned for only 10 months. Ten months for race-motivated crimes that could have resulted in dozens killed. We understand that sentencing parameters involve issues of suasion and rehabilitation, but how will 10 months really demotivate anyone else and rehabilitate Ibragimov?

Ibragimov has shown almost no remorse for what he did. And if he had demonstrated remorse reasonable minds could be forgiven for questioning it. His actions were not isolated. They were part of a consistent pattern of race hate. It wasn’t as if he committed one act and then atoned for it as if it were a youthful indiscretion.

After the school firebombing, Ibragimov pre-meditatedly planned a yet bigger one. The only reason that he failed to inflict carnage at the Y was that his home-made explosive device failed to go off.

Ibragimov was also an all-purpose hater. He didn’t just attempt murder and commit mayhem by physical violence, he also used the power of the pen. Ibragimov also pleaded guilty to uttering threats in the form of letters that claimed the crimes were committed in the name of Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group (so named by the U.S. Congress and the Canadian Parliament) that vows to destroy Israel and set up an Islamic Palestinian state. The letters also hinted there were more incidents to come.

So three acts of race hate get an effective average of three months each. “Racist” and “terrorist” acts get an average of three months each. Almost the same as multiple drunk-driving convictions resulting in bodily harm. Is that the equivalency our society is trying to demonstrate?

Even the staunchest opponent of incarceration as a means of punishment and rehabilitation should blink twice at this one. A concerted, pre-meditated series of race-motivated crimes perpetrated by an adult gets 10 months! Not even close to what is required. The sentence trivializes the crimes and sends nothing but the most feckless message.

The Raeburn question

But race crimes are not always perpetrated by civilians. Sometimes they are done by the authorities. And visible minorities are perhaps more victimized than “invisible” religious minorities. In November 2004 Dollard des Ormeaux resident Gemma Raeburn and two friends, Peter Charles and Frederick Peters, were moving items from her garage into her home. Following a call from a neighbor, six armed Montreal police officers showed up accusing the three of robbing the house. The only crime they had committed was that they were black.

The neighbor who had called the police was a 17 year old who said that people with “black things” on their faces were committing a robbery. What happened after the police arrived turned farce to tragedy. When Raeburn asked one of the officers if they would have pulled their guns on white people, the officer responded that “…bullets don’t see color…”.When Peters told one of the other officers that police in his native Grenada did not behave in a similar fashion the officer snapped back “If you don’t like it here, why don’t you go back to your country?”

Raeburn and her friends brought complaints to the Police Ethics Committee. The Committee suspended the two officers. The officers took their case to Quebec Court and their appeal was successful. The Court ordered the suspension of the first officer wiped off his record and the second had the suspension converted into a reprimand. Gemma Raeburn’s reaction said it all. “If we can’t even recognize racism, how are we ever going to cure it?”

The Bishop assault

The story of Courtney Bishop is also instructive in the problems with authority reacting with prejudiced. Mr. Bishop, a citizen of colour, is a Concordia student and a member of its rugby team. Recently he and some twenty of his friends and teammates tried to enter the Sir Winston Churchill Pub on Crescent Street. All were dressed casually. All except Mr. Bishop were white.

All of Mr. Bishop’s friends were allowed entry. The doorman refused Mr. Bishop on the basis that he was wearing baggy jeans. Mr. Bishop argued that some of his friends had the same attire. The doorman would not be moved. Heated words were exchanged and Mr. Bishop’s friends left the pub and proceeded down Crescent street with their friend Courtney.

Mr. Bishop told the media he felt the doorman’s refusal of entry was racially motivated. As abhorrent as that is if true, what happened next is was worse.

A few moments after they left the door of the pub, Courtney and his friends were encircled by police who approached him with guns drawn and asked him to lay on the ground. Apparently the police were responding to a call from the pub because the doorman claimed that he heard Courtney say that he had a gun. No gun was found of course and no charges laid. Courtney is not upset at the police, but he is considering legal action against the pub for discrimination.

What should troubles us in this incident in addition to the racial undertones, is the explanation of the police for their actions. When asked to explain why the unusual demonstration of force against Courtney, police spokesman Laurent Gingras told reporters that “We will take no chances with the public’s security.” Herein lies the problem.

Police officers are always concerned as to why their image is not better with the public. Part of the answer lies in this incident. The “public’s security” is not just a matter of protection against physical harm. It is also a matter of the upholding of individual rights. The automatic assumption on the part of the police at the scene should not have been that just because a caller says something it must be true. Are our police going to be used and manipulated by random callers to be hammers against someone whom we find irritating? Of course not.

The officers should have approached Mr. Bishop, in force of numbers, and confronted him with the accusation. But when they heard his story, they should also have accompanied Mr. Bishop up the street to the pub and confronted the doorman with both the falsity of his accusation and questioned him on Courtney’s charge of racial bias. Not only would that have restored Courtney’s dignity, but it would have sent a strong message – from the police themselves – that they understood the broader community responsibilities in their mandate to keep the peace.

The Quebec malaise

Some reactions from institutions dealing with these problems have been puzzling. B’nai B’rith Canada stated that the Ibragimov sentence “underscores the need for long-term sustained efforts to combat hatred.” Well, perhaps one way to really start is to make punishment fit the crime. We understand that sentencing guidelines are heavily governed by precedent. But sometimes judges need the courage to make new precedent. Judge Cadieux talked the talk. His sentencing did not walk the walk.

Gemma Raeburn’s challenging question was made to police authority. “If we can’t even recognize racism, how are we ever going to cure it?” It certainly should be asked of police after the Bishop assault. But her challenge may also be put to judicial authority after the Ibragimov and Elmerhebi Fahd sentences as well. After all the talk of Quebec “values” this past year, reasonable people may ask whether those “values” apply to protecting all citizens citizens equally from hate. Or has Quebec become too politically cowardly and too ready to pander to the most retrograde elements in our society?

The answer is by no means clear. What is clear is that there is a malaise in Quebec. From the judiciary to the streets. Ironically, the Elmerhebi Fahd sentence came down on the same day that the provincial police arrested four people in the investigation of several anti-Semitic attacks in the Laurentians this past summer. If they are charged and convicted, it will be instructive to see what their sentences will be. Is Quebec ready to stand for something, or will it fall for anything? Will it draw a line in the sand on what two judges have called “terror”? The answers to these questions are also by no means clear. We should all be saddened by that.

I won’t go through a repetition of the litany of racial incidents and attitudes in Quebec. From the firebombing of a Jewish school, to the intolerance exhibited during the accommodation hearings, to the Police Brotherhood’s move to stop a coroner-ordered inquiry into Mohammed Bennis’ death, they are all too fresh in our minds. The firebombings and the Raeburn and Bishop cases are more than sufficient evidence. What I would like to consider here is why it seems so easy to demonize and marginalize minorities – “les autres” – in this Province. So easy that even courts can be caught up in the sad, twisted mindset of trivialization.

An answer was provided by comments on the provincial campaign trail this past week. Pauline Marois proposed toughening Bill 101 by applying it to currently exempted small businesses and hiring more inspectors. Jean Charest wants Ottawa to turn over all cultural and cummunications matters to Quebec and proposed protecting “Quebec-made” cultural products through preferential and discriminatory taxes.

I am not suggesting that Marois and Charest are in anyway racist. Yet perhaps in some manner they have failed in an even greater responsibility of trust. A racist sometimes simply does not know better. But our politicians in Quebec know very well how to play the pandering card. The same old fear-mongering that has been going on for forty years - and before that in the Duplessis era – grabs votes. It grabs votes in the narrowest way possible. By appealing to the lowest common denominator of our society. Proposals such as these re-enforce the message – and a not too subliminal message at that - that it is acceptable to marginalize the “other”. That there are two classes of citizens and that there will be no level playing field. This is a propagation of the teachings of contempt. And from the time these teachings leave the mouths of politicians to the time they filter down and are disseminated in the media and enter the minds of all – from judges to juveniles – the damage is done. It is time for Quebec to do better.

It is time for leaders of Quebec civil society to appeal to the better angels of our nature. We have examples from an unparalleled progressive political patrimony to draw on. Lawyers and legislators, judges and jurists, pundits and politicians should end the perpetuation of insecurity and interposition. Let them draw lessons from Papineau who led the fight that emancipated all minorities twenty years before England; from Lafontaine who structured the first responsible government in the British Empire; from Laurier who proclaimed that it was the proudest boast of his public life to have been denounced by Roman priests and condemned by Protestant parsons and from Trudeau who institutionalized the supremacy of the individual over the whims of the state.

All leaders have a responsibility to make us better, more inclusive, more tolerant. Let no one be fooled. The poison that led to officers drawing guns on three middle-aged black citizens, and judges demonstrating benign neglect in sentencing of hate crime perpetrators, was not produced in a vacuum. It was concocted in the corridors of power where we so often search for justice and not merely law. There is one sad lesson all honest Quebecers must recognize. That lesson is that any society where public policy is proposed and propogated on the basis of personal prejudices giving privilege and preference to one group over another based on parochial particularities - be they of race, color, creed, faith or tongue – will inevitably produce hallmarks of intolerance.

It is time to acknowledge that “sang et langue” doesn’t cut it anymore. It never really did. It was always the big lie. Civil society should recognize that there are more votes to be gained from the heirs of Quebec’s patrimoine politique progressiste nonpareil than from the heirs of la grande noirceur.




To Rouse The World From Fear
The Legacy of JFK


[Nov 22 2008]

“I hear it said that West Berlin is militarily untenable - and so was Bastogne, and so, in fact, was Stalingrad. Any danger spot is tenable if men - brave men - will make it so.” ~President John F. Kennedy

Today is the forty-fifth anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. That tragedy haunts us still. In many ways and at all times. The writer Mary McGrory said on that day that we shall never smile again. Daniel Patrick Moynihan answered no, we may smile again, but we’ll never be young again. For many it was the day hope died.

