Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Distinguished Life

"He had the wits about him to realize he had to get the damn bag off his head if he was going to live. He crawled across the floor to where he knew there (were) some scissors and cut the thing off. He had a good deal of presence of mind for someone who's just been attacked by a much younger man. He didn't panic. He did what was necessary. Even at 101, he was not intimidated."
"He was a remarkable man with a sharp mind and a strong will to live."
Blair Seaborn, friend and neighbour of Canadian WWII veteran Ernest Cote

"Life is such that when you see these things happen to you, you try to get out. The important thing is to concentrate on how to get out of the position in which you happen to be. If you're afraid and paralyzed, you don't move. I was never afraid. I was not afraid of the landing, the D-Day landing. I was not afraid (of his attacker)."
"I was madder than a wasp, and I couldn't do a damn thing, and that's all I could do until he left. I was never afraid. I was madder than a wasp. Wasps ain't afraid; they're mad ."
"I met the British beach group. They were having elevenses. Morning tea. I asked them to have the dead bodies removed from the beach. Not a good sight for morale. I'd been told by Corps headquarters that we had to take a lot of wooden crosses over (on the landing craft). I told them to stuff it."
Ernest Cote, former soldier, civil servant, diplomat, 101
Canadian WWII veteran Ernest Cote poses on June 5, 2014 in Courseulles-sur-mer, Normandy.    JOEL SAGET / AFP/Getty Images
Born in 1913, third son of a Canadian Senator, he studied at Edmonton's Jesuit College, obtained a B.Sc from Universite de Laval, then entered the University of Alberta to study law and was called to the Alberta Bar in October 1939 mere weeks after the outbreak of the Second World War. He was shipped to England as a lieutenant in the Royal 22e Regiment, the Van Doos. Appointed to General Andrew MacNaughton's staff, rising in rank to quartermaster general to the Third Canadian Division in preparation for the D-Day invasion.

With the army as it fought through France and into Holland, he was promoted to colonel, eventually sent back to Canada to a staff position at National Defence Headquarters, in Ottawa. He left the military in 1945, was appointed second secretary to External Affairs where a 30-year career in the diplomatic service followed. He took part in the first meetings of the United Nations General Assembly, and became an adviser to the Canadian delegation involved in putting together the charter for the World Health Organization.

Ernest Cote receives Legion of Honour Award in 2004
Ernest Cote received his Legion of Honour Award from the Ambassador of France, Phillippe Guelluy at the French Embassy to Canada in Ottawa on Thursday, May 27, 2004. (Tobin Grimshaw/Canadian Press)

His ongoing career spanned various government departments and levels of personal position attainments from Deputy Solicitor General, to deputy minister in Indian and Northern Affairs and Veterans Affairs and an ambassadorship to Finland. He became governor at the University of Ottawa, and regent at the University of Sudbury. He was also a director, governor, secretary and vice-president of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society in the 1960s and 70s. Retired in 1975, he continued to live in Ottawa.

And it was in his Ottawa apartment in New Edinburgh on December 14 that a home invasion took place and he was attacked by a robust man half his age, who tied the aged veteran up and placed a plastic bag over his head, leaving him to die of asphyxiation. Ernest Cote felt unwilling to die at the hands of a vicious assassin; he had experienced the worst that war could throw at him, learned to negotiate his talented way around the world at the highest echelons, and decided he would go in his own good time.

That time arrived this week, and his departure is mourned by those who knew him, worked with him, befriended him, admired him and his intellectual brilliance and his courage. His assailant, as it turns out, has been identified. And, it would seem the man's attack against this noble figure was not the only time he had turned himself into a catalyst of brutal violence. That very man is now charged with the murders of three other elderly people; a retired judge and his wife and their neighbour.

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Friday, February 27, 2015

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

"They know where I've been and what I've been through, yes."
"I'm close to them [parents], and I want to spend some time with them."
"I don't have anything to offer on that [jail sentence]."
Rev. Joseph LeClair, Archdiocese of Moncton, New Brunswick
Ottawa Citizen

From Blessed Sacrament Parish in Ottawa to Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity Parish in Moncton, with a stop in between at the Central East Region Correctional Centre, Lindsay Ontario, to serve two-thirds of a year-long sentence for theft and fraud. Despite having defrauded his Ottawa church of a considerable sum of money, his former parishioners still speak of him fondly as "Father Joe", and most, if they could, would welcome him back in a blink of appreciation for all he had done for them.

He took a moribund church and transformed it into a vibrant, lively place of devotion where people flocked to take up their membership once again responding to the quality of the care and compassion Father Joe extended to his parishioners. Two months after his release from prison, Reverend LeClair has a new position as assistant priest at the parish comprised of four churches around and in Moncton, N.B.

He was born on the East Coast, where his parents, now in their 80s, still live; their presence there drew him to return. This, after he'd made such a name for himself as the most popular priest in Ottawa who transformed Blessed Sacrament Parish into one of the city's most successful churches. And he didn't stop there; he hosted a Sunday morning radio show, officiated at weddings, and became a public spokesman for anxiety and depression.

He knew about those conditions, since he suffered from them, aside from being a charismatic and energetic priest. He was gifted with a golden story-telling tongue. And, it seemed, never paused in his dedication to performing his duties and then going well beyond those duties. People depended on his advice, they appreciated his care for them, they reciprocated his support for them personally, and thought he was the finest man alive in the church today.

And then an investigative journalist at a local newspaper must have got wind of someone within the parish who wasn't convinced that Father Joe was all he appeared to be and nothing more. Or less, as the case may be. A scandalous story was told of a man who was an alcoholic, a gambler, and a petty thief. Father Joe was so generous a soul, he would forgive that man's sins. That man was himself. And he denied allegations that he was anything less than a man who cared for others.

He did care for the welfare of others, for their spiritual well-being, and his responsibility to bring them to a place of comfort in the church. He wielded a special psychological power of persuasion, his status that of a man whose goodness and purity of heart raised him on a veritable pedestal. When people feel they are indispensable, that no one can perform as flawlessly as they can, and invest time and energy exhaustively, they often tend to begin to feel entitled.

Father Joe expressed his entitlement by writing cheques to himself from church accounts, by overcharging for his personal expenses, by co-opting Sunday collections, by redirecting fees for marriage preparation courses to his own bank account. An audit of his bank account discovered $1.16 million had migrated into that account between January 2006 and December 2010 with about $400,000 inexplicable in its passage to his personal account.

Eventually, Father Joe stopped declaring his innocence, and admitted that his alcoholism and gambling addiction that grew out of his depression and the stress of the work he had undertaken had led him to theft and fraud. The Archdiocese of Ottawa, after this unfortunate experience, took steps to tighten up their finance-handling to be completely accountable. But the diocese also announced that they intended to assist in his return to the pulpit.

They made good on their word. Father Joe has yet to do the same. But he has expressed remorse.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

It's Called Criminal Medical Quackery

"We never said we were curing people and we never admitted to curing people, because we haven't."
"We don't believe that. We have an educational program here."
Brian Clement, co-director, Hippocrates Health Institute
Brian Anna Maria Clement
Brian and Anna Maria Clement are co-directors of the Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida. (Hippocrates Health Institute)

In the opinion of Mr. Clement, his institute, licensed by the State of Florida as a massage parlour, is once again being unfairly scrutinized, found wanting, and penalized by their free-enterprise rights guaranteed under the U.S. first amendment being violated; in short they are being hounded unnecessarily and just because of some critics refusing to recognize the superior health opportunities his health team is offering to people, to take control of the quality of their lives and take responsibility for the state of their health.

