Bringing you the issues since 1986

View Online Print Edition


Editorial: Harper denies care to refugees, closes door to Roma

July 2012

What kind of country is Canada becoming under the Stephen Harper Conservatives? Under the stealth of omnibus legislation, and with the virtually unbridled power of its majority, we respectfully paraphrase Shelley to observe: “Look upon these mean-spirited works, and despair.”

A prime example: Under new rules, refugee claimants will be denied free medical care, except for those with such contagious conditions as active tuberculosis, chicken pox, HIV or acute psychosis. And in a not-unrelated development, in spite of strong evidence of blatant discrimination and abuse, Roma refugee claims are being rejected holus bolus and people sent back to Europe.

Both actions recall the mindset, not restricted to Canada, that led to the tragedy of the St. Louis, the steamship that set sail from Hamburg in May 1939 with 937 desperate German Jewish refugees aboard. They were looking for a home, anywhere. They were denied protection in the United States and Canada. Twenty-two gained entry to Cuba, but the rest ended up back in Europe, where about a quarter of the passengers perished in the Holocaust.

Granted, this is not a direct analogy. Still, under rules that came into effect June 30, impoverished and desperate people seeking protection after an often-hazardous journey will no longer have access to primary and preventive care and supplemental coverage available to many low-income Canadians. This restriction adds hurdles to the already perilous “voyage of the damned” many refugee claimants undertake. Many have been raped, beaten and persecuted for religious or political motives.

Removing access to health care to an already disadvantaged group is morally repugnant. It goes against the spirit of the Canada Health Act and should be rescinded. That is why pediatricians at Quebec’s four university teaching hospitals have protested to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney even as they have promised to continue caring for these children. Quebec Health Minister Yves Bolduc has also stepped in to offer care in a $5-million temporary program.

This cynical move pushed by Kenney, disguised as an attempt to discourage so-called “bogus refugees,” is doing nothing less than shifting responsibility for providing basic care in a refugee process that Ottawa controls onto provincial hands. Those seeking protection should have immediate access to at least the same benefits as provided by provinces and territories to social welfare recipients.

When it comes to the Roma, the recent trend amounts to a “none-is-too-many” attitude by the Immigration and Refugee Board in rejecting most claims, reversing the previous trend of acceptance. Kenney’s stance set that in motion. Lest we forget the background: the genocide of Roma populations during the Second World War.

In the words of Holocaust scholar Yehudah Bauer: “In sheer demonic cold blooded brutality the tragedy of the Romanies is one of the most terrible indictments of the Nazis…that the mutilated Romany nation continues to be vilified and persecuted to this day should put all their host nations to shame.”

We applaud the Toronto Board of Rabbis, which raised their plight in a letter to Stephen Harper protesting against his government’s designating some countries, such as Hungary, as safe and democratic and therefore non-producers of refugees.

We support their statement:

“We cannot stand silent as people’s health is put in danger, and their right to Canadian citizenship cast into question due to their country of origin or mode of arrival.”


In search of greener pastures for Canada’s political landscape

July 2012

Being leader of Canada’s fifth political party is not the easiest way of getting the nation’s attention.

But that has not stopped Green Party chief Elizabeth May from making her presence felt in the hurly burly of Ottawa politics, even if the NDP, Liberals, and Bloc have priority in Question Period and with the media.

In May’s history-making first term as the Green MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands on Canada’s left coast, she’s making an impact with her incisive critique of Harper’s slash-and-burn approach to government.

There was so much “gotcha” stuff with which to potentially fault Harper that as summer neared we contacted her at home to inform and remind readers of the perilous track down which the Conservatives are taking the country.

We spoke to May at home in Sidney, B.C., 26 kilometres north of Victoria, where she is surrounded by the glorious natural heritage she is committed to protecting and preserving. She lives there with her teenage daughter.

She is outraged by what some describe as the most destructive pieces of legislation in Canadian history, innocuously known as Bill C-38.

To the Conservatives, the bill introduced April 26 was known as the “Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act.”

To May and many Canadians, it is a pernicious act that, among other things, makes it easier for tarsands pipelines and continued climate change and adds two years to get Old Age Security eligibility. It introduces, amends or repeals about 70 federal laws, without having allowed time for full debate.

May prides herself on being possibly the first MP to read it all, and becoming a “go-to” contact who spent time with rushed reporters “just to tell them what’s in the bill.”

“I was so shocked,” she recalled on her reaction after reading through it.

