It’s All In Your Head

(The following was written and originally published prior to the tragic August 9th shooting in Ferguson, Missouri and is not intended to reference that incident in any way)

Nuts. Psycho. Two sandwiches short of a picnic. What’s your attitude when you hear that someone is suffering from mental illness? The three examples above were among many given in a U.S. police training exercise about dealing with people who may be emotionally disturbed. The officers were asked to come up with pejorative terms for mentally ill people. Although initially uncomfortable, it didn’t take long for them to rhyme off the above examples.

Later in the exercise, the officers were asked for similar adjectives to describe people with cancer. About the worst they could come up with were “sick,” “brave” and “courageous.” Looking at the two lists side-by-side on a blackboard, the officers realized how distorted their viewpoints were about mental illness.

This is just one example of the problems police and other first responders have in trying to deal with those who may have mental disorders. They’re part of an absorbing article called, ‘Stand Down’ by John Lorinc, which appears in the July/August 2014 edition of The Walrus.

One focus of the wide-ranging article concerns the unique approach developed by the Memphis Police Department in dealing with incidents involving emotionally disturbed suspects. In response to a tragic shooting nearly 30 years ago, the MPD created the Memphis Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), a specially trained group of officers who are dispatched to emergency scenes and given over-reaching powers when a potential incident occurs involving a suspected mentally ill individual.

Lorinc describes the CIT model as “a progressive approach to de-escalate high-tension confrontations, improve police attitudes toward those suffering from mental illness, and divert them from the criminal justice system.”

Since its creation, similar programs have been developed in 2,700 regions in the U.S., including Los Angeles and Chicago, as well as in Vancouver and Hamilton. Almost across the board, there have been vast improvements made in the way police departments deal with such incidents, many of which can be prevented from escalating just by having trained people on-scene who know how to deal with mentally ill people.

With so many departments adopting such programs, one notable exception stands out from the list: Toronto. This is particularly disturbing given the number of high profile shootings in recent years involving Toronto Police Services and mentally ill individuals.

The most notorious happened just over a year ago when teenager Sammy Yatim was shot to death on a Toronto streetcar by Constable James Forcillo, who fired three times at Yatim, paused, then took six more shots at close range. Forcillo has since been charged with second-degree murder in the incident.

According to Lorinc’s article, between seven and 40 percent of people who police come in contact with may have some form of emotional disturbance. And there are often additional factors such as homelessness, addiction or people suffering some kind of emotional crisis.

Lorinc indicates that Toronto police deal with about 19,000 calls per year involving someone who’s emotionally disturbed. That’s less than one percent of all police contacts with residents in Toronto, far from the estimated seven to 40 percent quoted above. Lorinc surmises that, possibly due to inadequate training, Toronto police simply are unable to recognize signs of mental illness when they see them.

Based on numerous examples given in the article, it would certainly seem so. Rather than talking rationally and calmly to emotionally disturbed suspects, many of the noted incidents involve officers screaming and shouting commands at the people, often the worst possible approach.

At the end of July, Toronto police Chief Bill Blair had his contract turned down for renewal by the city’s Police Services Board. According to reports by the CBC, Board chair Alok Mukherjee said it was time for a change and there was a need for renewal.

The CBC said Mukherjee indicated what some of the changes might be when that “renewal” happens: “They will include the way that the police interact with the community; the way officers interact with emotionally disturbed persons and the mentally ill; and the need to transform the police service in a way that ensures it is effective and sustainable in the long term.”

In a not-too-subtle way, Toronto’s Police Services Board has confirmed what Lorinc and many others already believe – that the city’s police force is ill-equipped and poorly trained to deal with incidents involving those with emotional disturbances.

Lorinc talks at length about a coroner’s jury in Toronto that held an inquest earlier this year into three police shootings. Its recommendations echo many of those from the Memphis CIT training manual. These include a better knowledge of mental health problems, more training in verbal de-escalation techniques, and an abandonment in certain instances of what’s referred to as the “twenty-one-foot-rule,” where police are often expected to subdue suspects forcibly who are closer than that arbitrary distance and are considered a potential threat.

The rules need to change. According to Lorinc, during the coroner’s inquest, one police officer said about the shooting he was involved in, “It’s textbook, and I wouldn’t change a thing.” But, if that “textbook” is outdated and incomplete, why is it still being used?