But hope, like courage, rests not on the shoulders of any one man but lives on from the testament of that man in the hearts of all. All we need is the resolve to remember, and to carry on.

It is in that remembrance that we answer the question of many scholars as to what JFK’s legacy really was. His Presidency too short to see the fulfillment of many of his boldest initiatives, how is it that he captures our imaginations still? The answer rests in his words as much as his deeds. For those words, those ideas, still make us see possibilities in ourselves that we thought unimaginable.

They held out the vision of a generosity of spirit that could realize the ancient dream of the brotherhood of man. They challenged us to vigorous service and sacrifice in our daily lives. And most of all, they dared us to be brave. They lit the flame of courage within each of us that made us all understand that the indomitable spirit of freedom inevitably triumphs over the dark forces of tyranny.

Perhaps that is the greatest quality of leadership. To make people bolder, braver, better than they ever thought possible. And to give them hope…the greatest gift.

At no time since his murder has the world been in need of such hope and such courage. It is for that reason that his words resonate with us still. At no time since the Second World War have the free been so full of fear. At no time since that era, has appeasement of terror and villainy been so obsequious.

Kennedy understood these dangers well. In his 1940 best-selling book “Why England Slept” he wrote "It is an unfortunate fact that we can secure peace only by preparing for war." Today history repeats itself. Today a continents rest, as Bruce Bawer has so eloquently phrased in “While Europe Slept”. New cloaks for the old tyrannies.

The greatest tribute to John F. Kennedy is that his words and vision during his “…one brief shining moment…” remain relevant as calls of conscience for us today. And if we do not answer those calls; if we do not respond to conscience; then years from now people will ask how it came to be that the family of the free was so willingly complicit its own self-abnegation.

For today, on this sad anniversary, we witness too many leaders demonstrating ignominious surrender to political correctness. We see too much of voices of conscience hiding from threats or being intimidated in their expression. We see too marked a submission to those who would subvert individual liberty and subjugate liberal pluralism.

We seem to be surrounded with the message that if one wants to survive one must sublimate one’s beliefs and one’s courage. That indeed there is nothing worth believing in and certainly nothing worth fighting for. In short, that our culture should not stand for something and be prepared to fall for anything. The British writer Melanie Phillips, the author of “Londonistan”, has called it "a dialogue of the demented." It is the mindset of the victimized and the demonized.

Despite the optimism surrounding a newly elected President, there could be no more poignant day to remind us all that submission to this bodyguard of lies is not a strategy against the existential threat of theocratic tyranny. A threat that has been driven as a stake into the hearts of almost every western capital over the past seven years.

During Kennedy’s Presidency Europe faced a threat of similar magnitude though of different origin. Kennedy went to Berlin to address that threat and to send a message to the enemies of freedom. On a glorious June day in 1963, some five months before his murder, he delivered his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” address in Rudolph Wilde Platz facing the then recently constructed Berlin Wall. There could be no more fitting tribute to Kennedy’s legacy, and few more important lessons for our own national will, than reading his timeless words today. Among those words on that brilliant day were the following. “Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free.” It is a message for the ages, and particularly for our time.

Kennedy proclaimed, “I am proud to come to this city as the guest of your distinguished Mayor, who has symbolized throughout the world the fighting spirit of West Berlin. And I am proud to visit the Federal Republic with your distinguished Chancellor who for so many years has committed Germany to democracy and freedom and progress, and to come here in the company of my fellow American, General Clay, who has been in this city during its great moments of crisis and will come again if ever needed.

“Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was ‘civis Romanus sum’. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’ There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere that we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin. And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Lass' sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin.

“Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us. I want to say, on behalf of my countrymen, who live many miles away on the other side of the Atlantic, who are far distant from you, that they take the greatest pride that they have been able to share with you, even from a distance, the story of the last 18 years. I know of no town, no city, that has been besieged for 18 years that still lives with the vitality and the force, and the hope and the determination of the city of West Berlin. While the wall is the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the failures of the Communist system, for all the world to see, we take no satisfaction in it, for it is, as your Mayor has said, an offense not only against history but an offense against humanity, separating families, dividing husbands and wives and brothers and sisters, and dividing a people who wish to be joined together.

“What is true of this city is true of Germany--real, lasting peace in Europe can never be assured as long as one German out of four is denied the elementary right of free men, and that is to make a free choice. In 18 years of peace and good faith, this generation of Germans has earned the right to be free, including the right to unite their families and their nation in lasting peace, with good will to all people. You live in a defended island of freedom, but your life is part of the main. So let me ask you as I close, to lift your eyes beyond the dangers of today, to the hopes of tomorrow, beyond the freedom merely of this city of Berlin, or your country of Germany, to the advance of freedom everywhere, beyond the wall to the day of peace with justice, beyond yourselves and ourselves to all mankind.

“Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free. When all are free, then we can look forward to that day when this city will be joined as one and this country and this great Continent of Europe in a peaceful and hopeful globe. When that day finally comes, as it will, the people of West Berlin can take sober satisfaction in the fact that they were in the front lines for almost two decades.

“All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words "Ich bin ein Berliner."

Today, a different “ism” has replaced the Communist threat. It emanates from many capitols. It too enslaves millions through different walls. But its most noxious by-product on the free world has been fear. The legacy of John Fitzgerald Kennedy is the antidote to that fear.

JFK marshaled the nobler angels of our spirit. He put himself on the firing line of freedom. And through his words and deeds roused a stagnant world from its lethargy of fear. Let us remember. And let us begin anew.




Stars give of themselves for 'Cassandra's Lilacs' concert


[Sep 14 2008]


Jazz great Ranée Lee is the latest performer to join the star-studded line-up for the 'Cassandra's Lilacs' Gentle the Condition concert to be held Oct. 2 at 7.30 p.m. at Théâtre St. Denis. The concert is being staged by the Garceau Foundation in co-operation with the Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal. It will benefit three Montreal charities that are in the forefront on issues of health, hunger and homelessness.

Lee, already well known to audiences throughout North America and Europe, has just come off a brilliant portrayal of 'Lady Day' - Billie Holiday. Ranée Lee is truly a virtuoso whose talent has captured - and captivated - audiences in clubs, on stage, and on screen. She even shines in the classroom, teaching music at McGill and Laval universities. Chantal Chamandy burst onto the music scene with a multilingual first CD entitled Love Needs You and followed that up with a stunning concert at the pyramids in Giza, making her one of a handful of artists that includes Sting, who have staged concerts there. Stephanie Biddle is the golden voice of the storied Biddle musical family of Montreal. She has forged a stellar career in New York, and is flying in for this special evening. Lorraine Klaasen, originally from South Africa, has captivated jazz and African music lovers the world over. She is a virtual embodiment of cultural diversity singing in English, French, Greek, Hebrew, and more than 12 African languages and dialects. Vancouver's Nazanin Afshin-Jam is the former Miss World Canada who has devoted her life to international human rights. Her debut CD is entitled Someday - whose title song is a condemnation of Iranian religious fanaticism as well as a paean of hope for the future. The album is a captivating combination of folk-rock and sensual ballads.

Ashley King will be launching her first CD in Los Angeles in October. 'The multi-talented singer's pure sounds and relaxing rhythms have been called seductive.'

Sandra Brandone has just released her first CD entitled 'Nothing Feels As Good'. A single, Letting Go, has already gone 2008 Quebec platinum.

All the artists are performing free of charge for the benefit of the remarkable organizations the concert will benefit. Dr. Nicholas Steinmetz' and Dr. Gilles Julien's Fondation pour la promotion de la pédiatrie sociale tackles the health needs of poor children. Helping thousands in Montreal's poorest areas of Côte des Neiges and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, the Fondation cares for the physical, psychological and educational needs of children who are products of underprivileged homes. It not only provides immediate help, but follows the children through years of schooling to ensure that the work is having an effect. It is a totally holistic approach to childhood development. The Maison du partage d'Youville is a community kitchen and food bank that has served hundreds every week over the past 25 years in Pointe St. Charles, Verdun and Little Burgundy. It is straining for space and resources and is in desperate need of funds to move to larger, but cheaper, premises so that it can continue its critical work.

De la Rue - à la Réussite, takes homeless men and women and provides them with the necessary tools and employment opportunities to reintergrate into the workforce. This remarkable organization, founded by the indefatigable Sue McDougall and her late husband Jean-Pierre Chartrand, doesn't just get people on their feet, it gets them back into life. It understands that it's about more than just getting people a paycheque; it's about giving them back their purpose.

Activist attorney Brigitte Garceau created The Garceau Foundation out of a desire to provide the highest level of financial, professional and organizational support to frontline community action and social service groups tackling our most daunting social challenges. The need for the most effective intervention on behalf of these groups, already operating with strained resources, will become ever more acute. Brigitte believes none of us can stay uninvolved. Building on the philosophy that to whom much is given, much is expected, she is bringing years of experience in political and community networking and fund-raising to bear on this mission.

Inspired by a real-life Cassandra - Garceau's ten year old daughter - who wanted to do something to help the underprivileged, the symbolism of the lilac is poignant and pithy. Like children, the most vulnerable and fragile among us, each lilac flower alone is beautiful but fragile. But together in a bough, lilacs are not only fragrant, but strong. Each child alone is fragile. But if we look at them together, we are compelled by their needs and find the strength to accomplish the unimaginable. Together, we can gentle the condition.

This event will take place under the patronage of a very special Presidente d?honneur - Andrée Ruffo. For decades Ruffo has been the outstanding voice in Quebec, and perhaps unparalleled in the country, in defense of our most vulnerable and disenfranchised. Her particular passion was young people. As a youth court judge she not only showed compassion from the bench but commitment in the public arena. Few were as brave as she in demonstrating that when the system fails we as citizens must step in. That toeing the line is like doing a crime. Her book, "Parce que je crois aux enfants" is not only an indictment of apathy but an eloquent appeal for action.