As a lawyer, environmental activist and author, May knew what she was talking about. She also knew the Ottawa Hill scene, how Question Period and media scrums work, what makes media headlines and why.

She worked in Ottawa on the creation of environmental law and policies in the 1970s, and in the 1980s with the Mulroney government, and notes that “important initiatives were undertaken and laws passed that Bill C-38 repealed.”

Elizabeth May and Spunky take a break from the hurly-burly of Parliament. Photo: Laura Keil, Rocky Mountain Goat News

“It’s been personally heartbreaking. It was like a drunk with a sledge hammer in terms of the kind of damage that was inflicted, and without that much forethought.”

The reaction crossed party lines, highlighted when four former federal fisheries ministers—two Conservatives and two Liberals—denounced the changes, saying they will irreparably harm fish habitat.

“They are totally watering down and emasculating the Fisheries Act,” said Tom Siddon, fisheries minister from 1985-90, supported by fellow Tory John Fraser, and Liberals Herb Dhaliwal and David Anderson.

Under the new regime, the Fisheries Act will protect only fish that support commercial, recreational or aboriginal fisheries, not the overall habitat including fresh water supplies and forest eco-systems.

The Environmental Protection Act was repealed, and replaced by a new act that May says will dilute environmental protection.

“No one is quite sure how it’s supposed to work, but it is quite clear that it will involve many fewer environmental reviews examining a narrower concept of environmental damage.”

It sounds technical, but here is the threat: Endangered species habitats and navigable waters, formerly protected by Environment Canada, will now come under the National Energy Board, whose priority is energy production and delivery.

“This is turning different laws on their head—devastation of minimal levels of prudent review in advance and of major projects,” May said.

But it doesn’t end there.

Under this legislation, Harper has scrapped the office of the inspector-general of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service, ostensibly to save $1 million.

That is the watchdog that since 1984 has been monitoring the activities of Canada’s spy agency and reporting to the minister in charge.

“The chief eyes and ears for the public safety minister to make sure that our domestic spy agency was not going rogue have been deleted,” May said.

That role will now be carried out by the Security Intelligence Review Committee, but critics, such as
University of Toronto intelligence expert Wesley Wark, doubt that it can produce the detailed annual reports the inspector-general had been providing.

These reports have cited CSIS for an increasing number of errors.

“If it makes mistakes, that can potentially impact on the civil liberties of Canadians who may find themselves subject, and perhaps wrongly, to CSIS investigation,” Wark has said.

Although the details are murky, May says it is opposed to a provision that allows American law enforcement agents onto Canadian territory to arrest Canadians under U.S. law.

When it comes to integrity, May notes the as-yet unsolved robo-calls scandal, and the “dozens” of reports she has received of fraudulent calls to registered voters in her riding that the location of polling stations had been changed.

She has speculated that her riding may have served as a “pilot project” in the 2008 election. Midway through the campaign the NDP candidate had dropped out, but too late to pull his name off the ballot.

The evening before the Oct. 14 vote, an automated phone message was received by “thousands of NDP supporters” suggesting they vote for the NDP non-candidate, who ended up with 3,667 votes.

Most of them would normally have gone to the Liberals, May noted, who lost to the Conservatives by 2,625 votes.

“Elections Canada and the RCMP never got to the bottom of this,” she said.

This brewing scandal comes amid concern about changes to many aspects of Canadian life under the cover of a 425-page budget bill– from new rules governing Employment Insurance to how the Food and Drug administration deals with products that have pesticides.

It can only add to growing cynicism about how we are governed, May said. Of 800 amendments proposed, not one was passed.

“This is absolutely an affront to common sense.”


Jujuy region alive with the sounds of silence: Humahuaca, Tilcara, Purmamarca

click here to view images of Humahuaca, Tilcara, Purmamarcas

July 2012

We left Salta, Argentina, to visit three northern villages in Jujuy province just south of the Bolivian border. We were advised by an English teacher we met in Salta to spend one night each in Humahuaca, Tilcara and Purmamarca, and that’s just what we did.

We arrived about 3:30 pm in Humahuaca and began to experience altitude sickness, manifested by increased heartbeat, fatigue, headache and shortness of breath. Other than that, we felt great and walked around till we found a café with a long inner courtyard where we had lunch. We left our bags there and began scouting for a one-night hotel on the silent streets (it was Christmas Eve), and found one right across the street.

It was a lovely little place with a bamboo roof, flowering courtyard and an attached, colourful restaurant. The manager told us she wouldn’t be there the next day and we should let ourselves out the “back door” and leave the key on the outside door of our room. No passports required. $40.