Lorinc indicates that in that same shooting, one police officer actually called on his comrades to use some sense of calm. The author wonders why and concludes: “He likely had enough life experience to think beyond the twenty-one-foot rule, and to recognize what was in front of him: a man in crisis, rather than a police killer brandishing a potentially fatal weapon.”

Ironically, a local resident, out for a jog the morning of the incident, saw the confrontation and instantly recognized the situation for what it was: “It’s a cold winter day. The guy is standing there in a hospital gown, with bare legs. My first thought: this guy is in a mental health crisis.”

If an average citizen with no training determined what was happening instantly, why couldn’t a group of ostensibly “trained” police officers? And why did it take all of 72 seconds for them to end the emotionally disturbed patient’s life with their guns?

The bottom line is that we all need to be better educated about mental illness. That education starts with our frontline police officers.

Back To The Future

Ronald Reagan. It’s been years since I thought about the 40th President of the United States. However, in one of those odd coincidences that happen so frequently in life, I was reminded of Reagan recently after watching an Oscar-nominated movie and reading a popular 2013 novel.

The movie is Dallas Buyers Club, which tells the horrifying story about the outbreak of the AIDS virus in early 1981, coincidentally, the first year of Reagan’s administration. The film details the struggle to identify and treat the first victims of AIDS. It’s a sad, sad story of fear and prejudice and ignorance, some of which was propagated by Reagan himself.

Ostensibly, the President refused to utter the word “AIDS” in any of his speeches until 1985, during his second term in office, despite the fact that it had become an out-of-control epidemic by that time. In 1981, there were just 159 reported cases of the disease. By the time Reagan left office in 1989, nearly 90,000 Americans had already died of AIDS.

As the movie relates, during those first few years, the U.S. government dithered and delayed, eventually setting up blind clinical trials that dying AIDS sufferers would have to wait for a year to start. By then, if they were still living, they would have only a 50/50 chance of being prescribed the untested drug AZT. If they weren’t in that fortunate group who received the drug, they’d get a worthless placebo, instead.

Dallas Buyers Club relates the story of two very different victims, one an emaciated redneck played by Matthew McConaughey (who knew this guy could actually act?) and the other a flamboyant transgender male/female, played superbly by Jared Leto. The unlikely pair of victims join forces to purchase illegal, experimental drugs from various parts of the world, creating their own “cocktails” to help prolong their lives.

The other 80’s touchstone is the novel The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. The book centres around a group of young people who come of age during the Reagan administration. One part of their lives deals with the sudden appearance of the AIDS virus and its effects on the members of the group, one of whom becomes involved with a victim of the disease.

Twenty-five years after he left office, Ronald Reagan routinely scores near the top in surveys about “Most Admired Presidents” and many still consider him to have had a greater impact on American life than almost any U.S. leader in the 20th century. His supporters point to the restoration of American morale following the Vietnam War, the great wealth accumulated by many, the collapse of the Soviet Union and numerous other touchstones that occurred during his administration.

On the other hand, Reagan’s tenure also saw the national debt soar, relations with Iran and other Muslim countries ruined, a massive build-up of defence spending, the attempted destruction of unions and, of course, the aforementioned devastating effects of Reagan’s inattention to the AIDS virus.

Added to that, in my opinion, there was a transformation of America into a less caring, more fearful, more isolated nation, one that’s only been made worse by subsequent Republican Presidents, including Reagan’s Vice President and successor, George Herbert Walker Bush and Bush’s son, George W.

For those who never supported Reagan, he’s considered a B-list actor (one who co-starred with a chimp in the “classic” Bedtime for Bonzo), an eccentric geezer, and a dunderheaded buffoon who championed absurd projects such as the cartoon-like Star Wars defence program, which would have seen billions or trillions of dollars spent trying to shoot enemy missiles out of the air. It also led to the President’s popular nickname, Ronnie Raygun.

Rather than looking at him like a friendly, doddering old uncle, they see him as a mean-spirited tool of the rich and powerful who gave generously to the wealthy through his failed Reaganomics program, a simplistic economic system that anticipated a trickle down of wealth to the poor and middle class, something that never happened.