The concert will not only be about entertainment. You will meet the people behind these groups and you will meet the people they help. We hope you will be touched as you meet the most humble among us who cannot secure the preferences of the privileged for themselves. We hope you will be touched enough to give of your time and talent as well as your treasure.

I assure you that the music, the words and the images of this concert will pierce your heart. We want you to take away from it a greater ability to see the world through the eyes of its victims. And to understand intuitively, that the less educated are not less intelligent and that the less affluent are not any less human. That is what Cassandra's Lilacs "Gentle the Condition" concert is all about, and what the Garceau Foundation seeks to achieve. Please help.

For tickets you can e-mail the Foundation at brigittegarceau@sympatico.ca, the Institute at info@iapm.ca.  All contributions are deductible and tax receipts will be sent out. The $250 VIP ticket entitles you to attend the after party at LaMouche, just one block south of the theatre on St. Denis and Ste. Catherine. General admission tickets are $150 and can be purchased by calling Théâtre St-Denis at 514-849-4211. Direct credit card purchases can be made through Tel-Spec at 514-790-1111. The Suburban is making available a special package for advertisers which will include four VIP tickets to the concert. For information please call 514-484-1107.



More responsibility, less demonization


[with permission from The Suburban]


[Aug 16 08]


Two words are at the root of the killing of Fredy Villaneuva and the riots that followed in Montreal North on the weekend. Demonization and responsibility.

As we reflect over the past several years, there is clearly a malaise in our system. From Rohan Wilson dying in an NDG jail cell, to Mohammed Benis’ killing on a Côte des Neiges street, and even to Justin Saint-Aubin’s death in psychiatric detention in Laval, the number of citizens of colour suffering grievous harm at the hands of authorities is out of all proportion. Part of the cause is that our society seems to thrive on demonization.

We have revived, particularly in the past 10 years, a lust for sacrificing “les autres”. Making anyone who is different a scapegoat for our society’s ills. That attitude of arrogance drips from everything. From the barrels of police guns to the tips of journalists’ pens. It is an automatic response that leads to the destruction of lives and reputations. It’s time for it to stop.

After all the inquiries into this latest tragedy, and at the core it is a human tragedy for the Villaneuva family, nothing will change if demonization doesn’t stop. The automatic response mechanism that minorities in Quebec are fair game for everything from fusillades of bullets to torrents of words must be short-circuited. And no this does not require legislation.

It requires all of us, including minority community members themselves, to do something much harder than merely following laws. It requires us all to be more responsible.

To shoulder the responsibility of looking at every citizen as an individual. Not as a member of a race, or a creed or a cultural community. To look at them as a person. To judge each encounter and situation on its own merits and from its own circumstances.

Our society is overwhelmed by bureaucratic pigeon-holing and stereotyping. Every aspect of life seems to be governed by some book of regulations with built in answers. The problem is most of life happens between all those cookie-cutter examples. It may well be that we are not teaching our citizens, including our police officers, how to deal with it all. Conformity breeds contempt. Contempt for any different person or lifestyle or situation. And since most situations that authority has to deal with are non-conformist, we are poorly equipped to handle them.

Poorly equipped not only on the side of authority, but also on the side of the citizenry. Responsibility cuts two ways. It is not enough merely to point out the failings of “the system”. On a community level the failures have been great as well.

There is terrible economic and social disparity around us. We know that. But that does not permit anyone to automatically assume the mantle of entitlement. Too many do so too often.

The parents who take no responsibility for their children. Life decisions being made with no regard to practical circumstances. Lives governed by lethargy and apathy. No responsibility to the community.The attitude? “The system owes me.” Or, “The system will take care of it.” Or, “The system has to understand me and respect my lifestyle,” even as I go and bash a car and set fire to a store. Well, no the “system” owes nothing to those who trash their own lives.

Responsibility means you stop whining and you do not resort to violence and gangs. You pull yourself together as best you can and demonstrate that you are worthy of the “system” helping you get the rest of the way. It’s not all one sided. You don’t take to the streets and riot. You get involved and make your community work!

In the end young Fredy Villaneuva became a casualty in the war of demonization and entitlement. All sides failed him because they abdicated their one common gift. Their humanity. We won’t avoid all tragedies in the future. But one way to guard against them is for us all to get human again.




Morgentaler: It's about liberty, not libertines


[with permission from The Suburban]


[Jul 27 08]


French social critic Hervé Juvin’s book L’avènement du corps (The Elevation of the Body), argues that our ability to live longer has seen the birth of a hedonism of self-preservation replacing the hedonism of self-indulgence.

Some commentators have used Juvin’s work to argue that individual rights advocates are on “the wrong side of history” because people today are prepared to do anything and submit to anything for the sake of longevity. Their arguments imply that this trend is irreversible and that societal submission to state dictate on our behaviour is acceptable in order to accommodate a new wave of “sanctimonious puritanism” as one writer phrased it.

They miss the point. The debate is not about libertines. The debate is about liberty.

These thoughts come to mind as one observes the furor over the Order of Canada that will be bestowed on Dr. Henry Morgentaler. I will not touch on the moral issues of abortion. Nor will I touch on the status of the Order of Canada. What I will touch on is Henry Morgentaler’s singular contribution to this country. The championing of personal liberty.

The “right side” of history has always been, and will continue to be, that side that defends and expands individual freedoms. Among the most important of which is the freedom to choose. That freedom is one of the most telling barometers of any society’s progress. Former Justice Minister Irwin Cotler argued that very point in his case for considering the de-criminalization of assisted suicide.

If the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation, it certainly has no business telling any of us what to do with our bodies. And it particularly has no business imposing moral codes on its citizens. It’s not the state’s job.

The reason why “blue laws", whether against alcohol, smoking or abortion, so frequently raise their hydra-headed countenances is that too many people are afraid of liberty. That’s why the nanny-state continues to grow. As Bernard Shaw wrote, “liberty demands responsibility, that’s why so many dread it.” Too many are ready to be complicit in ther own self-abnegation so they go along just to get along. Too many are ready to sacrifice permanent liberty for temporary security, in the end getting neither. Too many are ready to buy into Elmer Gantry dogmas because they have lost the ability to reason for themselves. And they would happily impose this tyranny of the mindless on us all.

Laws have no legitimacy if they are used to curtail personal freedom. To “protect” me from me. But they are important in protecting you from me. This is another great service Morgentaler rendered to this country. As much as people closed their eyes to it — whether they were legal or not — abortions were a common practice. Sadly however, many had no access to doctors. Back alley abortionists were doing permanent damage and killing many.

Morgentaler’s struggles not only re-affirmed the basic right of individual control over our own bodies, but protected so many women from trauma and death. Now there was a real public health issue.

Morgentaler walked the walk. He didn’t just talk the talk. He went to jail for violating a law the Supreme Court later ruled unconstitutional. His actions were a main catalyst behind the current reality in which Canada is a country with no abortion law of any kind. And women are the better for it.

One of the common themes in the criticism of his appointment is that the awards should be given to people who unify the country, not who bring division. If that were true, you would have to question the giving of the award to a lot of recipients whose mere name sparks divisions in many parts of this country. Recipients that include a lot of politicians.

Based on the existing criteria, and on historical precedent, Morgentaler’s award is entirely defensible. Any attempts to have it rescinded are misguided, based on Order of Canada guidelines, or are simply attempts to reopen the abortion debate.

We as a nation must commit to one over-riding principle. That neither the state nor society has a right to impose an external collective morality on personal, self-centred conduct. We have to become sophisticated enough to accept that the full spectrum of human behaviour means that some people make bad choices. And that no amount of opprobrium or even danger to self will prevent people from doing that. We have to understand, as constitutional attorney Julius Grey put it, that “legislating niceness is not very nice.”

Before Morgentaler it was common for Canadian hospitals to have dedicated wards where women suffering sepsis or unstoppable hemorrhaging from botched abortions were treated and, sometimes, died. Even today, the World Health Organization estimates that 68,000 women die annually from illegal abortions, while between two and seven million sustain long-term damage or disease.

Morgentaler’s battles resulted in women being freed from submission to the will of the state or clergy or just the whim of a man for that matter. On a broader scale, he added building blocks to the edifice of individual liberty for all.

Many object to the fact that Morgentaler has profited, through his clinics, from his legal victories. What of it? We have to rid ourselves of childish notions born of false pieties. Virgins do not make redemptive change in society. The dubious can be champions of the good. And perhaps Morgentaler himself did not even think about all these notions of personal freedom when he began. Maybe he was just sick and tired of the sham and hypocrisy and suffering he saw. That should be good enough for us. Too few talk truth to power.

No one has a right to force a woman to bear a child. Whether she has the baby or not is a traumatic and life-altering decision that only she can make. It may well be far more responsible to decide not to bring another human being into the world than to do so when the pregnancy is not planned and the circumstances are wrong. If a person feels that abortion is morally wrong, that does not give him or her the right to impose that opinion on women who are the ones affected. At the end of the day this is what Morgentaler taught us.

The Order of Canada’s motto is “Desiderantes meliorem patriam. They desire a better country.” By freeing so many women from fear, and making Canadians accept personal liberty and responsibility, Morgentaler made it better.



Justice done


[with permission from The Suburban]


[Jul 1 08]


Some one hundred years ago, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. constructed the foundational maxim of legitimate legal order: “Justice must be seen to be done as well as to be done.” These thirteen simple words embodied the hopes and strivings of those of compassionate conscience and noble purpose who recognized that a just society is predicated on the recognition of the claim by every citizen on a presumptive tolerance from the state.

Few statements could underlie better why the acquittal of Basil Parasiris was right and just. Parasiris and his family were awakened before dawn by police officers who battered down the door to his home. He said he acted in self-defence in the shoot-out that followed which resulted in the death of police constable Daniel Tessier. Parasiris claimed throughout that he did not know they were police and thought it was a break-in. Some of the officers had come right to his bedroom door. As tragic as Tessier’s death was, the jury agreed and in a manner of speaking a break-in was just what it was.