So, the Florida health department has fined Mr. Clement as head of an alternative health clinic for practising, as they put it, medicine without a licence. As proof they cite his "unproven and possibly dangerous" treatment of two 11-year old girls from Ontario, diagnosed with childhood leukemia whose First-Nations rights were undermined when they were forced to under conventional medical treatment to cure that malady. What doubtless brought the situation to the attention of state licensing authorities was the investigative journalism reportage from Canada.

Not only do Canadians flock to the state during the winter months bestowing the largess of their vacation dollars, but the clinic itself sees Canadians representative of a high proportion of their client base. Florida does not appreciate its reputation being besmirched, and no doubt saw fit to react to what can only be termed negative publicity arising out of the reported operations of a charlatan claiming to have a medical degree enabling him to prescribe appropriate therapies for various diseases.

In its original Boston location, the Hippocrates Institute was 'persecuted and prosecuted' by the state of Massachusetts as well. Over claims they were capable of curing deadly diseases with wheat grass and additional alternative therapies to remedy and cure dread diseases. In the early 1980s its founder and president "unequivocally stated that her diet would make terminal cancer patients, diabetics and burn victims well", according to a state prosecutor at the time that Mr. Clement was the institute's director.

Of the two young aboriginal girls whose parents raised the $18,000 required to have them undergo a three-week assessment, indoctrination and introduction to the institute's personalized therapy designed to cure their leukemia, one little girl has died, the other, claimed her mother, is now cancer-free. The little girl has not been identified by name, only through the initials "J.J.", unlike Makayla Sault whose odyssey with traditional aboriginal medicine and the institutes's alternative medicine hastened her death.

"(J.J.'s) mom is very strong. She doesn't want her daughter to relapse in any way", said a self-styled wellness advocate from Ontario, Jane Schweitzer, who personally considers the Hippocrates Institute a superb healing clinic. As for J.J.'s mother, in an earlier interview she spoke of the place with wonder: "It's like a resort". She spoke admiringly of Mr. Clement: "What struck me most was he was not afraid of cancer. Cancer didn't shake him like it shook me", she said; little wonder, it wasn't he struggling with a cancer diagnosis.

Brian Clement
Brian Clement, the owner and director of the Hippocrates Health Institute in West Palm Beach, Fla., tells CBC News's Connie Walker to get off his property. Licensed as a health spa and massage facility, the institute treated the two First Nations girls with leukemia. (CBC)

When J.J.'s mother was referred to the Hippocrates Health Institute, she telephoned him from McMaster Medical Centre, where she found his words reassuring, so much so she was convinced to take her daughter off the chemotherapy which medical science had proven had a 70% to 90% percent chance of successfully curing her child's cancer. When he assured her that leukemia was "not difficult for them to deal with", she was convinced. "By him saying, ‘Oh yes, no problem we can help her,’ that's the day I stopped the chemo."

Makayla Sault's parents are both pastors in an evangelical Christian church. Their preferred method of treatment for their child was traditional, a treatment called "Ongwehowe Onongwatri: yo". Sounds arcanely obscure, and it is that, perhaps impressive but it appears it is beyond explanation; not even the Institute of Aboriginal People's Health was able to clarify what it was, how it worked, other than faith in aboriginal tradition. But it, and the power of Jesus, and a stint at the institute would cure Makayla.
Hippocrates Health Institute
J.J. prepares a 'green drink' of wheatgrass and juiced raw vegetables, part of the diet recommended by the Hippocrates Health Institute. (CBC)

Except that it did nothing of the kind. J.J.'s mother too believes wholeheartedly in traditional aboriginal medicine, yet even so, she took her daughter to the 'alternative cancer treatment facility' in West Palm Beach whose license is for a "massage establishment", though its website declares its function is "to assist people in taking responsibility for their lives and to help them internalize and actualize an existence free from premature aging, disease and needless pain." This, then, is the 'educational program' that Mr. Clement speaks of.

He has, however, when his guard is down and his boastful rhetoric is most extravagantly useful -- when addressing a gullible audience of people afflicted with dire disease, persuading them that conventional medical treatment has failed them but his institute will heal them -- repeatedly claimed that his institute helped "thousands and thousands" of advanced-cancer patients heal themselves, even though their prognosis and their state of debilitation due to cancer's advance left them without hope.

His cure consists of a raw-food, vegan diet, high-dose Vitamin C, stress-relief exercises and other useful remedies to help his clients live a long and healthy life. The Florida Health Department has ordered Mr. Clement, nonetheless, to "cease and desist", levying a fine of $3,738, which certainly won't do too much damage to his bank account reflecting the $1-million combined salary in 2014 earned by himself and his co-director wife at the Hippocrates Health Institute.

In response to Florida's move, an institute spokeswoman, Vicki Johnson, stated that the citation and order were based on "hearsay allegations" extracted from derogatory investigative media reports. "We deny these allegations in their entirety and will vigorously contest these allegations through the administrative process."

And the aboriginal community in Ontario which has placed such faith in the alternative-type "natural" response through the institute? They continue to have faith in its purpose and promise, and will continue to seek out its curing therapies, alongside traditional aboriginal healing methods. In a public relations video Mr. Clement claims his institute teaches people to "heal themselves" from cancer. 
"We've had more people reverse cancer than any institute in the history of health care. So when McGill fails or Toronto hospital fails, they come to us. Stage 4 (cancer), and they reverse it."

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Death Stalks the Unwary

"Right now, I'm just really sad. I can't really think."
"They are sleeping, so they can't get in a fight or anything."
Andrea Miller, 17, Gatineau, Quebec

People have left letters, flowers, teddy bears and other messages of condolence at the front door step this weekend. The burned-out town home at 75 Marengere Road (apt. A) in Gatineau, where a young boy and his sister died over the weekend.
People have left letters, flowers, teddy bears and other messages of condolence at the front door step.   Julie Oliver / Ottawa Citizen
True, they were sleeping. As twelve-year-old twins, a boy and a girl, it is surely likely that though they loved one another they must often have quarrelled as siblings do. Their older brother, Daniel Rondeau, had been tasked with minding the twins. Something he must have been accustomed to doing, when their mother left on weekends to visit with her boyfriend, at his house out of town.

For the past year, Andrea Miller and Daniel Rondeau had been going out together. And Andrea was accustomed to being with her boyfriend on those weekends, helping to look to the welfare and security of the younger two, Gabrielle and Jacob Rondeau in their mother's absence. There's quite a gap, even with only five years' difference, between pre-teens and teens.

Hormonally, emotionally, responsibly, independently. The twelve-year-olds are emerging into their teen years, while the 17-year-olds are on the cusp of emerging young adulthood. The older sibling more aware, particularly in light of the responsibilities given him, than his young siblings. The younger ones compliant, on occasion not-so-much, to the authority of their older brother.

Could it be called a lapse in judgement, a brief hiatus, a hesitant gamble with opportunity and fate that Andrea and Daniel decided to sneak out of the house for a brief period while the younger children were in bed, ostensibly fast asleep? What, after all, could conceivably happen to imperil them, safe in their beds while the older two made off to a nearby pizza shop?