Instead, Reagan’s policies sowed the seeds for an America where the rich got richer, the gap between the haves and have-nots widened, mistrust of foreign countries grew and fear became the norm in American life. It also paved the way for creepy characters like the Bushes and Dick Cheney to build on their own wealth and power at the expense of average citizens for much of the last 30 years.

In the movie and book’s descriptions of living with the AIDS virus, Ronald Reagan’s true colours shine brightly. During his tenure, the primary goal in life was to accumulate great wealth, at the same time ostracizing those who were different, promoting fear, buckling under to the religious right and ignoring anyone who didn’t fit into the President’s narrow definition of what it meant to be an “American.”

In Reagan’s United States, the AIDS virus was considered to be God’s punishment for those whose lives didn’t conform to what was considered “normal.” It was a tragic, despicable view that ended up killing tens of thousands, many of whose lives might have been spared if Reagan had kept his eye on the physical health of his country, rather than just its wallets.

A friend reminded me last week of a quote from an unknown source that says, “People were created to be loved. Things were created to be used. The reason why the world is in chaos is because things are being loved and people are being used.” Too true.

Put on as many pairs of rose-coloured glasses as you want. No matter how hard you squint, you can’t hide the fact that this popular president did so little to help average citizens, as well as the weak, the poor, the sick or the challenged. Instead, he promoted the stockpiling of wealth for those who were already well off – at the expense of the people who truly needed his help and compassion. In my mind, that’s nothing to be admired.

 

 

Read All About It

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a huge fan of the CBC. To be honest, I can’t even remember the last time I turned on either CBC Television or Radio. How about you? I imagine if you enjoy hockey or The National or some of CBC’s radio programs, you can count yourself as a supporter. Certainly, I’m not an advocate of disbanding either service, as it’s always nice to know they’re there if you ever need or want them.

On the other hand, I receive several daily news summaries from CBC in my email, which help give me their perspective on what’s going on in the news, arts, etc. So, it’s not like I’ve shut the Corporation out of my life entirely.

There’s one initiative they’re involved with that does excite me, however. It’s called Canada Reads and it’s been operating on CBC Radio since 2001. Each year, the program covers a different theme and involves narrowing down a list of Canadian books that listeners and a panel choose as best representing that theme.

For Canada Reads 2014, they’re looking for the one novel that could change the nation or, perhaps, even the world. A long list of 40 books chosen by Canadians was revealed last October 24th. People voted to narrow that number down to a Top 10.

That list was given to the 2014 panelists, who have the task of defending their choice during a series of debates that air on CBC Radio and CBC-TV from March 3rd to the 6th. They’ll also be streamed online. One at a time, the panelists will narrow the list down until only the winner remains.

In the past, I’ve only glanced briefly at the nominees. However, this year I seem to have a little more invested. That’s probably because I had already read two of the five novels and was actually reading a third at the exact moment when the list was released. Since then, I’ve completed a fourth.

So, who are these mysterious nominees?

In alphabetical order by author, the first is The Year Of The Flood by Margaret Atwood, who is by far the most famous and recognizable name on the list and generally regarded as Canada’s finest novelist. This is the only one of the five books I haven’t read, as it’s in a genre, science fiction, that I have a lot of trouble getting my head around. Atwood’s book about a future world that emerges following a manmade pandemic will be defended by Stephen Lewis, a longtime leader of Ontario’s NDP, but now known as one of Canada’s most prominent philanthropists.

The second nominee, The Orenda by Joseph Boyden, is also the most recent, having been released last September. Boyden is probably my favourite current Canadian novelist and this is an interesting and controversial book set during the early history of Canada and involving the crossed paths of three characters: a Jesuit missionary, a Huron elder and a young Iroquois girl. It’s been attacked by segments of the religious community, the native community and just about everyone else, so you know what you’re getting into. And there’s a lot of violence, so be forewarned. It will be defended by Wab Kinew, a journalist, aboriginal activist and hip-hop artist.

Next on the list is Esi Edugyan’s Half-Blood Blues. It’s not often I remember exactly where I was when I read a book but, in this case, I recall being on vacation in the sunny south and absolutely loving this novel, which tells the story of young, black German jazz musician’s disappearance during World War II. It’s written in a “jazz language,” if that makes sense and is a wonderful piece of literature that deservedly won the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize. Two-time Olympic gold medal winning runner Donovan Bailey will defend the book.