The trial revealed that this tragedy should never have happened. The Laval police force’s search warrant had been based on questionable evidence. Further, the warrant did not give requisite special authorization for a night-time raid. Most warrants are served after dawn. The trial also revealed that the police had not properly checked whether Mr. Parasiris owned guns. The officers hadn’t checked his name in the firearms registry, only the address. Finally, some officers mistakenly fired into a child's bedroom. Almost everything that could go wrong did.

Justice Guy Cournoyer of Quebec Superior Court, had invalidated the search warrant the officers were using. Mr. Parasiris was targeted in a police probe into cocaine trafficking. But Judge Cournoyer ruled that the police failed to prove he had drugs in his home and weren't justified in using force to enter. The force was a battering ram at 5.00 am.

It was a prescription for disaster. A “legal” break-in. Sadly, in a society run rampant by state dictate and interference in our private domains this was almost inevitable. The jurors seemed to be drawing a line in the sand around the sanctity of the home. They agreed with Mr. Parasiris's defence that he thought he was the victim of a home invasion.

The rush to judgment in the events leading up to the fateful morning ignored due process and the presumption of innocence. We are a society of laws and not of men. But, as Gandhi said, it is a principle of natural justice that when bad men make bad laws, or when unprincipled authorities compromise good ones, citizens are justified in protecting themselves from the very authority that compromised law and order.

Justice Cournoyer directly, and the jurors indirectly, mirrored what US Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas once wrote. “In a civilized society,” he stated, “ the means are all important. It may seem unimportant that one person’s guilt is established through questionable means, but a society that accepts indiscriminate practices as normal has no claim to moral leadership.” And where there is no foundational morality behind legal actions, those actions and the very laws they represent have no legal standing.

If we Canadians have one boast, one over-riding advantage, not just over totalitarian regimes, but even over sister democracies, it is that our legal traditions reflect our national consensus that our governance must have a broad base in morality and decency and protect our individuality and conscience against direct and indirect breach by the state. If we ever forget that then we may, in the words of Toronto’s famed civil rights and criminal defense attorney Clayton Ruby, “…lose sight of what our democracy is all about.”

Let the detectives detect and the investigators investigate and the collectors collect, but within the limits of due process. And with the appropriate verbal restraint from our public officials so that the reputations of our citizens are not compromised. Except in extreme matters of National Security - and even then balanced against the primacy of protecting individual liberties so as not to become the reflection of that which we are trying to destroy - if state authorities cannot catch certain people under rules that protect the majority of law-abiding citizens, then so be it. Governments cannot continue to be given onerous extraordinary powers which we have seen them apply not only irresponsibly, but retroactively.

Few crimes are as heinous as that of unbridled government power. Few threats to our public security are as grave as the ability of unseen forces to intrude into our lives and thoughts. Few fears are more paralysing to the commonweal than the possibility of violation of our most sacred trusts by public servants who shield themselves behind screens of immunity. The greatest danger to our free society lurks in the insidious encroachment by agents of the state operating without understanding or guidance from compassionate authority.

And this problem is broader than the power of police officers. We have oversight and control by so many government statocrats into every aspect of our private lives. So many laws aimed not at protecting victims but at protecting us from ourselves. It is sheer madness. The reality is that if we have to live our lives weighing every action, every communication, every human contact, wondering what agents of the state might find out about, how they would analyse it, judge it, tamper with it, and somehow use it to our detriment, we are not truly free.

We can only have one standard. The state may do nothing that contravenes the guarantees implicit in the concepts of ordered liberty and fundamental justice. These principles are effective only when there is a strict adherence to due process. The starting point is always the individual, not the state. Only if due process is respected can the humblest of citizens feel sheltered in the heart of our legal order by the guarantee that they are protected from persecution and shielded from sanction.

This is our only surety of a government, and a society, that endures with pride and purpose in a spirit of compassion and conscience, and not one that merely exists--paralysed and petrified--in the icy frost of its own indecision and indifference.



RFK: "A tiny ripple of hope..."



[with permission from The Suburban]


[June 4 08]


“In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
~ Aeschylus’ “Agamemnon”, one of RFK’s favorite quotes

This week we commemorate the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. He was shot on June 5, 1968 at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles as he was celebrating the California primary victory that would have led him to the Democratic presidential nomination. He died the next day. For many of us who were coming to political maturity in that turbulent time, hope seemed to die with him.

It has been said that my generation was the first to realize a terrible truth before any of us even turned 20. That truth was that the best people we would ever see in public life had their heads blown off. Kennedy, King, Kennedy.

When Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in April of 1968, people around the continent said “We still have Bobby.” After Bobby was killed, those of us who remained engaged in public life comforted ourselves with Bobby’s hope.

That hope was embodied in many of RFK’s words, but never more so than what he said in the black township of Soweto in South Africa in 1966. “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. And crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

But we came to learn that hope, like courage, rests not on the shoulders of any one man but lives in the hearts of all he inspired. All we need is the resolve to remember, and to carry on.

To remember the RFK who dragged a Senate committee to the Mississippi Delta and poignantly touched the stomach and cheek of a starving black child and then glared into a television camera and icily declared “This is unacceptable in America!” To remember another Senate panel he took to California to help Cesar Chavez’ embattled grape workers’ union withstand crackdowns from redneck sheriffs whom Kennedy ordered to “Re-read the Constitution of the United States!” To remember how he brought big business and big labour together to rejuvenate the slums of Bedford-Stuyvesant. To remember the hope that he engendered from the hungry of South America to the imprisoned of Africa.

When one reflects on the killing of Bobby one remembers a story that took place in the White House the day John Kennedy was killed. The writer Mary McGrory said on that day that “…we shall never smile again.” Then presidential assistant Daniel Patrick Moynihan answered “No Mary, we will smile again, but we’ll never be young again.” Many of us grew up real quick that bloody spring.

So many today find it fashionable to question what RFK really did in his short public life. Others, members of the salon liberal set Kennedy so disdained, relish condemning him because of his supposed ruthlessness and his alliances with old-time party bosses. But that was the point of Bobby. As religious a man as he was, he hated false piety. And he didn’t endorse litmus tests of purity in politics. His bottom line was who could help him meet the needs of the people. That endeavour, and that endeavour alone, was the redemptive crusade of public life. RFK made us see possibilities in ourselves that we thought unimaginable. If the line he loved from Bernard Shaw meant anything it meant that. “Some men see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say why not?”

Robert Kennedy held out an authentic vision of a generosity of spirit that could realize the ancient dream of the brotherhood of man. He challenged us to vigorous service and sacrifice in our daily lives. And most of all, he dared us to be brave.

Perhaps that is the greatest quality of leadership. To make people bolder, braver, better than they ever thought possible. And he did it by giving people the audacity to hope. While some today talk of change but are in fact merely the products of change, Robert Kennedy was a true agent of change. It was his greatest legacy.

At no time since his murder has the world been in need of such hope and such courage. It is for that reason as much as any perhaps, that his legacy resonates with us still. For we live in a time when too many of our leaders run between the raindrops. They don’t dare to care. And they can no longer tell right from wrong. It is a time of the feckless and the fearful. It is a time of obsequious appeasement of villainy.

Robert Kennedy brought not only courage but clarity to public life. He dared to care. He sailed into the rainstorms. He knew right from wrong. And he knew it because of the simplicity of his public testament that his brother Sen. Edward Kennedy explained so well in his eulogy at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. “My brother,” he said, “need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life. [He should be remembered]... as a man who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.”

On this sad week there could be no more fitting tribute to Robert Francis Kennedy’s legacy than to remember those words of his brother. And few more important lessons for our own national will.



No submission to intimidation


[with permission from The Suburban]


[May 30 08]


Response to our series on the Public Curator and the Dietrich affair has been overwhelming. As satisfying as were our efforts in bringing the Itzhayek saga to light — and Saul home; helping Ella Marchildon get RAMQ approval for life-saving surgery; aiding the Maison du partage d’Youville and shedding light on victims of slumlords and the plight of the homeless, the investigation surrounding the Curator may have a greater impact. For it is an example of systemic breakdown by government and of the abnegation of individual consequence by its agents.

The Suburban, and its editor Beryl Wajsman as host of 940 Montreal’s The Last Angry Man, have received a letter from the Public Curator to stop writing or talking about this case; stop publishing pictures of Mrs. Dietrich; and stop divulging personal information. In much of what the letter stated it was wrong as to facts. As to its tone of “intimidation amicable” neither we, nor our editor, will submit. For as noted constitutional attorney Julius Grey said on Mr. Wajsman’s program, “The operations of the Curator generally raise issues of broad public interest. And the fact of the issuance of such a letter raises graver issues still.” Maybe it is time to raise the temperature.

What we have sought since the beginning of this investigation, launched at the written request of Mrs. Dietrich and her chosen representative Ura Greenbaum, executive director of the Association for the Protection of Persons under Curatorship, are answers to two simple questions. Questions that arose from documents of public record delivered to us by Mr. Greenbaum and Mrs. Dietrich. First, why did a representative of the Curator break a written legal agreement that Mrs. Dietrich’s tutorship would be provisional and limited to the administration of a certain immoveable property and proceed to institute full and total tutorship over her life? Secondly, why did another representative of the Curator make an agreement with Mrs. Dietrich’s landlord to remove her from her apartment of 15 years, put her belongings in storage and leave her homeless? Despite clear indications of an abuse of process, answers to these questions have not been forthcoming.

Too much secrecy in the Public Curator is couched behind the excuse of confidentiality. But confidentiality of what? As Mr. Greenbaum has asked so often, “When the Public Curator invokes confidentiality, is it protecting its wards or is it protecting itself?” In the Dietrich file, “Is it acting in the best interest of Mrs. Dietrich or is it using confidentiality for its own benefit to cover up its mistakes?”