We walked around the town to where the outdoor vendors sell handmade crafts and bought a few pairs of mitts and some hats and scarves, which we would appreciate at home. We found a monumental memorial to the fallen in the War of Independence of the early 19th century. It was up 200 steps and we took lots of pictures from above and below.

We went back to our hotel and had dinner in the quaint little courtyard with thatched roof and bamboo booths. Irwin had lamb stew and I a vegetable quinoa soup and a plentiful, simple salad. Quinoa is the favourite carb here, served in everything from soups to salads to desserts, and which we would enjoy Tilcara in the form of a flan.

Everyone was gearing up for the Christmas Eve mass and, as we were to find out while sleeping, a barrage of firecrackers.

We walked to a nearby church only to see the locals pouring out. One young woman beamingly identified me as a ringer for her mother. In order to find out if this was a compliment, I asked the age of the mother and was relieved to learn she was 56.

The next morning we headed to the bus station to find out when we could leave for Tilcara and there was Cynthia, who suggested pictures with her second mother… and father. We told her about our altitude sickness and she recommended we chew coca leaves, just like the locals. She offered us a baggy and we began to chew.

Irwin reported soon after that his shortness of breath and headache were gone and for the duration of our visit, we chewed them or brewed them in tea. And we felt okay, although giddy at times. These are the leaves that were used in Coca-Cola before coca was declared illegal.

The next morning we saw ourselves out of our little courtyard and took a taxi, for $4, to the next village, 20 minutes away.

In Tilcara, I parked Irwin, woozy again, at a tiny bar with our two small but heavy bags on wheels, while I set off on foot to find a place to stay on Christmas Day. There were few hotels, but they were boarded up.

Finally I found a doorway with the sign “residencia” on the top, and knocked. A polite woman answered and told me in Spanish that she had a room available for the night at $30 with a separate bathroom, two little white doggies, and some little kids too, one named Patricio. All very homey and friendly. My Spanish definitely helped.

Tilcara is gorgeous, a village nestled between rows of treeless, jagged mountains in various shades of yellow ochre, rust, oranges and reds that change minute by minute.

Because it was Christmas Day, this artist’s colony was closed up but the square still had a few vendors selling local weaving such as sweaters and bags.

We found our favourite eatery on the plaza, Payla, a lovely place with bamboo roof but really modern and chose from the varied menu. Irwin had a meat and vegetable soup and I had a salad with quinoa, sprouted corn, goat cheese, small potatoes and tomatoes. The empanadas, offered everywhere, were the best we’d had. One was filled with meat and another with goat cheese and—guess what—quinoa.

We walked to the outskirts of town across the bridge of the muddy riverbed and took photos of the incredible mountains from all angles. The cacti are people-sized and between them artists have sculpted human-like shapes to keep them company.

The next morning we took a bus for a bumpy half-hour ride to Purmamarca, in some ways the best of the three villages.

We looked all around for a place to stay, but prices in the fancy hotels were more than $200 and far from the main square. Then we saw a dirt yard with a few tents and a sign that promised private rooms with bath, so we gingerly went in and took the room at the back for $30 with a comfortable bed and good bathroom. They even had a clothesline outside in the yard, so we caught up on our laundry.

We walked to the centre of town, a gorgeous little plaza surrounded by wooden wagon tables with older ladies selling multi-coloured handicrafts. Soon we were laden with small purses, lots of earrings, little dolls, key chains and a flute.

We had coffee and medialunas (half moons), known to us as croissants, served by Ariel and Ruben, 9 and 11, sons of the owner. Once the customers are served, they run around in the playground in the central square until they are needed again. Almost everyone here is indigenous,
descendants of the Inca who were conquered by the Spanish conquistadors. We were entertained later that night by indigenous musicians who told the story of the conquest and sang the song that Simon and Garfunkel covered, that starts, “I’d rather be a hammer than a nail … yes I would.”

We caught the bus for San Pedro de Atacama in Chile on the outskirts of the village and while we were waiting, we met two Chilean students studying in Buenos Aires who suggested a lovely beach town five hours south of near Antofagasto.

We will continue our South American saga with Chile, in the September issue. Have a good summer and enjoy your travels, wherever they may be.


No need for men to suffer alone

July 2012

In 1994, Pointe Claire resident Charles Curtis got the result from what was then a relatively new test for something called the PSA level in the blood.

Prostate specific antigen, PSA, is the substance produced almost exclusively by certain cells within the prostate gland.