And what could be more normal than two young people companioning one another to a fast-food shop to pick up a pizza? Who doesn't like pizza? So off they went, while the children were fast asleep; the older two secure in the knowledge they'd be back as soon as it took to complete their brief mission. It's possible that Gabrielle, while in the pizza shop, experienced a foreboding, a pang of fear when an ambulance rushed past.

But that was the deciding factor, evidently, in whether to eat the pizza there, or take it back with them. They took it back with them. They returned to the house around 11 p.m., gone no more than 20 minutes. They came back to the house just in time to see firefighters withdraw Jacob and Gabrielle from an inferno and rush them off to hospital. That was on Saturday night. On Monday they died.

Andrea said afterward that she had made french fries that afternoon. The pot of oil still sat on the stove on Saturday night. "It was just oil but nothing was on or anything", she explained. Acting Chief Inspector Eric Lajeunesse with the Gatineau fire department's prevention section explained that "Even if you cooked beforehand in the same day, do not leave anything on the stove."

Alas ... too late. Daniel Rondeau and his mother Erika Cormier have been devastated by an incomprehensible loss. How each and both in turn will manage to meet their own personal challenges for their futures is an unknown. An experience no one would want to be challenged with.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Mental Physicality

"Depression can no longer be described as strictly a disorder of the brain, but rather, must be understood as a series of biological changes that span the brain, genes and body."
Dr. Carmine Pariante, King's College, United Kingdom

"We all know that diabetes is a chronic common metabolic disorder with very unfavourable outcomes for many people."
"It turns out that if you have depression and you're diabetic, you have a much less favourable outcome from diabetes."
"Depression and diabetes are two companions that often march in the same direction. It's happening for biological reasons and it's a combustible mix."
"Depression doesn't last a day or two. It lasts weeks, months, or years."
"An Olympic athlete, someone who doesn't smoke, who's not obese and not living an unhealthy lifestyle, just by virtue of having this illness -- depression -- is more likely to develop diabetes."
Dr. Roger McIntyre, head, Mood Disorders Psychopharmacology Unit, University Health Network, Toronto

Just as there are proven to be links between depression and diabetes, there are also links between depression and cancer, arthritis and other disease all of which are under study requiring additional understanding to enable medical science to find ways to stem the tide of co-morbid conditions. Depression, according to Bill Wilkerson, Mental Health International Executive Chairman, is a disorder with a physical origin and properties in the brain along with physical effects on the heart and respiratory system as well as impacting on brain performance.

Business Services: Ottawa Events - Mental Health International
The matrix demonstrates the vast reach of depression through its influence on the course of a wide range of common and serious chronic disorders. For additional information, contact Designed by Mental Health International

Depression is capable of increasing the risk of fatal heart attacks. It does this by making the heart work harder while decreasing heart rate variability. It also impacts on the body through hormonal alterations leading to an endocrine illness or immune disorder. Depression affects metabolism, the cardiovascular system, pancreas, bones, joints, muscles, blood and immune system. That mental state has outcomes that are not isolated to mood, but clearly have a deleterious impression on the body's core functions.

Dr. Roger McIntyre stresses the influence that depression has on how other chronic disorders evolve through the biological link between depression and chronic illnesses. Chronic disorders are now recognized as the leading public health challenge to medical science and society. Studies clearly indicate abnormalities in the hormonal systems of people with depression. Metabolism, in other words, becomes improperly regulated, the abnormalities causing blood to thicken which in turn makes the heart work harder, straining the entire cardiovascular system.

Depression is linked clinically to both cardiovascular disease and diabetes. And since those living with diabetes have a very high risk of dying of the results of cardiovascular illness, the circuitous nature of the connection presents a challenge to health scientists. Depression then, while leading to poor health outcomes also has the capacity to kill through those same deteriorating health outcomes. According to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, mental disorders reduce life expectancy by 25 years.

The goal in improving the care and treatment of depression, according to Mental Health International's executive chairman is to:
  • Save lives lost to heart disease and stroke;
  • Prevent worse outcomes for those who live with diabetes;
  • Prevent worsening the prognosis of some cancers;
  • Help counter obesity, which also threatens life expectancy gains made in the past 35 years.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Beware Health Charlatans Vultures

This is a screenshot from the website of the Hippocrates Health Institute, showing its grounds.
Screenshot from the website of the Hippocrates Health Institute
"The program is designed to sell high-priced, controversial medical treatments and holistic spa services to a captive audience of sick (often terminally) individuals who believe they have come to a world renowned medical spa."
Virginia resident complaint

"We have ... the longest history on the planet Earth, the highest success rate on the planet Earth of people healing cancer."
"We have dealt with mostly stage-three, stage-four catastrophic cancers -- a big percentage of them, probably 25 percent, have been told they're going to die. We have seen thousands and thousands of those people recover."
Brian Clement, co-director, Hippocrates Health Institute, Florida
Video grab of Brian Clement, of the Hippocrates Health Institute.
Hippocrates Health InstituteVideo grab of Brian Clement, of the Hippocrates Health Institute
"Patients told me directly of selling everything they had to come there as a last-hope treatment."
"I would get emails occasionally from a family member saying a patient had succumbed to cancer."
Steven Pugh, former director of nursing, Hippocrates Health Institute

"At the end of the three weeks, she started to really blossom, she looked healthy."
"I recommend everybody to go to Hippocrates."
Jane Schweitzer, wellness advocate, Hamilton, Ontario
Mass hysteria of belief by the health-compromised, vulnerable to promises of a cure?

Two First Nations girls from Canada, both diagnosed with childhood leukemia, both eleven years old, from different reserves in Ontario, refused conventional chemotherapy with its 80% to 90% success rate in hospital, administered and overseen by pediatric oncologists, to pursue alternative and aboriginal therapies. One little girl has since died. The mother of the second has declared her daughter 'cured'.

Their loving parents took these children out of conventional treatment; instead to be treated at the Hippocrates Health Institute, a Florida business that is state-licensed as a massage treatment centre. Their reserve had been visited by Mr. Clement who often travels widely in North America to spread the good news that his institute is a godsend to those suffering from incurable maladies; capable of curing diseases that medical science cannot.

Of course this is also a business. And the families of the two little girls were charged a fee of $18,000 to have a special diet prescribed for their children afflicted with leukemia along with the holistic spa services. The girls were put on a raw-food, vegan diet with an especial emphasis on wheat grass. "Their anti-cancer treatments are totally bogus and not backed by any evidence", according to Dr. Stephen Sagar, radiation oncologist at McMaster University.

Mr. Clement and his wife Anna Maria, co-directors of the institute, earn a fairly hefty salary each from their enterprise. Filings to the Internal Revenue Service reveal together they earned close to a million dollars in 2013, from their resort-clinic in West Palm Beach, classified by the IRS as a non-profit, exempt from tax. As many as one in three of the average number of 100 "guests" that assemble at the facility weekly arrive from Canada.

Many of these guests are cancer patients who sacrifice financially to attend the institute having given up on conventional medical treatment. Others are faithful clients who gather there to experience and learn about the raw-food vegan lifestyle. Jane Schweitzer from Hamilton, a wellness advocate, claims to know personally of many Canadians with cancer, and among them she includes doctors, who have been clients of the institute, who have moved on to life rather than succumbing to death.