It’s been a long time since I read Cockroach by Rawi Hage, but it’s managed to stick with me pretty well because of its dark, unsettling nature. It captures the life of a recent immigrant during one bitterly cold month in Montreal. The lead character, who imagines himself a cockroach, lives on the edge of society as a petty criminal eking out a marginalized existence. While searching out some summaries of the book, I noticed it was described as a black comedy for teens and young adults, but I’m not sure it’s a book that youngsters would necessarily be drawn to. In any case, it will be defended by comic, actor and writer Samantha Bee, who’s been a correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart for more than a decade.

Finally, there’s Annabel by Kathleen Winter, which I just finished reading a couple of weeks ago, so I can offer a very fresh perspective on it. This is a heart-wrenching story of a child who is born hermaphroditic (both boy/girl), but raised as a boy, with disturbing and sad results. It’s a book that has moments of both extreme tenderness and ugly brutality, but one I also think will remain with me forever. Sarah Gadon, a young Canadian actress who’s starting to make a big name for herself in Hollywood (with five movies set to come out in 2014), will champion Annabel.

It will be interesting to see how each of the celebrities defends the book they’ve chosen. It’s one thing to enjoy a novel, but to debate how that book might change Canada or the world is something entirely different. Excluding Atwood’s book, which I haven’t read, I’d lean towards either Boyden’s or Winter’s, mainly because the issues of native rights and sexual equality will continue to play huge roles in our country’s future.

In any case, the choice in this battle of the books will be an interesting one, as each of the novels speaks in an entirely different voice and, without a doubt, definitely has the potential to change Canada. Read on!

 

State Of Disunion

Unifor. Ever heard of it? If you have, you’re one step ahead of me. It happens to be the largest private sector union in the country. The “super union,” which was announced more than six months ago and officially came into being in August, represents the amalgamation of the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers unions. In total, Unifor has over 300,000 members – and, yet, like me, I bet many Canadians don’t have a clue it even exists.

The idea of joining the two unions was born back in May 2011 when CAW’s president Ken Lewenza and CEP’s boss Dave Coles were attending a Canadian Labour Congress executive meeting, listening to speech after speech about the declining state of Canadian unions. The two chiefs decided that something needed to be done to reverse the slide.

The story of Unifor’s formation is nicely told by author John Lorinc in the December 2013 edition of The Walrus magazine, along with a counterpoint story about a scrappy union called UNITE HERE!, itself an amalgamation of two U.S. unions (the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union). UNITE HERE! Canada represents about 50,000 workers across the country in a wide variety of industries, mostly in lower paying occupations.

Despite being a fraction of Unifor’s size, the smaller union appears to be doing a better job of attracting new workers to its fold, mostly through a grassroots campaign that listens to workers’ concerns and tries to find solutions.

Reaching out to its workers was a key problem that already existed within CAW and CEP’s membership. In fact, one of the goals of Unifor is to provide “a new structure and identity that would better represent its members, organize and empower all workers (whether in the union or not) and build a more cohesive and strategic movement of working people.” Whether that’s happening or not remains to be seen, but it’s something that certainly needed to be addressed.

In my lifetime, I’ve been a part of numerous private sector unions, several of them associated with CEP. My first experience was in my early 20’s when I worked at a paper mill in Northwestern Ontario. Since the “P” in CEP stands for paperworkers, you’d think the union would have some understanding of the nature of the work its members did, but I often found that wasn’t the case.

As a new employee and first-time union member, I remember going to the bank when I was hired and seeing a fairly large sum of money had been taken out of my account. These were my union dues, which were being deducted regularly from my meagre savings, even though I had yet to work a day with the company, was on a “call crew” where I was only brought in when needed, and wouldn’t actually start getting a paycheque for several weeks.

I suppose I didn’t understand how unions worked at the time – and didn’t again when I was laid off for several stints but continued to have union dues deducted – but it seemed unfair to me to be paying a union when I wasn’t even being paid by the company.

You might think a union representing paperworkers would understand the sometimes-sporadic nature of the employees it represented, but you would be wrong. That was just the first in dozens of head-scratching moments over the years when I tried to rationalize what the union was ordering me to do – and what common sense seemed to be telling me I should be doing, instead.