The Curator is supposed to advance autonomy of its wards. By keeping Mrs. Dietrich under public curatorship in spite of her ardent opposition and the professional re-evaluations that state she is fully capable, is it furthering her autonomy or is it avoiding having to admit its blunder? The right of confidentiality of personal information belongs strictly to Mrs. Dietrich — as it does for the benefit of every citizen — not for the benefit of the Public Curator or agents of the state. This is an example of how the Public Curator and indeed our governments, insidiously pervert a belonging to the people and appropriate it for its own benefit.

We have been told by representatives of the Curator that they are trying to get Mrs. Dietrich to go for yet a third series of evaluations because a judge might not free her if she has two contradictory reports. We have suggested to the Curator’s office that it simply admit to a judge in chambers that several of their agents had abused the process and that the original curatorship demand was wrong.

It is clear from the many calls we received that the problems with the Public Curator, first brought to public attention some 10 years ago by Quebec Auditor-General Guy Breton, have yet to be resolved. It is our hope that media and public attention will move apathetic bureaucrats and a lethargic system to release Mrs. Dietrich and reform their own house. One thing is for certain. There will be no submission to subtle intimidation by agents of a state whose actions so often excite the people’s contempt and whose failures to act spark the people’s disgust.

In a time when power and privilege, particularly in government, manipulate truth and use it against the innocent for purposes of political profit it is right and proper to use the power of the Fourth Estate — the media — to right a wrong and ease suffering. Maybe it will give all of us, including many in the media, who take too much at face value; who rush to judgment; who willingly sacrifice someone — anyone — to maintain their own semblance of false piety, the courage to dare to care.

In this age of instant communication and instant destruction we cannot afford to forget the disempowered, the disenfranchised and the disaffected. The times are too dangerous for that. And, as in Mrs. Dietrich’s case, too tragic.



A senior and the system


The nullification of Erna Hagen Dietrich "All I want is justice!" pleads woman in curatorship


[with permission from The Suburban - first published on Apr 9 08]


We hear much today about how the government wants seniors to lead longer, healthier and more productive lives. These signals have been heartening for many Suburban readers. This newspaper is distributed in areas with some of the highest concentrations of seniors in Quebec. In Côte St. Luc for example, the seniors rate is one of the highest in Canada.

Sadly, however, our social service system seems set up only to treat seniors as incapacitated children. Too many are needlessly made wards of the state under control of the Public Curator. The Curator, independent of any governmental agency, is one of the most secretive public institutions. The reason always given is privacy concerns. Yet the Curator manages hundreds of millions of dollars of assets with little reporting and almost no transparency. It is no longer an option of last resort, it has too often become the easiest way out for flawed frontline social service providers.

Here is one story. But it is not just any story. For it contains within it all the elements of what can go wrong when a senior turns to the “system” and meets the tyranny of the mindless.

Note to reader: I have purposely left out the names of the bureaucrats involved in the Dietrich affair for the purposes of this first article. ~BW

In May of 2006 Mrs. Erna Hagen Dietrich, a single 68-year-old woman, was living peacefully in her apartment on l’Acadie Blvd. and managing a residential fiveplex owned by her ex-husband who had returned to Germany in 1965 and allowed her, by giving her power of attorney, the use of the revenue from the fiveplex in lieu of alimony.

A few years earlier she had given her power of attorney to two people to manage the property for her. She started to have trouble with them and felt they were not turning over all the revenues to her. She tried some lawyers to resolve the issue but to no avail. She looked around for more help and someone suggested to her that she try her local CLSC in Park Extension.

Once there, a social worker told her that the most effective method of resolving her situation would be to put herself into curatorship and let the Public Curator deal with her property. That this was the best way the public service could help her, the social worker said. Though she wrote in her notes that Mrs. Dietrich did not seem to realize the seriousness of curatorship, this social worker sent her for a psychiatric evaluation.

The psychiatric evaluation declared her mentally unfit. The reports were forwarded on to the Public Curator. In the fall of 2006 legal proceedings were begun by the Public Curator to take control of Mrs. Dietrich’s life. She was mentally fit enough though to retain the services of a lawyer and make sure that there was a written agreement signed with the Curator that this would only be a provisional and partial regime of curatorship and relate only to the administration of the fiveplex.

However, by February of 2007 the official representative of the Curator in charge of her file decided to pursue final and full curatorship over Mrs. Dietrich. Mrs. Dietrich objected and did not attend the first court hearing. It was postponed to the spring. At the spring hearing in May, almost a year after the fateful day she had entered the CLSC looking for legal help, the Superior Court of Quebec awarded full curatorship though Mrs. Dietrich was not in attendance and the judge never saw her. Instead of postponing the proceedings and sending a bailiff to assure that Mrs. Dietrich be in attendance, the court simply went with the recommendations of the Curator’s office and legal counsel. Through all this Mrs. Dietrich had kept up an unending stream of correspondence vigorously objecting to these procedures. But justice was deaf, not just blind. And Erna Hagen Dietrich’s life was about to go from bad to worse.

The landlord in the apartment she had lived in for 15 years was looking for ways to evict her because he wanted higher rent than what the rental board was awarding. He obtained a judgment from the rental board to do major repairs in her apartment. She would have to vacate for 60 days. He was ostensibly responsible for her housing costs during that period.

Mrs. Dietrich returned often to see her apartment during that period. But no work was progressing. Unbeknownst to her, the Curator and her landlord were in contact. On Oct. 1, 2007, Mrs. Dietrich was informed by the new Curator’s representative on her file that in return for $2,000 paid by Mrs. Dietrich’s landlord, the Public Curator had decided to terminate her lease. The Curator’s office cut off her phone and electricity and put Mrs. Dietrich’s possessions in storage where they remain until today. She was left homeless. Literally. She has been relying on friends who have taken her in for various periods of time.

Then the Curator went further. Since Mrs. Dietrich had been declared incompetent and an incompetent person cannot act as a power of attorney, the Public Curator located her ex-husband in Germany (still the registered owner of the fiveplex) and told him to appoint someone else to manage the property. After losing her home she was now deprived of her income.

To complete her Kafkaesque nullification, the Public Curator’s office began receiving her mail so she could not even receive communications from the very government authorities to whom she was complaining. Her bank accounts were closed. The balances transferred to the Public Curator’s account and her pension cheques were also re-directed to it.

Despite these trials and outrages, Mrs. Dietrich maintained the semblance of mind to seek out community resources to help her. Côte des Neiges’ Project Genesis suggested she see Ura Greenbaum, executive director of the Association for the Defense of Persons under Public Curatorship. Earlier this year Greenbaum made a complaint to the Protecteur du citoyen against the CLSC that originally started this whole process.

That complaint resulted in the original social worker who had told Mrs. Dietrich that curatorship was the best way to protect her property rights being re-assigned. Greenbaum also had Dietrich re-evaluated by an independent social worker and also by a new psychiatrist. Both assessments agreed that the original social worker had been over-zealous at best and that Mrs. Dietrich was not incapable and should not have been put into public curatorship. Those reports were filed in Dietrich’s court record over a month ago.

The filing of such reports in a curatorship file triggers an automatic request for re-assessment. But when I spoke this week with the representative of the Public Curator authorized to talk to me about this case, she was unaware of their existence over one month after their filing. She also stressed that she could not comment because of privacy and legal issues. She did agree to accept faxed copies of them from me. Also unaware was the Curator’s representative who took the full curatorship proceedings in February of last year. He told me he was now off the file. The new representative in charge of Mrs. Dietrich’s fate was now the woman who had made the deal with the landlord last fall which resulted in Mrs. Dietrich being left homeless.

Next week I hope to report on some progress after the new evaluations have been studied by the Public Curator. But it has had over a month. And three questions remain unanswered. Why would a social worker talk to a citizen about curatorship when that person had come in, with a friend, simply to ask for advice on legal remedies? How was the curator’s representative allowed to ignore a written agreement with Mrs. Dietrich and extend the scope of the curatorship? And finally, who authorized the Curator’s dislocation of Mrs. Dietrich from her home in making the deal with her landlord when the Civil Code’s own article 275 demands that “ the dwelling and possessions of a protected person of full age be kept at their disposal”?

We can only hope that this is not another case, like Saul Itzhayek’s and Ella Marchildon’s, where citizens suffered prejudice in the face of an unmoving and uncaring bureaucracy until public advocacy rallied community support. After all, Mrs. Dietrich is looking for something so simple. “All I want is justice,” she told me in our first conversation. “All I want is justice!”



Dare to care, part 2


[with permission from The Suburban - first published on Mar 19 08]


Ella Shepherd Marchildon’s struggle to get life-saving surgery in the United States continues. As we reported in our front-page story last week, Marchildon was operated on for a very rare form of cancer. The surgeons at the Royal Victoria Hospital determined that her best chance for survival was to go to the Sugarbaker clinic in Washington to have the world-renowned Sugarbaker procedure. That procedure combines surgery with a cutting edge chemotherapy procedure known as IPEC. The success rate there is 75 percent with patients remaining cancer-free for 10 years on average.

The procedure is costly, with initial estimates running north of $60,000. Ella, and her husband Joe, applied to RAMQ (Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec) to cover the costs. RAMQ refused, stating that this surgery was available at four hospitals in Quebec.

Joe Marchildon collected letters from three of these hospitals stating that they do not do this procedure. The fourth said that it did it on an experimental basis but did not have the IPEC chemo follow-up. In any case the wait time for the experimental surgery was four to six months. Too late for Ella.

Ella’s files were sent to Dr. Paul Sugarbaker for personal assessment. He was in touch with Ella’s doctors who had performed the initial surgeries here. He sent a letter to RAMQ stating that though the procedure is lengthy and difficult, Ella was an excellent candidate for a successful operation and post-op treatment.

All this documentation was then sent to RAMQ with another request for aid. Just last Thursday RAMQ again refused. This time the Regie’s reason was Kafkaesque. RAMQ functionaries had contacted someone at the one hospital that does this procedure experimentally but has no IPEC follow-up. They did not speak to the chief surgeon for this type of operation as he was away. According to RAMQ, that doctor determined that the Sugarbaker procedure would not help Ella. This was the basis for RAMQ’s latest refusal.