She had taken her fifteen-year-old daughter there in 2012 to help with the girl's depression. At first her daughter shunned the special diet, but since then she has cleaved to the vegan lifestyle, and according to her mother has become much improved psychologically. In an interview that took place in 2011, Mr. Clement was asked "What ailments have you cured by putting your patients on a vegan diet?"

He responded with confidence by saying: "Every known disease." Cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's, according to Mr. Clement, all respond to the treatments his institute recommends, because they are all "correctable". Clearly, the public is responsive to the public relations that spin out of the Florida establishment. It earned $17.5 million in revenue in 2013. The two principals are registered by the state as nutrition counsellors.

Samantha Young, a Canadian, claims she was given mere months to live once she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. After treatment at the Hippocrates Health Institute, she said, the disease simply disappeared. The power of suggestion? Who knows? There can be nothing bad about teaching people a healthy lifestyle, how to look after themselves, to eat nutritiously, eschewing convenience foods, exercising, respecting their bodies.

There is something egregiously awry when people believe, because they have been convinced by the promises of a smooth talker, to shun conventional medicine for the allure of alternative, holistic treatments with no foundation for their claims that they can produce health outcomes far superior to that of conventional medical science whose rigour of empirical evidence leaves no doubt that one is a sham, the other a trusted intervention.

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Sunday, February 22, 2015


"I think there is a moral obligation here."
"But this is not a criminal investigation."
Toronto Police Force investigating officer

"I believe that cab driver should have waited to make sure he got in OK."
"I believe that is part of their job when dealing with the elderly or disabled."
Shawn St.Louis, friend of Mark Stroz, deceased
Mark Stroz, at 29, was young and full of life, before he became part of a tragic story that has left those who knew him heartbroken and those who did not wondering why.
J.P. Moczulski for National Post // Facebook    Mark Stroz, at 29, was young and full of life, before he became part of a tragic story that has left those who knew him heartbroken and those who did not wondering why.
Mark Stroz was 29, an energetic full-of-life young man who just happened to have been born with spina bifida. His friend Shawn, in memorializing Mark, thought back to the many times they had sought out each other's company. He recalls an independent spirit, with a curiosity about many things, nature and nature's geography and uncountable wonders. Some of which he took pains to photograph. He recalls the Stroz family cottage, fishing and swimming and kayaking together and just having a good time.

Shawn too was born with that deformity of the spine that ensured both boys would never be independent of their wheelchairs for mobility. But that didn't stop Mark from taking the lead in sports. He is credited with leading his sledge hockey team in scoring. And he was interested in the public social welfare contract, in particular making wheelchair access more important as a public good in a society that cares for the welfare of all its citizens, able-bodied, and not.

Mark had been out on Valentine's Day. And it just happened to be one of the coldest, miserable nights in February this year, with the temperature dropping to minus-30-degrees Centigrade. Without accounting for the windchill factor. Add to that blowing snow. After he left his friends on their night out, he took a taxi home to the grey brick bungalow that he shares with his mother in Etobicoke, a Toronto suburb.

He was next seen at 7:12 a.m. Lying face down in the driveway of his house. Nearby sat his wheelchair, tipped onto its side. With no vital signs, the young man was formally pronounced dead at hospital. Things like this happen all the time in a large city; they happen anywhere. A quirk of fate. Elderly people slip and fall on ice and concuss or break their hips, or suffer heart attacks, or have a stroke; some catastrophe that ends their lives sooner rather than later.

In the winter months cautions are publicly expressed for men in the elder category to take care in shovelling snow; the exertion proves too much for some and they never survive a heart attack that strikes them down when all they set out to do was the perfectly ordinary. Sometimes there is no reasonable explanation for people suddenly dying, involved in pedestrian pursuits like running in a race, running on a treadmill, walking along in a crowd of people. Things happen.

Neighbours of Mark Stroz, groping to make sense of the sudden and tragic death of a vibrant young man, focus on the taxi driver. "Why didn't that cab driver wait?" one neighbour puzzled. "He died in his driveway." Neighbours recall a friendly young man they often saw out with his large dog. Or busy heading off somewhere in his car after packing his wheelchair in back of the car. People who live with handicaps find the strength and the capacity to care for themselves in sometimes surprising ways.

And when they do, they have a deserved pride in their accomplishment, breaking down perceived barriers to strike out as much as possible on their own, for themselves, a credit to their determination and their will to make the most of the life they were given. Sometimes these people don't take kindly to unsolicited advice or offers of assistance. An intrusion that dents their self-confidence.

Mark Stroz in fact, might have resented anyone, including that particular taxi driver, the courtesy of waiting to see that he entered his house that night, without mishap. Who could predict there might be a mishap, after all? With a confident young man accustomed to doing things for himself, and being independent as much as feasible.

On the other hand, people are people; some are empathetic to the plight of others, and some are not. Taxi drivers perform a professional service for which they are paid. Time wasted by offering assistance is not in their business protocol, as far as many are concerned. Some are unwilling to help an elderly passenger claiming they are themselves plagued by health problems. Some are simply disinterested.

Police have identified which taxi service had been called to drive Mark Stroz home the night of February 14, but they haven't been able yet to identify the taxi driver. Under the circumstances, the driver will not in all likelihood, be appreciative of being identified, considering the public opprobrium; for him the prudent thing is to avoid being identified.

He performed the function for which he was compensated. Anything additional would be contingent on the receptivity of the young man in the wheelchair, and of the kindly disposition of the individual expressing concern, even in simply remaining there a silent witness to a young man entering his home late at night, in miserable weather conditions.

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Shirking Responsibility, Risking Lives

"It's a terrible thing -- something as important as a fire truck for the community. Having a contract dispute is putting others at risk. I don't know what to say."
Darcy Ochuschayoo, Big Island First Nation

"What went through my mind? Protocol. I just thought about it and we do not respond to fires at Makwa Sahgaiehcan right at this present time."
Larry Heon, chief, Loon Lake volunteer fire department, Saskatchewan

"A lot of negativity is surrounding us and it's creating hatred amongst the communities ... we can't go back 100 years."
"It's just a tragedy and there's no one to blame in this."
Richard Ben, chief, Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation

"The bottom line is: Two children died and the adults have to sort it out."
"It clearly has to stop and it's not going to stop unless we do something differently."
Bob Pringle, Saskatchewan children's advocate
Family members of 18-month-old Haley Cheenanow want to know why she and Harley Cheenanow were left to die in a burning house. Handout

The working fire truck sitting nearby on the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation reserve was bought for the purpose of bringing safety to the one thousand residents of the reserve, with their own equipment. Unfortunately, the fire truck was never configured to fit the fire hydrants on the reserve. Nor did it have a trained crew to operate it. As in no volunteers; as in no one making the right decisions; as in indifference to their own health and security. The truck simply sat outside the band mechanic's home.

So for the chief of the reserve to metaphorically shrug his shoulders in a philosophical nod to human nature inclined to leave one own's responsibility to others, the phrase that no one is at fault sounds fairly self-forgivingly hollow. Why would a reserve of one thousand souls not have a core group of people prepared to respond to emergencies such as fires when past tragedies illustrate the need for that vital volunteer function?

There was also a volunteer fire department a fifteen minute drive away from the reserve, at Loon Lake. But they no longer responded to emergency calls from the reserve because the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation had ignored previous bills entailed for the work of the Loon Lake volunteer fire brigade. So when a house on the reserve caught fire, it burned to the ground.