Several years later I belonged to a union called NABET (National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians) while working at a television station. That seemed to be a good union that understood its employees and the nature of the work they did. But, as has happened with many smaller unions over the past 20 years, NABET was eventually swallowed up by a bigger union called – wait for it – CEP. It was at that point I wondered how one union could effectively represent me in such diverse occupations.

To me, that’s the crux of the whole problem, one that seems unlikely to improve under Unifor. The new union may talk about getting back to the grassroots and listening to its members’ concerns and all that positive-sounding stuff, but it seems a bit hard to believe. Bigger rarely seems to be better, as most companies have discovered when they’ve grown larger and larger.

Many people have asked, “What does the name ‘Unifor’ mean?” In fact, so many, it’s one of the five “Frequently Asked Questions” on the union’s website. Here’s part of the answer: “The name “Unifor” is intentionally ambiguous. It means different and personal things to a union membership that is increasingly diverse. The name doesn’t peg us to any one sector of the economy, or a particular workplace. Unifor is a union built for workers. But it’s also a union that reaches out to the unemployed and self-employed; to marginalized and racialized groups union (sic); to women and young workers. Simply put Unifor is a union for everyone.” Alrighty.

If I told you the new union’s name was the result of the efforts of a polling, communications and brand strategy firm, a design company, focus groups, member surveys and townhall meetings, would you be surprised? Between the generic sounding name and the non-descript “U” logo, the response from union leaders, members and the general public has been, at best, underwhelming.

But, branding aside, what really matters is whether anything will change at CAW/CEP/Unifor. Only time will tell if the mega-union will move in a new direction, attracting the same kind of grassroots dedication of UNITE HERE! and truly representing its members’ real needs and concerns – or if it will remain stagnant because it’s increasingly out of touch with the reality of a country where manufacturing jobs, Unifor’s bread and butter, continue to disappear.

In any case, the task ahead won’t be easy. Unions are being bashed everywhere you look, by political parties like Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives, by the media and by many Canadians who either don’t belong to one or feel neglected by their own current union. If Unifor hopes to regain its focus and reenergize the labour movement, it’s going to have to happen soon. Otherwise, it’s going to be too late.

 

The Day The Music Died

Of all the art forms, nothing says more about who we are than our choices in music. At least that’s the common perception. Generally, you’d never make assumptions about someone who liked action movies instead of comedies – or preferred interpretive dance over ballet. But, when it comes to music, let the categorizing and stereotyping begin.

If you enjoy dance music, you’re probably a fun-loving, party person, right? Anyone who likes punk music is an anarchist who wants to destroy the establishment. Classical music lovers are stuffed shirts who walk around with their noses in the air sipping cognac and smoking a pipe. And let’s not even start on the impressions people have about those who like hip hop or country music.

Although there’s often a close correlation between who you are and what type of music you like, it’s never a good idea to judge a book by its cover, as the old cliché goes. Several decades ago, I was staying for a month in England when I met two straight-laced young guys who were accountants from Sweden and looked every bit the part – buttoned down shirts, nerdy glasses, pocket protectors, and every other fashion accoutrement you could imagine.

The first night I ran into them, they asked me if I wanted to go to a heavy-duty punk concert at the massive London Palladium. Honestly, I thought they were joking, but when they began dying their hair blue, sticking fake piercings in various parts of their bodies and donning ripped up t-shirts, I realized they were serious.

Long story short, it was an amazing evening I’ll never forget (although I definitely feared for my life at several points), but the most interesting part was the backstory of these two young punkers. Sure enough, for 51 weeks of the year they played the role of typical, mild-mannered accountants in Stockholm. But, for one precious week, they cut loose, headed to London and became the punkers that stayed buried deep inside them during their day-to-day lives. So much for stereotypes.

However, I digress. Whether you believe that musical choices define a person may be up for debate. But what about people who pick some arbitrary date in their lives and, from that point onward, decide they’ve heard enough new tunes for a lifetime and choose to get off the musical merry-go-round? You know the people I’m talking about. They’re the ones who say, “They stopped making good music in 1979” (or whenever) or “They don’t make music like they used to” or “The last record I bought was Led Zeppelin II.”