Four doctors plus Dr. Sugarbaker believe this operation will save Ella’s life. RAMQ chose to issue a death sentence.

Joe Marchildon has approached his MNA Geoff Kelley several times. Marchildon was informed by the MNA’s office that Kelley had asked RAMQ to help on “humanitarian grounds”. Until now these appeals have been to no avail. I had occasion to speak to Mr. Kelley just yesterday. He told me that he is still trying but that he has been told that the latest RAMQ decision had been “peer-reviewed” and that the case has the personal attention of the Minister.

One has to question in astonishment how our system allows one group of bureaucrats to choose between its group of peers and the suffering citizen’s. The Marchildons have brought together letters from some of the leading doctors in the field. Somehow these peers aren’t good enough for RAMQ.

I reminded Mr. Kelley that the Minister, and indeed the Premier, should remember that no matter what policy or politics they practice on health care, the imagination of the public will always be captured by the individual stories and faces. Particularly those that are victimized by an unfeeling and uncaring bureaucracy. I asked Mr. Kelley to pass this on and to remind Mr. Charest and Health Minister Philippe Couillard that when there is a doubt, the benefit of it should be given to the citizen.

The Marchildon affair has galvanized a community to action and captured popular compassion and imagination. Joe Marchildon got a website up and running. WWW.HELPELLA.COM

It is attracting attention and contributions. National and international attention is picking up. CTV News featured the story this past Sunday. Joe tells me that when Sugarbaker Oncology Clinic is Googled the first thing that comes up is last week’s Suburban story.

Ella and Joe, so dedicated to and active in the West Island, have appealed to their friends and neighbours for help. And their pleas are being answered. All members of the Home and School Association at St. John Fisher have been informed of this tragedy and the urgency of immediate help. Dozens of people are involved.

Contributions are being collected not only from individuals but from companies that are organizing drives among their employees. We received word late yesterday that a major pharmaceutical company may be ready to help corporately.

I had Joe on my radio show on 940 Montreal this past Sunday with noted constitutional lawyer Julius Grey. Joe will be meeting with Grey for help on the appeal procedure. Grey has won several successful appeals against RAMQ rejections. Kirkland council passed a motion calling on Premier Charest and Minister Couillard to intervene and after a discussion I had with informed sources this file may very well be the subject of a high level meeting in the premier’s office very shortly.

All this energy is heartening. Ella Shepherd Marchildon’s life will be saved. Her five children will have a mother. What is sad is that RAMQ has not yet learned the organizing principle of health care: Do no harm.



Where's the outrage?


[with permission from The Suburban - first published on Mar 19 08]


“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”

It wasn’t that long ago when leaders of Quebec politics, labour and academia addressed a large rally in Montreal. That rally excoriated a small democratic nation that was defending itself in the face of naked aggression. The speakers made hardly a mention of the fact that citizens of that country had been killed in rains of rockets, as they still are today. Hardly a mention of kidnapped citizen soldiers. No mention at all of the enemies of that nation utilizing the vilest methods of murder and mayhem in pursuit of purposes of genocide and national extinction.

The nation under attack never targeted civilians and non-combatants. Never destroyed religious sites. Never sought to obliterate all semblance of their aggressors’ culture and history. The enemies of that nation were intent on just that and had for two generations practiced the crudest forms of nullification and interposition including turning tombstones into toilet seats.

The nation under attack that August day in Montreal was Israel. The gathered thousands at the rally lionized and stood under flags of the murderous Hezbollah, deemed an outlaw terrorist organization by the government of Canada. Israel, the frontline state in the family of free nations, was that day accused of “barbarism” and atrocities that it never committed.

We wrote then, and believe today, that what motivated those leaders who spoke to that rally was political profiteering at its most cynical. The calculus was simple. Appeal to the lowest common denominator of hate and radicalism. Labour leaders sought more card carrying members. Politicians sought votes. Left-wing academics sought validation of their most reprehensible slanders. What strikes us today is what happened to the outrage?

Tibet is once again under the repressive heel of China. Death and destruction abound in the streets of Lhasa and two other major cities. Why are the voices of Quebec civil society now stilled?

The Dalai Lama, a man who “progressives” ache to have their picture taken with, has called China’s actions “cultural genocide”. Yet the “progressives” are strangely silent. Could it be that they are fit only for picture taking and not for manning the barricades at times of moral crisis?

Israel encourages Arab culture. Funds Arab universities on the West Bank. One-quarter of the student body at Hebrew University is Arab. Israel has Arab judges, diplomats and parliamentarians. Funds Muslim cultural programs. Yet Israel is condemned and China is given a pass. China has destroyed some 6,000 Tibetan temples. Israel has never touched a Muslim mosque. Yet Israel is condemned and China is given a pass. China has killed over 1,000,000 Tibetans in a very real holocaust. Yet the Jihadists and their fellow travellers accuse Israel of committing a holocaust against the Palestinians that never happened while denying the Jewish Holocaust of the Second World War that did, and preparing a second with their friends in Tehran. It is enough of Israel being the moral resort area for the world’s most perverted purveyors of prejudice.

Why aren’t we seeing labour unions and university academic groups attempt to organize boycotts of China as some tried to do against Israel? Why are those self-styled arbiters of morality appeasing the world’s largest tyranny? Why? Because they are cowards and hypocrites.

It is fear that drives the public debate on China. Fear and greed. Business profits on its slave markets. Academics on its exchange and research programs. Journalists are co-opted by the politically correct notions of every culture’s right to be wrong. And politicians don’t have the courage to challenge a regime that holds up to one-third, in some cases, of western debt.

China is a country whose leaders have killed some 40 million of its citizens over the years. Half of those were slaughtered in the 1948-51 revolution. Last year, some 20,000 political prisoners were murdered. Many tied back to back so one bullet could be used for two. Falun Gong practitioners are jailed and killed by the thousands. Organs harvested like so much wheat being threshed. The Chinese dictators, together with Iran, are the main facilitators of the Sudanese regime carrying out the first genocide of the 21st century in Darfur. Where is the outrage?

A generation ago the free world faced a similar, though less bloodthirsty, enemy in the Soviet Union. Two resolute American statesmen, Sen. Henry Jackson of Washington and Congressman Charles Vanik, obtained passage of the Jackson-Vanik amendment that denied Most Favoured Nation status to the Soviets until they respected the civil liberties of political and religious dissidents. The next year, the Moscow Olympics were boycotted by 61 countries. In 1981 the Helsinki Final Act accord was signed, tightening the noose around the Soviet Union by bringing Western European nations into the Jackson-Vanik orbit. Through the ‘80s the policies of Ronald Reagan continued to suffocate and ostracize the Soviets and by 1989 the Berlin Wall fell and with it the Soviet empire.

The American message of that bold and brave decade should be our message and metaphor today. No truck with tyrants! But sadly, if we had to answer truthfully about where are our voices of outrage today we would have only one answer. Sold to the highest bidder.




Photos by Martin Chamberland: The Suburban

Dare to care!

Ella Shepherd Marchildon's life and death challenge to RAMQ


[with permission from The Suburban - first published on Mar 13 08]


Christmas is usually a time of warmth and celebration. Christmas 2002 was not such a time for West Islanders Ella and Joe Marchildon. Active members of the community, particularly involved with youth sports, their Pointe Claire home burned down just before Christmas Day. They lost everything. They were also underinsured. But they were all right. They had each other. They were tough. They had five great kids. And they had their health. Five months later that comfort was shattered too.

In May of 2003 Ella Shepherd Marchildon was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer, Signet Ring Cell. Although the doctors were unable to determine the primary source, they decided to treat it as if the primary source was a colon cancer.

In August of 2003, after surgery Ella began a treatment of chemotherapy that lasted one full year. She remained cancer free for several years. Ella and Joe thought the worst was behind them. Last summer they moved into what Ella calls their “dream home” in Kirkland.

Then came Nov. 30, 2007. Ironically, Ella’s birthday. She had been feeling some abdominal pressure and had it checked out. On her birthday pathology reports confirmed that the Signet Ring Cell cancer had returned. The search for the primary source began again, but to no avail.

This past February Ella went under the knife again. The surgeons planned to remove her tumour. Unfortunately, they found multiple tumours stretching from the vaginal wall, around her appendix and into the intestines. They were only able to remove her appendix. The tumours there were considered to be the primary source of her cancer. It had apparently been present there since 2003 and had now spread.

Further surgery on the other multiple tumours was considered too risky to do here. Not because there was a lack of fine surgeons. But because the best procedure, and the broadest medical assets, were not available here. The operation would require Ella to be on the table for some 15 hours with a medical team of several dozen.

Ella was told that her best chance for a cure and prolonged life was to be treated at the Sugarbaker Oncology Clinic in Washington D.C. and to undergo what is known worldwide as the Sugarbaker procedure. A specialized surgeon, and surgery, of this type was simply not available in Quebec. The Sugarbaker Clinic has a 10-year survival rate of almost 75 percent for patients whom they have performed this procedure on.

Dr. Paul Sugarbaker personally reviewed Ella’s medical dossier and agreed to accept her for the treatment she so desperately needs. Hope realized, right? Wrong! Ella’s application to RAMQ for financial support and authorization to be treated by Dr. Sugarbaker was refused.

La régie d’assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ) insisted that this procedure could be performed at several hospitals in Quebec. Joe Marchildon contacted each of the hospitals and none confirmed RAMQ’s position. Quite the contrary.

The Marchildons have passed on letters from doctors to RAMQ asking it to reconsider. The statements of the medical professionals are unequivocal. Dr. Lawrence Stein, radiologist-in-chief at the Royal Victoria where Ella had her latest surgery, stated “the expertise to effectively manage this type of tumour is not present in Quebec.” He went on to say that given Ella’s age and physical strength she is an excellent candidate for the Sugarbaker procedure. He concluded that “the Sugarbaker procedure and intraperitoneal chemotherapy are the only chances for a cure and prolonged survival.”