When my own reading recently rose to six from four and my prostate gland was found to be slightly enlarged, the urologist suggested a biopsy to remove and examine 10 cells. They were benign. When Curtis, 84, had his first PSA reading, he remembers it exactly as 14.75.

“I was 66. I was fine, no symptoms. I had a biopsy and it was positive. “The options in those days were radiation—the broad type, not the new conformal direct beam—or surgery.”

That class of radiation therapy, which Curtis rejected, directs X-rays not only at the tumour but at nearby healthy tissue. Instead he opted for radical prostectomy—surgical removal of the prostate gland and some of the surrounding tissue.

“It was very successful in my case and I haven’t had any treatment since,” Curtis said.

Doctors are busy professionals, and Curtis remembers having many unanswered questions after his surgery.

The idea of a support group was initiated by his then-urologist, Irwin Kuzmarov, and Curtis be came an active member.

“The idea is to talk with newly diagnosed patients who usually have no information at all. That was our complaint at the time. We went national in ’95 with the Canadian Prostate Cancer network.”

The Montreal West Island group has been going strong since then. It meets once a month and 30 to 40 people attend to listen to guest speakers, ask questions and discuss issues. Some spouses attend.

“Doctors who speak to our group will take the time after their presentation to talk with people individually.”

It’s also a place for patients who have received biopsy results to air their concerns and discuss their options with professionals and other men who have gone through it.

“I have been living with this for 18 years, a prime example of ‘successful’ treatment.

“I answer the support group line every day and I usually have quite a long chat with newly diagnosed people. I have time, I’m retired.”

“Part of the treatment”

Prostate cancer, which may be controlled if detected early, can be as challenging to men as breast cancer is for women.

It raises social and psychological issues that can be overcome through learning about its characteristics and dialogue with professionals, best discussed in a peer group setting.

Irwin Kuzmarov, now director of professional and hospital services at Santa Cabrini and an assistant professor of surgery at McGill University, was instrumental in setting up one of the first support groups in the Montreal region, at the Lakeshore General Hospital.

“Men and their significant others needed to talk about their illness,” he said in a recent email.

Apart from fear about what lay ahead, patients needed “guidance through the maze of treatment options, the changes in their bodies, their feelings of masculinity, sexuality and sense of self-worth.”

Men need help to understand scores in the PSA test, the impact of radical surgery, less invasive laparoscopy or open surgery, Kuzmarov said.

There also are alternative therapies to surgery that can be explained by professionals.

Kuzmarov sees support groups as “part of the treatment.”

“They allowed people to express their triumphs and defeats, highs and lows. People could ask specialists what radiotherapy will do to them. Is urinary incontinence after radical prostatectomy normal? What should they do about their impotence? What exactly is hormonotherapy?”

Meetings were launched with other professionals, and Kuzmarov’s wife, Donna, a McGill counselor with expertise in setting up support groups.

• West Island Prostate Cancer Support Group: Meets the fourth Thursday of every month, September to June, at the Sarto Desnoyers, 1335 Lakeshore, Dorval. 514-694-6412.

• Jewish General Hospital: Ten-week courses, on Wednesdays. Isabelle Gregoire, 514-340-7558.

• Montreal Prostate Cancer Support Group: Second Monday of each month at CHUM Campus Notre Dame, Pav Mailloux. Carole Bourgon, 514-890-8000 x 28138.


Jewish General satisfaction dips, but so do bedsores

July 2012

The average satisfaction rate of patients at the Jewish General Hospital has been dropping marginally over the past two years, but it remains above the 80-per-cent level.

The satisfaction level dropped almost three percentage points—to 81.5 per cent in the April 2011 to March 2012 period from an average of 84.5 per cent during the previous 12 months.

The hospital, which says it is aiming at a 95-per-cent satisfaction level, interprets the results from both periods as a positive endorsement of the quality of medical care patients receive.

Quebec last year became the first province to publish a standardized list of medical errors reported by hospitals, community health clinics and nursing homes.

The Jewish General and McGill University Health Centre have gone farther than many other Quebec hospitals in detailing medical errors on their websites, which other hospitals have not yet done.

Scoring above 80 per cent in each six-month period “means that the JGH is doing a good job of meeting patients’ needs and expectations,” it said in a statement.

Patients were effectively saying “improvement is probably needed and should be seriously considered,” the hospital concluded.

The survey is based on answers from 70 randomly selected patients to a 26-part questionnaire filled out as they were discharged.

The hospital prides itself on having been the first in Quebec to make public performance information.