I don’t know if there’s a certain age when this occurs or if it’s a random thing where you start looking around and realize that most of the music that’s being made just doesn’t cut it for you anymore. In any case, once it happens, it’s hard to convince those people there’s any new music that’s worth listening to. And, ironically, it often occurs with the people who appeared to love music the most, at least for the first part of their lives up until the time the world of music died for them.

Personally, I’m happy to say that’s never happened to me. I’ve been around for a long, long time and still can’t seem to stop searching out new music, looking for exciting new sounds that get me charged up and make me want to share it with my family and my tune-loving friends. I’m pretty receptive to just about all kinds of music. Sure, I have my favourites and there are some genres I don’t explore too often, but if somebody tells me, “You have to listen to this,” I’m always game.

I had a longtime friend who had a similar attitude. Although he didn’t like everything that crossed his plate, he was always willing to, at least, give it a few spins before he awarded it a definitive thumbs up or tossed it in the reject pile. My buddy passed away about a year ago – and there’s still a big hole in my heart where he used to live. We had plenty in common, but nothing greater than our love of music. Almost 12 months later, when I hear a new band I love, inevitably, I’ll think of my friend and wish he was still here today to share it with me. And the converse is true, too. I miss receiving new music from him just as much – and my life is a little poorer because of it.

Whether it’s a conscious or unconscious decision, I don’t think I’ll ever understand what makes some people decide to pick a particular date after which they shut themselves off from music and climb into a time capsule where the same songs play over and over in an endless loop. I just don’t get it.

When I was a kid, there were maybe a few thousand musical choices when you shopped at your local record store. Over the last few decades, mostly because of electronic file formats and the Internet, those choices have blossomed into millions or even billions of options from all over the globe. Honestly, if you can’t find something from that nearly infinite jukebox, you’re just not even trying. And, for me, that’s pretty sad. Music always has been – and, hopefully, always will be – a huge part of my life. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. Keep on rockin’.

 

Tax This! Tax That!

A reader sent me an interesting article last week about a new report from the Fraser Institute that says, “Canadian families are spending more money on taxes than on food, clothing and shelter combined.” The Yahoo story says that almost 43% of the average family’s income went to pay federal, provincial and municipal taxes, while less than 37% went to the other three necessities.

Furthermore, it says that Canadians’ tax bills have gone up almost 1800% since 1961 – and that the balance between taxes and necessities has changed dramatically in the last half century. They claim that food, clothing and shelter accounted for 56.5% of the family budget back in 1961 and taxes took up just 33.5%.

The conservative think-tank, which often comes up with such alarming statistics, also says their numbers don’t include government deficits, which aren’t covered by taxes today but will have to be paid off somewhere down the road.

Scary stuff, for sure. And it makes it sound like life was pretty rosy back in the early 1960’s.

But, hold on for a second. Before you get your bags packed for a trip in the “wayback machine,” you might want to check out a counterpoint offered by the left-wing Broadbent Institute, run by former federal NDP leader Ed Broadbent. In rebutting the Fraser Institute’s claims about the exploding 1800% tax bill, Broadbent says, “While that’s a clear exaggeration that ignores inflation, what is astounding is that their numbers don’t even remotely hold up.”

Broadbent says the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development indicates Canadian tax bills are a bit over 38% of GDP and that, rather than increasing, the percentage has actually dropped from a high of about 45% back in the late 1990’s.

As well as failing to take inflation into account, Broadbent also reminds us how different life was back in 1960 when there was no universal health care, no Canada Pension Plan and paltry Old Age Security benefits. Additionally, his report says access to post-secondary education was mostly limited to the rich and there was a massive wage gap between men and women.

Broadbent also questions why it’s considered a good thing that 56.5% of a family’s income went to basic necessities back in 1961, while it’s only 37% now. He makes a good point. When you add up the totals, 90% of income went to taxes and necessities in the old days, while only 80% is allocated now. That leaves a larger chunk of disposable income for the average household, on top of the fact that we have universal health care, a national pension system, more security for seniors, better access to education and a host of other social services already being factored into our tax dollars.

The Broadbent Institute concludes, “The fundamental point is that we are much richer as a society than we were back in 1961. Not only do we have more to spend on consumer goods today, we also choose to spend a bigger slice of the pie on social programs, education, and public services.”