Dr. Lucy Gilbert, chief of gynecological oncology at the Royal Victoria and one of Ella’s surgeons, concurred stating, “this (the Sugarbaker procedure and ipec) is her only chance of cure and prolonged survival.” One of Ella’s original doctors at Lakeshore General, Dr. Horace Laryea, wrote that “the medical expertise to assist this patient appears to be available, albeit outside the province of Quebec” and also recommended Sugarbaker.

The Royal Victoria is one of the hospitals on RAMQ’s list. The position of its medical professionals is clear. The Marchildons have passed on similar statements from other doctors in other hospitals. So far they have heard nothing on their appeal. They asked their MNA Geoff Kelley to intervene and were told that his office had asked for a reversal of the RAMQ decision on humanitarian grounds.

But the nagging questions we all have to ask is why did RAMQ get it so wrong to begin with? This procedure is simply not available here. Why does a family have to get an “appeal” on “humanitarian” grounds when that should be RAMQ’s job. Being human!

This case highlights what we have seen too much of in Quebec. That behind the policy and politicking of health-care, the overwhelming truth is that health-care no longer dares to care. It is a system so heavily bureaucratized that the frontline providers of help, the medical professionals, are at the mercy of bureaucrats who outnumber them and know nothing, and care less, of the vow of “do no harm”.

It is to be hoped that RAMQ comes to its senses in this, and other cases. It has failed too spectacularly too often. It must be demanded that our elected officials remember that the purpose of our much-vaunted universal health system is to “see suffering and try to heal it”.

Ella is hopeful. She must be in Washington by the end of the month. In the meantime she is reaching out to her family and friends and the community she has been such a big part of for support. Her survival is dependent on her undergoing the Sugarbaker procedure as quickly as possible. Although final costs cannot be determined they appear to be north of $60,000.

If you would like to help you can send a contribution to the HELP ELLA FUND, 27 Eaton Street, Kirkland, Quebec H9H 3S2. You can contact the Marchildons by e-mail at
joemarchildon@hotmail.com These are the family’s requests.


I would like to add one of my own. That you contact your MNA and Philippe Couillard, the Minister of Health, and Premier Charest and make it abundantly clear that you are mad as hell and are not going to take it anymore. Not for Ella Shepherd Marchildon and not for all the Ellas you have known in your lives who have gone through the same hell.



Rx for Healthcare


[with permission from The Suburban - first published on Feb 27 08]


What was missing from the Castonguay report on health care is what is always missing from attempts to come to terms with a system that is overburdened and dysfunctional. A critical look at what was missing from our supposedly universal plan from the beginning.

But before going into that it must be said that even proponents of universal one-level health care have to recognize that people have a right to spend their money on their health. We not only spend it on everything else, but in Quebec, the highest taxed jurisdiction in North America, we are fleeced by the government for programs and policies that no voters demanded and no suffrage affirmed. We cannot constrict the right of the people to use their money for their lives. We cannot be dogmatic about this. We need to come to terms with it.

We have two-tier medicine in any case and have had from the very start. Doctors did, and properly so, have a right to leave medicare and go private. But that was not the real story behind our two-tier system. The real story was that universal coverage was a compromised plan from the very beginning. We have never had politicians with the courage to say it.

The idea of delivering quality health care to all without deference to privilege or preference was noble, just and right. But it was compromised and flawed from the beginning and made worse with the years. What we have in Quebec is a system where the state pays for the expenses of pre-existing private institutions, allowing those institutions to keep their territorial imperatives and particularly, control of their medical professionals. So if one hospital runs short of certain doctors it can’t just call another and ask someone to hop in a cab. The system is proprietary.

A true universal state health care model would have medical professionals working directly for the government and hospital infrastructure available within reasonable distance to all centres of population. The health-care professionals would be accessible and available to all hospitals so that if there are shortages of personnel there could at least be an entire pool to call on. That doesn’t happen here. Doctors are property of the specific hospitals they are affiliated with.

Medical infrastructure and accessibility is also constricted. We wouldn’t send children to be educated as far as we send the sick to be healed. Some 80 percent of our medical institutions are concentrated in a very small area in the centre of Montreal. Dr. Paul Saba’s campaign to keep local hospitals alive is vitally important. They not only serve important community needs but relieve a great deal of pressure on the health-care system. The closing of hospitals like the Reddy Memorial and the Queen Elizabeth were disastrous mistakes.

Instead of super-hospitals, we could create tens of thousands of jobs by using existing, empty infrastructure to build at least a half-dozen local medical facilities across Montreal island. Institutions of human scale that treat patients as whole individuals and not just cogs in an overburdened machine are important for the well-being of patients. The super-hospital ideas, predicated on having the budgets to buy state of the art equipment that would allow for one-third out-patient care, could have disastrous effects. The system does not have the money to buy the necessary equipment now, why should we think it will in the future? And the super-hospitals would cut existing beds in the participating institutions by one-third.

But it is not enough merely to identify what ails the system. The most critical problem is satisfying medical professionals’ needs and incentives. Successive Quebec governments have taken the system from bad to worse. The PQ’s forced retirement of so many doctors some dozen years ago was a blow from which we have still not recovered. The requirement that medical graduates serve several years in rural areas chases many out. And the salary caps are sending too many out of the province.

This past year alone, some 40 percent of Montreal’s medical school grads announced they would be leaving the province. The nation as a whole needs 2,500 new medical graduates just to keep up with existing demands. We’re only graduating 2,200. Yet one stark figure stands out in relief. In Quebec there are more non-frontline personnel in our healthcare system than doctors or nurses or other specialist. It is a bureaucracy gone mad that does nothing more than perpetuate bureaucratic power and does nothing to relieve suffering. And we’re paying for it.

So what’s the prescription?


For a start we need to allow people to buy private insurance and use private facilities. But that is not the be-all and end-all, for no private facilities will be able to provide what is necessary for complicated procedures and treatments.


So the next step is to give our doctors incentives and make maximum use of them through an understaffed system. Ontario has a central referral registry that allows hospitals to share specialists when they are short. Quebec needs to implement that system.


Thirdly, as much as we want to protect the public healthcare system we must realize that we need satisfied healthcare professionals to stay and make it happen. It is time to consider the French system where some 20-30 percent of the time doctors give to the state system they can use for private work in clinics or home visits.


Fourth, we need to loosen requirements for admission for healthcare professionals from western countries. Fifth, we need to cut bureaucrats and put the money into raising the salaries of healthcare professionals.

Surprisingly, when you look into the problems, the obvious solutions jump out at you. It merely takes the political will to do it. And the courage to admit past mistakes and talk straight to the people.



An interview with David Frum

A mind of one piece


[with permission from The Suburban - first published on Jan 31 08]


It’s not every Canadian that gets to become a presidential speechwriter. David Frum did. The son of famed Canadian broadcaster Barbara Frum, David has lived in Washington for 10 years and served President Bush in his first term. Yet one of the most impressive qualities about David is that he has avoided the patina of partisanship. He is very much the public intellectual elevating the public discourse. Through his books, writings and advisory roles to politicians he has maintained the authenticity and integrity of the young Daniel Patrick Moynihan. David was in town this past week discussing ideas from his latest book Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again at an event for the Fraser Institute. Sometimes it is important to sit down, take an intellectual step backward and see where we are going and why. I had the opportunity to do that with David. He’s a pretty good guide.

Beryl Wajsman: David, I have to ask you right off, how did you manage to avoid the partisan labels that seem to stick to everyone who works in the political arena?

David Frum: I care about ideas, but you also have to care about parties. Parties carry ideas. But you get nowhere by engaging in spin. You have to address the problems on the public agenda and fix them.

BW: It strikes me that your book in describing conservatism is almost a reflection of the origins of classic 18th and 19th century small-l liberalism.

DF: One of the things that’s bothered me about politics is that it has degenerated into a game of labels. It should be about solving problems and pursuing principle. People’s problems. I’m trying to put the Republicans back on the path of pragmatism and problem solving and not just partisanship and ideology.

BW: Because the party system in the U.S. doesn’t have an automatic “follow-the-leader or else” structure is it easier to build coalitions of principle because politicians can cross party lines. You can be a liberal Republican and a conservative Democrat.

DF: The problem in the U.S. the past few years has been that Bush’s politics are personal and dynastic. In 2005 the President nominated White House counsel Harriet Myers to the Supreme Court. She wasn’t very well known and her lack of qualifications for the court were not well known. I knew she didn’t belong on the Supreme Court. And it was one of those moments that you realize that you have knowledge few have because she was so low key. You realize you have to go public. I was the first who wrote about it and helped organize opposition. When the nomination was withdrawn I was virtually cut off, persona non grata, because for President Bush it is about “family”. It’s all personal. It’s not about ideas.

BW: How is it different in Canada? There are no diffuse centres of power.

DF: That is true. That is a big problem. Power is generally much more centralized in Canada. What you can do in the U.S. as to setting out new ideas is much easier than in Canada. But much of what I have written about American politics and the future of conservative politics can be transported to Canada and other countries too.

BW: David, what are your broad themes that conservatives have to address to “come back” as you put it?

DF: First, conservatives need to re-connect with the aspirations of the broad middle class. In many ways these have been years of strain. They are in danger of losing that large middle group that has been such a bulwark of conservative strength. Secondly, they have to reconnect with environmentalism without Al Gore’s extremism and without making it a substitute for religion. It’s important to young people, important to many and there are some real issues. The third issue is national security. Not only are we living in a dangerous world, but the traditional allies of the U.S. and Canada are weakening. Twenty years ago the Anglo-American European world produced 50 percent of the world goods. Twenty years from now, if current trends hold it will be a third. That would be a huge decline. That’s what’s behind this global power shift to China and the Islamic terrorist threat. I don’t think any of us want to live in a world where power shifts away from the free world. We have to learn to react creatively.