Despite mounting criticism, Loon Lake volunteer fire chief Larry Heon said he stands by his decision to ignore the emergency call, saying he was following the instructions of his village council and the contract signed with the First Nation. Kim Capiral / Newcap Television

An RCMP cruiser did show up at the scene, but was unable to do much about the conflagration. The unpaid bill of $3,360.89 by the First Nation reserve caused the Loon Lake volunteer fire department to respond by suspending service to the reserve. That suspension took effect three weeks before the fire took place on Tuesday. For want of hoses hooked up to the band's own fire truck, and residents of the reserve committing to using it, two infants died.

When the small house they were in burned down to its foundation two-year-old Harley Cheenanow and his 18-month-old sister Haley, lost their lives. A letter sent out by the Loon Lake village administrator had informed the band on January 30, 2015, that they would no longer be covered from that date forward. Unless, of course, their tardy response to the outstanding bill was rectified.

Evidently the band council ignored that notification just as they had ignored the invoice for services that preceded it. And the fire truck, bought five years previously, just sat there in front of the band mechanic's house, covered with snow, its purpose completely abandoned. Now, the fire chief, who also happens to be mayor of Loon Lake is "scared for my family" because of angry telephone calls and social media messages threatening Mr. Heon.

There was a time when the reserve handled its own fire-fighting. But when the large metal shed used as a fire hall burned down thirty years earlier, interest more or less died with the shed. The children were at home with their grandmother when the fire began. The grandmother managed to escape the burning home. When police arrived at 1:30 p.m. they witnessed a man, later identified as their father, rushing out of the burning home the limp bodies of two children in his arms.

The Assembly of First Nations has called for an investigation. "Our community is in mourning there right now. We need time to do that properly. We can't have distractions and innuendo", typically stated Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations vice-chief Dutch Lerat of an incident that is anything but uncommon in its details and tragic results on First Nations reserves.

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Death Stalking in Winter

"You've got this irreversibility problem because the child was never going to get that door back open. And then you have the time -- it is four a.m. -- not recess during school."
Gordon Giesbrecht, hypothermia expert, professor, University of Manitoba
THE CANADIAN PRESS    Elijah, 3, is shown in a building lobby in this undated handout photo.
It happens without fail, every winter somewhere in Canada. And, one suspects elsewhere in the world where winter weather is harsh and children's curiosity knows no bounds. Yet another child has died as a result of exposure to the miserable cold of winter. No, he wasn't abandoned to his fate, he was just a precocious little boy who evidently woke from a sound sleep and decided he would treat night like day and do some exploring.

All the more attractive, perhaps, because no one was about to ask what he was doing, where he was going, and to irritatingly -- as adults are wont to do -- interfere with his plan, if he indeed had a plan -- other than to do what he had done countless times before while being ushered back and forth by his mother, his father, his grandparents, his aunts. A tiny boy whom no one really suspected could be able to unlock a door. Yet he made his way through three doors, to reach his presumed goal, the out-of-doors.

Wearing a little shirt and a diaper. This has been a brutally cold February, even in Toronto. And Elijah March, who was loved and coddled and cared so carefully for to ensure that no harm would ever come to the little fellow, woke at four in the morning, took himself out of bed, out of his grandparents' apartment, to finally exit the building and freely walk about unencumbered by pestering adults, on the outside of the low-rise building. He had taken the caution of pulling on his winter boots.

At four in the morning on Wednesday, the temperature was a miserable minus-20 Celsius, and colder even than that, taking into account the windchill factor. Sometimes young children seem almost oblivious to the cold, but it wouldn't have taken long for little Elijah to feel very uncomfortable indeed. But the option of re-entering the building he had just exited wasn't open to him, since that outer door clicks firmly shut and cannot be opened from the exterior.

"I have a three-year-old. What happened here is unbelievably sad. I just think about that child being outside. Alone. And it being dark, and it is so cold and he was three -- and he comes out -- and he can't get back in the building, because the door here locks behind you. All he would want was his Mom and Dad. I always see him with his family. I have never seen that boy alone", said a neighbour, mournfully.

Video thumbnail for Toronto boy dies after wandering out into the cold
National Post: Elijah March :Toronto Police / The Canadian Press

When his grandparents awoke at 7:30 a.m. it was to discover that their tiny grandson was nowhere to be seen. They looked everywhere. Police were alerted and over 100 units including mounted police and helicopters engaged in the frantic search for the little boy. By that time he had already been out, alone, in the frigid cold for well over three hours. It took three more hours before his little body was discovered, with no vital signs, by two of the dozens of community members who also were out searching for the child.
"I think every Torontonian will feel the loss. You see the picture of that beautiful little boy. And the smile. And the video of the child going out into the cold at 4 o'clock in the morning. It really is a tragic set of circumstances."
"And it will remind all of us to go home and hug our kids a little bit more. I think we all will grieve for that child and for their family and for their community for its loss."
Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair 

Freezing to death in the cold and the snow doesn't happen only to children. The very same day, a 46-year-old man who had been buried for days just metres from the door of his trailer home; inadequately dressed and covered in snow from a storm, in temperatures that dipped to -30C in Moncton, New Brunswick, where his body was discovered by his half-brother.

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Where Empathy and Compassion Are Called For

"I can still use my arm, I can still use a computer and I can still talk. I'm thinking, if they give me a chance to stay I can still work, or I can still study."
"But still right now I’m able to move around on my own, and I’m starting to be more independent."
"Even though I’m in a wheelchair, I’m still hoping and trying to still help my family."
"We're still hoping they can allow me to stay here. I was so blessed and thankful for all my friends and church friends who came here to support me."
Maria Victoria Venancio, 29, Filipina, temporary foreign worker, Alberta
Filipina temporary foreign worker Maria Victoria Venancio (screenshot from CTV News footage)
Maria Victoria Venancio (screenshot from CTV News footage)
"She’s told me recently she’s been able to stand on her own, which from when we dealt with her car accident a few years ago was almost unimaginable.""She is working with her doctors and the University of Alberta here and actually making some tremendous progress in her mobility."
"[In the Philippines] her family lives 3 hours from a major center and the simple lack of infrastructure would present incredible challenges to her. She's becoming more independent. And here in Canada, where we have things we take for granted, like paved streets and DATS buses, she has the opportunity to progress and live a relatively fulfilling life."
Chris Bataluk, pro bono lawyer for Ms. Venancio

This young woman came to Canada under the country's Temporary Foreign Workers program, as many young women do from the Philippines, hoping to find employment and to earn their way eventually into recognition as potential future citizens by achieving permanent resident status.  Many  young Filipinas come to Canada to work as domestic aids, as minders of other people's children, leaving their own young children behind in the Philippines, hoping to be reunited with them once they've been able to settle in Canada, and to sponsor family members for emigration to Canada where they feel they will find a better life with greater opportunities to advance themselves economically.

The federal Temporary Foreign Workers program was established as a way to fill employment needs in areas where employers claim Canadians have no interest in working at those jobs. Many of those jobs fall into a professional category where there may be a shortage of such skills within the country, but many more fall into the more pedestrian category of poorly-paid unskilled labour in the service industry. At a time in Alberta when, as a result of the oil boom, many such jobs went unfilled, Maria Victoria Venancio applied to the program, to work for an Edmonton-area McDonald's outlet.