Looking at the past through rose-coloured glasses or bending numbers to make things look better is nothing new. It happens all the time. When people talk about “the good old days,” they’re often just remembering the positive points about the past, while conveniently sweeping all those pesky negatives under the rug.

Life today certainly isn’t perfect. If you want to, it’s not too difficult to compile a massive list of all the bad things about the world we live in. But, if you honestly believe you’d be better off living back a half-century ago or in some other long-past era, maybe you should take the time to start an alternate list of how much better life is today. Once you do, chances are you’ll cancel your plans for that trip in the wayback machine. As Broadbent says, “The Fraser Institute can stay in 1961 if they want… but I’m happier to be living in 2013.”

 

This Is Not Bullying

Another week, another horrific story of “bullying.” That word is in quotation marks for a reason. The recent death of 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons goes so far beyond any traditional definition of bullying that it’s almost impossible to make any comparisons. And it leads a person to believe the world is going down some horrific path from which we’ll never return.

Sometime about 18 months ago, it’s believed this bright and beautiful young woman from Nova Scotia was savagely raped by four violent thugs. As brutal as that is, Rehtaeh’s nightmare had just begun. The offenders posted pictures of the sexual assault online and emailed them to others, boasting about their twisted triumph. From there, the story went in a new, disgraceful direction with schoolmates and others harassing, belittling and ‘bullying’ this young victim until she believed there was no way out except to take her own life.

And now, too late, there are plenty of people pointing fingers, without any real answers about what needs to be done. Prime Minister Stephen Harper put the death in perspective by taking the whole matter out of the realm of mere bullying. In a statement that was widely reported by several media, including the CBC, he said, “I think we’ve got to stop using just the term bullying to describe some of these things. Bullying to me has a kind of connotation … of kids misbehaving. What we are dealing with in some of these circumstances is simply criminal activity. It is youth criminal activity, it is violent criminal activity, it is sexual criminal activity and it is often internet criminal activity.”

Harper is absolutely correct. Even in its broadest definition, it’s incomprehensible that Rehtaeh’s story falls under the category of what most people consider bullying. If you have any doubts about this, you should take a few minutes to read the heartbreaking blog post made by Rehtaeh’s father, Glen Canning, the only statement he’s made about her death.

“The worst nightmare of my life has just begun. I loved my beautiful baby with all my heart. She meant everything to me. I felt her heart beating in my soul from the moment she was born until the moment she died,” he writes. “The life I had with my daughter was a rare thing. It was wonderful, it consumed me. I was defined by it. It made my life rich and beautiful. She was amazing.”

This is a man who believes the entire community let his daughter down. And he’s right. In addressing Nova Scotia’s Minister of Justice, Canning says, “Rehtaeh Parsons thought the worst outcome for her case would be no charges against the men who raped her but we all know better. The worst thing that could happen would be charges. That they would be found guilty, and that Rehtaeh would sit on a court bench and listen in utter disbelief as they were given parole, or a suspended sentence, or community service. All for completely destroying her life while they laughed.”

Canning is in disbelief that his daughter is gone while the people who helped contribute to her death still walk the streets. “They took photos of it. They posted it on their Facebook walls. They emailed it to God knows who. They shared it with the world as if it was a funny animation. How is it possible for someone to leave a digital trail like that yet the RCMP don’t have evidence of a crime? What were they looking for if photos and bragging weren’t enough? Why was this treated like a minor incident of bullying rather than a rape?”

Someone needs to answer Canning’s questions and those of others who have lost children to the escalating violence that all gets wrapped up conveniently in the blanket of bullying. This is not one person’s crime. This is everyone’s responsibility.

As Canning puts it, “My daughter wasn’t bullied to death, she was disappointed to death. Disappointed in people she thought she could trust, her school, and the police. She was my daughter, but she was your daughter too.”

No one can help Rehtaeh Parsons. Or any of the other young people who are gone because they believed there was no way to survive a life where ‘bullying’ was tolerated or ignored or dismissed. But, perhaps we can all help the next Rehtaeh before it’s too late. Maybe a good start would be to stop calling it bullying and come up with a word that’s more appropriate. Harper calls it “criminal activity.” Some might even call it “murder.” Call it whatever you want. It just has to end. As Glen Canning says in his statement: “For the love of God do something.”