BW: When you talk about reconnecting with the broad middle class, is one of the problems where the tax cuts are goingGood for the rich, not for the middle class.

DF: Well, I don’t think the tax cuts have necessarily served the middle class well. It has helped to propel the economy forward. Lower tax rates on investments and savings are important. But the people in the middle are actually earning a bit less than they did in the year 2000.

BW: I liked what you said on environmentalism not being a substitute for religion. I’ve used the phrase eco-theocrats. In Canada, Kyoto has become a buzzword and litmus test for faith. How do you react to a concept like Kyoto that really doesn’t work and was a non-starter from the beginning?

DF: This is a perfect opportunity. One of the things you rarely get in politics is an opportunity to seize the centre because the other parties have moved away from it. Usually this is hard fought for ground. But Liberals in Canada and Democrats in America have ceded the centre and bound themselves to a crazy set of propositions. What Kyoto says is that we are going to have a treaty to reduce carbon emissions; we are going to accept the most extreme versions of the predictions of climate change and then we are going to put the obligation of meeting targets on a relatively small group of countries and exempting India and China completely, one third of mankind. This is really a zap-North America treaty. Even Germany and Britain are treated gently, which is why the Europeans back it. Dion and Gore have made this an extreme litmus test. This allows conservative parties to take reasoned positions. To say that we accept that there, is a problem. But we are going to look at all the data before moving in drastic directions.

BW: To come back to your third theme of new partnerships, John O’Sullivan [of National Review] seems fond of Australia’s new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. But Britain’s Gordon Brown is weakening. Are we witnessing the end of the traditional English-speaking alliances? Who do we partner with? I asked Alexandre Adler of Le Figaro recently whether we now look to Sarkozy as our key western ally.

DF: The new partnerships have to be outside of Europe or East Asia. However sentimentally we feel about Nicolas Sarkozy, however Brown or Rudd turn out, that group of nations is shrinking. When we think of how to expand the alliance of democratic nations we have to include India.

BW: Are you heartened by events like the U.S.-India nuclear agreement?

DF: I think its promising but I have to introduce a note of caution. We are never going to find in India a traditionally congenial type of ally like Western Europe. The tensions and resentments are very real. Yes the agreement signed was very important, But we also have to think of whether we are trying hard enough. India sent its president after 9-11. We didn’t do that after terrorist attacks, even the Bombay attacks. We tend to issue formal statements in the name of the Secretary of State, and the President may make a phone call. But the overt gestures and the public declarations of support are missing and that’s noticed.

BW: There has been disappointment that President Bush may have forgotten civil conservatism and abandoned the Bush doctrine. What’s been worse?

DF: The Bush doctrine was really deeply true. The Bush doctrine emphasized the importance of democracy as a tool in resistance to terror. It connected political authoritarianism to violent extremism. We are going to have to rediscover it. It’s really deeply true.

BW: It is the question of the temper of our times. David Frum, many thanks.



Days that sear our souls


[with permission from The Suburban - first published on Jan 23 2008]


This week and next, we would do well to pause and reflect on the solemn and universal backdrop against which this period of time unfolds every year.

It is a period that reminds us of those historical encounters between governors and governed, when every act of the authorities exasperates the people and every refusal to act excites their contempt. A period of 12 days that should rend our souls asunder with searing intensity and pierce our hearts with rape-like violation. A period that begins with a date held sacred to all those of conscience who engage in the struggle for mankind’s transcendent yearning for redemptive change. A period that ends with a date that challenges us to fulfill that struggle as we bear witness to mankind’s debased desertion of any of its noble aspirations.

January 15 would have been the 78th birthday of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. January 17 was the 63rd anniversary of the disappearance of Raoul Wallenberg. And January 27 will mark the 63rd commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz. Astonishingly, the United Nations, at whose entrance is carved the words of Isaiah that “Swords shall be beaten into plowshares and nation shall not make war against nation anymore,” officially commemorated the Holocaust for the first time only two years ago.

The contrasts are telling, and their lessons are our last best hope for our own humanity. Wallenberg and King personified the prophecy that the day will come when “Justice shall roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.” Without fidelity to that goal, we will be left with little more than a future of Ezekiel’s vision of a valley of dry bones, forever parched by the horrors of Auschwitz, making this world brittle and arid and stench-filled.

During these days, the heavens themselves seem to challenge us to rage.

All these sad dates stand as confirmation of the low limitations of the era in which we still live. It is an era characterized by the failure of faith, the retreat of reason and the humiliation of hope. It is an era that, with rare exceptions, has been permeated with the odious odors of justice compromised by timidity, honour cheapened through expediency and promise mortgaged to avarice.

For the litmus test of mankind’s civility is not how we treat those who are many, or agreeable, or privileged, or quiescent, but rather how we treat those who are few, and different, and alienated, and stubborn. The world is still failing that test.

The possibilities of greatness and generosity are constantly compromised by an ungracious modernity and a suffocating self-absorption filled with false pieties as excuses for inaction. Little resolve abounds to remedy the malignancies of hate, jealousy and greed with the compass of compassionate conscience and the courage of character to protect right from wrong.

Frivolous squabblings that are nothing more than promotions of petty self-interests overwhelm what King called the “fierce urgency of now” — the fierce urgency to bring to an end the spectacular and frequent failures of man. For in the dead of night we will forever be haunted by those failures as the thin, humid rivulets of sweat crawl over us like vermin.

Haunted by the mounds of ashes that once were 1.5 million smiling children playing in the streets of “civilized” Europe. Haunted by the bloated bodies floating in the Yangtze River of Mao’s China. Haunted by the corpses frozen in the wastes of Stalin’s Gulag. Haunted by the betrayals of the free peoples of Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Haunted by the deaths of Freedom Riders in the American South. Haunted by the killing fields of Vietnam and Cambodia. Haunted by the bodies rotting in the jungles of Rwanda and in the fetid fields of the Balkans.

As we face today’s dire challenges, we must all become Wallenbergs and Kings — ready to assume individual responsibility, each drawing strength from the sure knowledge that one person can make a difference. We have a responsibility to follow Gandhi’s counsel and act quickly to arrest “the evil that staggers drunkenly from wrong to wrong in order to preserve its own immortality.”

For today, as before, the consequence of failure will be dire. Dire to the billions living in grinding poverty in a world of abundance. Dire to the devastated of Darfur, whose suffering many governments still refuse to call genocide. Dire to the enslaved tens of millions in Asia living under oppressive regimes providing cheap labor for Faustian alliances of state and industrial interests. Dire to the tens of millions dying of AIDS and famine in Africa watched by an apathetic and avaricious world that still cares less about the content of a man’s character than about the colour of his skin.

For all our demonstrations and petitions, we have been ambivalent and apathetic toward the insolence and inaction of authority. We have perpetuated sins of silence with voices too often mute when confronted with the evils that men do. Wrapping ourselves in cloaks of charity will not absolve us of our complicity in impotent acquiescence to the daily torrent of state-sponsored deceptions and institutional betrayals.

We seem to react when it costs us nothing in terms of our personal bottom lines. We readily accept whatever manipulated images and opinions flood us from television and magazines as reality. We eagerly digest political sound bites as quickly as any fast food. Our surrender has demonstrated nothing less than an abandonment of the possibilities of our own capacities.

Wallenberg, King and the generation of survivors refused to surrender. Their testaments are living ones to this day. Testaments to a world that sees wrongs and tries to right them; sees suffering and tries to heal it, sees injustice and tries to stop it. A world that rejects the cowardice of the fey and feckless that would have us acquiesce in our own self-abnegation.

If we do not keep faith with the memory and witness of these 12 days, if we ever forget the imperative of redemptive rage, if we stop daring to care, then we will have betrayed the visionary hope embodied in the line of the Song of the Partisans that was shared at the mountaintop by all the Wallenbergs and Kings, the Mandelas and Kennedys and the Sharanskys and Walesas: “Kumen vet nokh undzer oysgebenkte sho” — “Upon us yet will dawn the day we hold so dear.”

And when the false prophets cry “Peace! Peace!”, there will be none left to shout back, “There is no peace!” And then we will have nothing more to comfort us as we struggle with our own redemption than a poignant plea from heaven to have mercy.



Ten years later: unanswered questions


[with permission from The Suburban - first published on Jan 9 2008]


We are not running these pictures of the ice storm as an exercise in nostalgia. Ten years ago this city suffered through a failure in emergency preparedness.


Sun Youth’s Syd Stevens has pointed out that the emergency brought all social service agencies together in common cause in what may have been the first time. That is true.


But what is also true is that questions are still unanswered as to the capacity of our civil authority and governments.


Our water system was hours from shutting down. Has that problem been addressed?


Are our emergency services sufficiently integrated?


We will be examining those and other questions in the weeks to come.


But perhaps the most troubling, and still unanswered, question is one that was raised ten years ago in the Hudson Gazette and recently brought to light again by Jim Duff on 940 Montreal.


The authorities at Hydro and in the provincial government at the time characterized the whole event as an “act of God”. Yet as Duff has spotlighted, engineer Brian White testified in court as an expert witness on behalf of U.S. utilities and has publicly stated that one of the major contributing factors to the degree of the devastation was the failure to replace insulator plates.


These plates, which Hydro knew could not withstand 1 and ≤ inches of ice, pulled down wires as they were destroyed and it was those wires that crushed the hydro towers themselves. These insulators were held together by a combination of Portland cement and ammonium oxide.


A combination used in some highway overpasses as well.


There had been a program for their replacement but that program was discontinued four years before the ice storm. Those plates have now been replaced by glass insulators.


But this whole issue was not even mentioned at the Nicolet Commission and there are no clear answers as to whether the insulator problem has been solved.


The silence is still deafening.











Beryl Wajsman is the President of The Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal and Editor of The Suburban newspaper He can be reached at: info@iapm.ca.







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