She was doing very well in her area of employment, so much so that it appeared that she was on track to a supervisory position. One day in 2011, en route to work by her usual method of bicycling, she was struck by a vehicle on her commuting route. This was no brief clip that knocked her off her bicycle and little harm done. The accident was serious enough to render the young woman a quadriplegic. And she now finds herself in a double bind. Not only has her mobility been utterly impaired and with it her prospects for future employment, but as a visitor to Canada so to speak, she does not qualify for universal health care. And since she no longer works, she is facing deportation.

Appealing to a Citizenship and Immigration hearing gave her no reprieve on the compassionate and humanitarian grounds she might have hoped for. The hearing ruled that she had no legal status in Canada. But there yet remains hope that her lawyer is determined to explore, that the Canada Border Services Agency, next in line to hear her case, will schedule a hearing to decide whether an order to send her back to the Philippines will be enforced. In her native country she would have limited access to health care.

Wheelchair-bound, her life would be even more difficult than it is in Canada, since in the Philippines, an impoverished country that cannot afford to pave all its roads and sidewalks, or to ensure that public help for the handicapped is recognized in accessible ramps and elevators, her ability to function in the public sphere would be minimal. The young woman has friends and supporters in Edmonton. She had won a modest settlement in compensation for the accident which cost her the use of her limbs. She has made application to be granted permanent residency in Canada.

She had spent three weeks in hospital at the time of the accident. The compensation she received resulting from the accident was relatively small, her lawyer pointed out, since the adjudicators found her to be partially at fault for the accident's occurrence. "She would be leaving what is essentially one of the better situations someone like her could be in and going to a very, very dismal situation", pointed out Mr. Bataluk. At the present time, she has been receiving assistance from doctors at the University of Alberta who have themselves been absorbing the cost.

The rehabilitation she has undertone has been extensive, enabling her to regain partial use of an arm, not quite enough to have her write, but sufficient to give her some degree of independence. She is also able to stand briefly. Doctors have advised her that she will always be wheelchair-dependent. But she remains optimistic about her future and that in and of itself is a tremendous boost toward the possibility of further rehabilitation, however slight.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Behind The Camouflage

"For reasons no one understands ... the people that end up being attracted to or choose military service -- for whatever reason -- have higher rates of exposure to childhood adversity than civilians, or people who don't elect to be in the military."
"And given that childhood adversity is such a powerful risk factor for depression, and for suicidal thinking, suicidal behaviour and many other adverse health outcomes -- that, I think, is an important piece of the picture."
"[Researchers] haven't dug deep enough yet [to fully understand the links]. We'll know a lot more in a little bit of time. They [research findings] were very preliminary numbers. If it didn't fit in with the larger narrative we saw elsewhere, we wouldn't have presented it."
Dr. Mark Zamorski, Canadian 2015 study co-author

"These findings suggest that evaluation of childhood trauma is important in the clinical assessment and treatment of depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation among military personnel and veterans."
Dr. Nagy Youssef, 2013 study, United States
Canadian forces see an extraordinarily high rate of depression, estimated at around 8 per cent in the last mental-health survey.
Lars Hagberg / THE CANADIAN PRESS file photo   Canadian forces see an extraordinarily high rate of depression, estimated at around 8 per cent in the last mental-health survey.

Most people might assume that the military attracts confident, self-assured people looking for a career in public security dedicated to upholding the values of one's country, combining patriotism with a sense of duty and a wish to be integrally involved at the fighting-level in defence of one's nation. Since people have to pass tests to ensure they are physically fit, as well as other tests to make certain that they have no serious psychological road-blocks to pursuing their duties in the military, one might think these represent sufficient guards against absorbing individuals whose traumatized past will interfere with their professional future.

On the other hand, in both Canada and the United States the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder and a seemingly unusual high number of suicides has taken the news since both countries were involved in the unexpectedly long conflict in Afghanistan. Statistics both uphold the view that the number of suicides by veterans of conflict are higher than those in the general population, and claims that they are no higher. The occurrence of psychological trauma resulting from exposure to conflict  however, has caused high numbers of PST, enough to concern government and the military for its high cost in recognition, treatment and inability of enlisted personnel to pursue their professional duties.

In 2013, a major American study was undertaken by the mental-health research branch of the Veterans Administration, Duke University and the University of Alabama. That research study concluded with the realization that abuse, neglect and allied childhood problems contributed to problems for soldiers in later life. And now, the preliminary results of an not-yet-published study conducted by health researchers at Canada's Department of National Defence, with research carried out by the department of psychiatry, University of Manitoba and the Canadian Forces Directorate of Mental Health, has reached a similar conclusion.

Results suggest that 39 percent of members of the Canadian military had been slapped or spanked as children, with comparable research on the general population indicating that 22 percent of civilians suffered a similar experience as children. Seventeen percent of military members reported that they were thrown, pushed or grabbed more than three times as children, in comparison with 22 percent of civilians. Military respondents reported that 15 percent had been kicked, bitten, punched, choked, burned or attacked as youngsters, while civilian counterparts represented ten percent suffering like events.

And ten percent of soldiers reported having witnessed "intimate partner violence" while they were growing up. The civilian figure was 8 percent. Data derived from the mental-health portion of the 2012 Canadian Community Health survey, which questioned over 25,000 individuals, and the 2013 Canadian Forces Mental Health Survey based on responses from over 8,100 members of the military provided the figures for the study. Those numbers are critical in the understanding of just why it is that Canadian military personnel experience a higher than average rate of depression, linked to suicide, according to Dr. Zamorski.

Perhaps when the study has been finalized, another facet of the puzzle may also be answered; why it is that people who suffered physical and mental intimidation as children seem to gravitate to the military, where discipline can be seen by some as coercive and difficult, perhaps balanced by the fact that within the military, its members tend to view one another as part of one big family looking out for one another. Or is that too, a myth?

And perhaps as another by-product of the study it could be extended to reason out why it is that children of military members appear to suffer more abuse at the hands of their parents than children in the general population. The popular hypothesis is that the stress that military families undergo takes its toll on the welfare of their children. Or could it be that members of the military who had suffered abuse as children themselves, were imprinted at a young age with the pathology of abuse which they in turn impose on their own children?

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Enjoying Life

"We won't start driving around all night to find out where the car is because [OnStar] they're involved."
"A needle in a haystack."
"OnStar called again. Should we file a harassment complaint against them?"
"I'm fed up with that nonsense ... I missed my supper hour .... This is the third time I deal with them for nonsense. I can't take it any more."
Surete du Quebec
A Surete du Quebec police officer near a cruiser in this 2012 file photo.
Graham Hughes / Canadian Press A Surete du Quebec police officer near a cruiser in this 2012 file photo.
"It's just so illogical. Six years after the crash, I still can't actually believe how the SQ [Quebec provincial police] behaved."
"I've got a prosthetic, but it's not even comparable [to what his physical life was before the accident]." "My anger toward the police, it will never pass."
Gilles Gargantiel
Gilles Gargantiel croit qu'il ne se serait pas... (PHOTO Martin Roy, ARCHIVES LE DROIT)
Gilles Gargantiel croit qu'il ne se serait pas fait amputer le pied si la SQ avait agi plus rapidement.

Gilles Gargantiel was an outdoor enthusiast, a tennis instructor, an avid skier, an active man. He is that no longer. He spent seven months in rehabilitation after his October accident on a rural road in 2009 when his new Pontiac G3, equipped with an OnStar system to send an automatic alert when airbags deployed went out of control and crashed into a ditch. Fifteen minutes after the crash an OnStar operator advised the Surete du Quebec of the accident.

They also provided precise GPS co-ordinates. Lucky man; involved in a one-car crash, no observers, no other vehicles, no one to witness his plight, but modern electronics to the rescue! Well, the OnStar system worked the way it was meant to, guaranteeing the user that should an accident occur authorities would be notified and help would be expedited. Only that's not what happened in Mr. Gargantiel's unfortunate experience.

Transcripts of communication between the SQ dispatcher and patrol officers who responded to the notice of accident made it clear that the officers had spotted nothing amiss, were irritated by the repeat calls from OnStar to respond, and decided to give up the search, secure in the intuition that the driver who occasioned the alert was in all likelihood trespassing on some farmer's property, getting himself good and drunk.

Mr. Gargantiel was actually face down on the ground about 30 metres from his car, with a fractured neck, six broken ribs and two broken vertebrae. He was in no condition to move on his own, and when the search for his whereabouts and welfare was abandoned by those who had been alerted to the need for a rescue, he spent 40 hours with no relief from his dreadful predicament.

Perhaps a little more diligent searching would have revealed his whereabouts. But two hours was all that the officers on patrol were willing to dedicate to that search, not believing there was an actual need for them to continue. Eventually, a train engineer saw a car in a ditch between the tracks and Highway 148 in the Outaouais region of Quebec. And there was Mr. Gargantiel.

He was dehydrated, suffering from hypothermia and frostbite. His condition necessitated that his right foot be amputated. Six years later he still suffers physical and psychological effects of his traumatic accident and injury. Feeling no better when he discovered last week that his suit against the province for negligence had been unsuccessful when the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled the amputation to be related to the car accident.

That being the case, he was found not entitled to additional compensation beyond what Quebec's no-fault insurance regime would allow. He had submitted medical evidence validating that the amputation was directly the effect of frostbite, in turn caused by police negligence in failing to make the effort to effect a rescue of the man injured in the car crash. The car crash itself needn't have resulted in the amputation had he been rescued in time.

But the three-judge Court of Appeal felt justified in concluding Quebec's Automobile Insurance Act, providing compensation to victims while also preventing them from suing for damages is sufficient to cover Mr. Gargantiel's amputation. "In Quebec, the protection offered by the law is very ironclad. In the recent case law, I have never seen the law being softened", observed the lawyer who represented Mr. Gargantiel.

Mr. Gargantiel's case, held Leonard Kliger, Montreal lawyer, represented a "clear break in the causal connection between the automobile accident and other injuries that result from a third party.", And so, the devastated man received a lump-sum payment of $104,000 from the province's automobile-insurance board for loss of enjoyment of life and psychological and physical suffering with an additional $16,000 annually for lost income.

He'll now just have to lump it, and use that payment to continue enjoying life with his disability, and forget about psychological and physical suffering.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Pomp and Hypocrisy UK-Style

"I have no idea [why it has taken so long to study the issue of sexual violence as a war crime]. I find it abhorrent and it makes absolutely no sense to me that we know that girls are being sold into sexual slavery; that when a woman is raped she is forced from her community; that girls as young as nine are being married off."
"I cannot fathom why it has ever been all right to treat women this way."
Angelina Jolie, anti sexual violence crusader, special envoy UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Angelina Jolie meets displaced Iraqis living in an abandoned school in al-Qosh last month.
Angelina Jolie meets displaced Iraqis living in an abandoned school in al-Qosh last month. Photograph: Reuters
"Crimes against women have been accorded a lesser priority throughout history. Sexual violence in conflict involves the deliberate targeting of women and children and men, in ways that often simply defy the power of description."
"[The world has entered a period] of systemic instability [where sexual violence is seen as an inevitable part of war]. Despite this, we always have to strive to do something else as the United Kingdom, and that is to try to improve the condition of humanity … We can overcome that feeling that it’s a hopeless matter, that you can never change it."
William Hague, former UK foreign secretary  
"This summit demonstrates there is a dangerous lack of joined-up thinking when it comes to tackling sexual violence against women. These are the same women. On one hand, you've got real progress being made in conflict zones overseas, but when those same victims make it to UK shores it's a completely different story. Women often aren't believed, and instead of being protected they're further traumatised by the asylum system. It's critical that the government tackles this issue with the same gusto at home as it's doing abroad and protects the survivors of sexual violence."
"Of course, it means often a woman won't disclose until far later and that is then used against her – 'why didn't she disclose at the beginning? She must be lying'. The lack of resources and gulf between policy and practice means there is some rank hypocrisy at work in the way we treat the very small number of women who actually make it to the UK."  
Anna Musgrave,  women's advocacy manager, Refugee Council

"It was very, very difficult. When you are a refugee, you think you might be treated kindly in the UK but ... they behave in the same way. Before I even told my story I was shouted at, screamed at: 'Why do you come here? Why did you sleep in a cardboard box on the street?'"
"You don't feel safe ever. The only basic humanity I have seen is from charities. The Home Office think I am a liar and they can come for me in the night, any time. I know what the officials are capable of. They say they want to save women from atrocities. I am that woman."
Refugee from Democratic Republic of Congo

Angelina Jolie and William Hague
Angelina Jolie and William Hague to co-chair Global Summit to End Sexual Violence. Photograph: Elvis Barukcic/AFP/Getty Images

The London School of Economics has created and opened its Centre for Women, Peace and Security, and the grand opening featured two celebrities; one an actor and international women's activist, the other a former member of the UK Cabinet. This does represent the first and for the time being, only think-tank that has dedicated a specific area of research to women as sexual victims of violence and rape during conflicts. Presumably, the studies will reach back into ancient history, to the present when women then and now were seen as war booty.

Angelina Jolie produced several videos of her interviews with Iraqi women living in refugee camps. They have been posted online and make for some very painful viewing in personal testimony by women who were forced to undergo spirit-draining, humiliating violence inflicted upon them by men. From biblical accounts of women taken as slaves and concubines after tribal wars, to the Korean comfort women, to the plight of German women when Russian troops took their revenge post WWII, to the mass rapes in Darfur and Congo and now Syria and Libya, these vicious violations speak of the ongoing depredations inflicted upon women.

On the other hand, these are women who suffer these dreadful events during and after conflict situations. But then, rape is part of the subjugation of women who are tormented when they refuse to adhere to the religious-cultural restraints placed on their individuality and basic human rights, in many countries of the world. Where in Muslim countries accusations of rape hold the victim to be equally accountable and even more so, for her plight. Where in India the male dominated culture victimizes women and girls in viewing rape as a male entitlement. The shame is the woman's; males only doing what comes naturally to them.

"Sometimes women are killed after they're raped, so we don't find [out] about them. Then you have the chaos of war, and you have people moving around, and on top of that you have the stigma that prevents women from coming forward" stated Lauren Wolfe, director of the Women Under Siege project at the Women's Media Centre in New York who has been tracking sexualized violence in Syria for three years, interviewing women in Jordanian refugee camps. "It comes down to a lack of money -- you have to have the aid workers and support systems in place", she noted.

"Advocates and survivors in regions across Ukraine repeatedly recounted how police often blame women for provoking the violence perpetrated against them", pointed out Atonina Vikhrest of Women Under Siege. Universally, it is clear enough, from Syria to Burma, Sudan to Somalia, armies and non-state militias use rape as a method of subduing civilians through fear and intimidation, terrorizing women and the men who care about them.

A case in point was the revelation by Human Rights Watch reporting on yet another mass attack by Sudanese army troops in North Darfur where area men were rounded up and held in segregation while hundreds of women and girls were raped in a 36-hour period. Over 150 countries signed the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, at the United Nations last year. A variety of United Nations resolutions have been passed highlighting war-zone sexual violence and the travesty of horror it represents targeting women who are usually non-combatants but easy prey.

The outcome of which is precisely nothing whatever.

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Being Together and Loving It

"The average person's problem is they pursue happiness, but happiness is a moment -- joy is a process. One of the biggest things my work has taught me is that people think if your relationship is good, it should be good all the time. But that isn't true. Your relationship is not doomed because you have problems. People give up on relationships too soon."
Ellis Nicolson, 38, marriage counsellor, Toronto

"I don't want to be judged and I don't want to be seen as weak, but I had to tell him: I'm really not doing well. After our talk, nothing changed that much, but I felt better because I allowed myself to be vulnerable. Sometimes conflict can't be resolved because people don't feel safe enough to say what's really happening, and know that their partner won't leave.
"It hurts to hear the real stuff about your relationship, but you can't heal and fix those things if it doesn't get said and the hurt becomes bigger. Ellis being a marriage counsellor has probably been helpful for our relationship -- it's not used against me. It's there for him to be a better husband and me to become a better wife."
Tiffany Nicolson, Mississauga
Ellis and TiffanyEllis and Tiffany Nicolson, Photo by Peter J. Thompson, National Post

Ellis Nicolson and his wife, Tiffany. (Photo by Peter J. Thompson/National Post)
- See more at:

Ellis Nicolson and his wife, Tiffany. (Photo by Peter J. Thompson/National Post)
- See more at:

"Marriage-like structures have existed since time immemorial and the first marriage-like unions were by wealthy polygamist men who could afford multiple wives. Western marriage would begin in the 17th century, where marriage blossomed through arranged marriage between families and tribes."
"In the early 19th century, suddenly a woman's reason for marrying was different than her grandmother's. Once divorce became not socially reprehensible, people did it, and they did it in droves."
Elizabeth Abbott, author: The History of Marriage and The History of Mistresses, Toronto

"I help couples understand how they scare their partner, how they alienate their partner and show them the dance -- one person pursues and ends up being critical, the other protects and withdraws. Once they understand the emotional impact, the conversation is able to shift. But the first thing is getting couples to talk."
"We'll be in a fight [she and her husband, married 26 years] and I'll hear that little voice saying, 'Watch out! The way you said that he's going to feel criticized', or that I just made a critical comment rather than saying: 'I'm feeling lonely. Relationships are about being emotional responsive, that's the whole ball game."
Sue Johnson, developer, Emotionally Focused Therapy

Experts all, in the emotionally fraught theatre of love and marriage longevity. Human nature impels us in our individuality, to express ourselves in various ways. Some of us are capable of expressing our emotion while maintaining a calm exterior while others of us become hysterical and manic; the former is capable of holding a reasoned discussion, the latter is far more likely to maintain a distance, refusing to discuss anything, wallowing in hurt and misery.

For the Nicolson couple, where one of them actually is a professional negotiator in partnership management as a marriage counsellor, an outsider might have the impression that since the marriage is grounded with someone who has that kind of professional knowledge, maintaining a discourse of reason and emotional balance is assured. But it's not necessarily so, since when we're upset and aggravated we tend to lean on our unreasoned emotions and balance flies out the window.

They argue, just like any other married couple, about things that irritate them about one another, or about incidents that have disturbed them and created a distance between them, however briefly. When couples are pressed with problems that need solving, like a young child with a troubling medical condition, like a parent who is depressed and feeling oppressed in the workplace, like a partner who feels neglected, it's natural to lash out, and usually at the figure most conveniently located, at home.

In the case of the Nicolsons, sometimes they get in bed for the night angry with one another. Sometimes one of them is silent, and the other becomes very verbal, and then alienation sets in. If they can assign blame nowhere, and sit down together with a degree of calm, each taking the time to express their hurt or impression so that clarity is established and they're able to understand one another's emotional state, and take steps to soothe it, the argument can be settled.

Sometimes it's the disillusion that people suffer, when their marriage fails to reflect what they had idealized a marriage would be like. Ellis Nicolson approached marriage counselling out of a sense of responding to a calling that would make an impression on society in the most positive of ways. "Kids get a sense of who they are from the nature of the relationship between their parents. I wanted my life to be meaningful -- relationships were where I wanted to make my mark", he explained in an interview.

For this couple, religion and their own spiritual belief and comfort in the church motivate them in all they approach, from their own marriage to Ellis's wish to be useful within society. One of the largest items facing couples whose marriage appears to be faltering, is the issue of sex, one or the other concerned whether they're still found attractive, still appealing and whether or how long the freshness of that appeal will ensure the longevity of the marriage.

Of course there's all kinds of other compatibilities or lack of them; whether there exists the fundamentals of shared values, backgrounds and concerns. Whether one of the pair is "negative", angry and inclined to shut down discussions in favour of simply raging about their discontent with the other. When anger erases the focus of empathy that one has for the other, replacing it with indifference, the battle is lost.

The simple fact is that people are individuals. Two individuals living together sharing intimate space and even more intimate acts, sharing daily concerns and long-time aspirations must have a degree of emotional flexibility. If minor irritants exist that are really of little importance to the quality of the relationship, it's important to mention them and hope for some consideration, but at the same time respect the other person's feelings.

Having a sense of perspective of what's important and what is not helps immeasurably, all the more so if such irritations can be set aside for the larger appreciation of what works well. Above all, open lines of communication can never be adequately stressed. Needless to say, if love brought people together and mutual respect helps in ensuring that the high regard one feels for the other is intact because of shared values and experiences, differences of opinion are of minimal impact.

I'm no expert, not a professional marriage counsellor, but with 60 years of marriage shared with my husband, we marvel at how fortunate we have been and remain with one another. Our mutual concern for one another, and our pleasure in being together consolidate our shared love. For my part, my admiration for my husband is boundless, but that is because I consider him an admirable human being in every measure, from his curiosity about everything, and his willingness to attempt anything. Not to mention his astounding success in everything he ventures.

Above all, I love the compassion he brings to the business of life being lived. Empathy and concern for those he knows and cares about, and extending it in some measure to others outside his intimate circle, as a decent human being. But his concerns go beyond human beings and extend to other creatures around us, from the small animals that share our environment to the birds that give us so much pleasure, and yes, the insects that he will bend down to place out of harm's way on a nature trail.

And then there's our marriage. If one of us can be faulted, it is me, capricious by nature in some measure, to his solid steadfastness. He finds enough positives in me to overlook my faults. Something for which I am eternally grateful; not only to him so much as to kind fate which introduced us when we were both fourteen and not only looking for a friend, but also deeply impressionable. Impressed enough so that we gravitated toward an unbreakable emotional bond.

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