In other data made public in June:

• Reported medication errors averaged 947 during each six-month period from April 2010 to September 2011. Of these, an average of 139 required staff intervention to prevent harm, while an average of 12 resulted in “more severe consequences.”

• Reported patient falls averaged 429 during each six-month period from April 2010 to September 2011. Of these, an average of 157 resulted in “a small cut or bump” and did not prolong hospitalization, while an average of 11 caused “more serious injury.”

• Concerning bedsores, or pressure ulcer prevention, the hospital recorded its best documented result. From 25 per cent having developed this hazardous and irritating condition in March 2010—the Canadian average—the hospital by last month had reduced the prevalence of hospital-acquired bedsores to six per cent.

Steps taken included assessing patients’ skin on admission; developing a care plan for those at risk, including regular skin inspection; customizing patients’ diets to ensure sufficient protein and calories; encouraging mobile patients to get out of bed as often as possible; turning at-risk patients every two hours; and acquisition of specialized mattresses and chairs.


McKenty: A man for all seasons

July 2012

As long as he could remember, Neil McKenty was interested in writing. A teacher in grade school gave him a key piece of advice: “Find something to write about.” And he did.

At 9, he won his first oratorical contest, no doubt helped by his mother, Irene, a talented teacher.

His father, Arthur, owned a hardware store in the small town of Hastings, Ontario.

At 15, Neil signed on as a stringer for the Peterborough Examiner whose editor was Robertson Davies. He covered village council meetings, sports events, accidents, runaway horses, lawn bowling and Sunday afternoon teas. He was paid 10 cents a column inch.

Neil McKenty interviews Quebec legend Ginette Reno on CFCF TV’s McKenty Live. Photo courtesy of Catherine McKenty

He and his cousin bought an old Dodge car for $30, patched the leaky gas tank with bubble gum and put a big sign marked PRESS on the windshield. He learned about politics, prices and world affairs while sitting with the farmers on bales of twine around the glowing pot-bellied stove in front of nail kegs in his dad’s hardware store.

While studying with the Jesuits, he got one a master’s degree in history and another in communications from the University of Michigan.

In 1967, his biography of controversial Ontario premier Mitch Hepburn won the centennial prize for best biography.

I met Neil on a Toronto dance floor in 1971. At the time, he was finishing a three-year stint with the Foster Foundation, working with the Kennedys and Brian O’Neill of the National Hockey League to bring the Special Olympics to Canada.

He was looking for a new challenge. He found it.

Two weeks after our honeymoon, we moved lock, stock and barrel to Montreal.

Neil did his first editorial at CJAD hardly knowing where Peel and Ste. Catherine were.

With one part-time paycheque and no car, we explored this fascinating city by bus in all kinds of weather.

One bitter January day, we were waiting on a street corner near the Botanical Garden.

We decided then and there you had to join the Montreal winter or freeze to death, so we bought skis for $49 a pair at Eaton’s and slithered around Angrignon Park.

A member of the Laurentian Lodge Ski Club took pity on us and the result was some memorable friendships, including Jackrabbit Johannsen, and a book, Skiing Legends and the Laurentian Lodge Club, which Neil turned into a best-seller.

Skiing Legends of the Laurentian Lodge Club is available as an ebook through Amazon. All proceeds from Neil’s books go to scholarships for young journalism students. More details, stories, photographs and comments at Some CJAD tapes will soon be added.


Raging Grannies, bold and bare, fight fire with tears of laughter

July 2012

Contrary to what many believe, it is not having grandchildren the Raging Grannies have in common, since being a grandmother is not a prerequisite for membership.

What they share is an unyielding belief in certain values, the courage to fight for them and a great sense of humour. “The important thing is you care passionately about the issues we protest,” says Joan Hadrill, who has raged with the Montreal “gaggle” of Grannies for 23 years. “You have to care so much you don’t mind looking ridiculous when you’re out singing in the street.”

The Grannies protest against war and the arms race, land mines, pollution, bottled water, climate change, fracking and the exporting of asbestos while promoting human rights and social justice. However, they do not fight fire with fire, but with tears—of laughter. Through street theatre and satirical songs, dressed in flowery shawls and enormous floppy hats of all colours, the grannies have made their voices heard at key events since the first “gaggle” was founded in Victoria, B.C., in 1987.

Photo: Isabella Rosa Arnodei, Ella Photography

When the Montreal chapter recently heard that film-maker Magnus Isacsson needed financial support to complete his feature-length documentary chronicling the Grannies’ history and activities, they rallied and decided to go boldly where few grannies have gone before: They have published a 2013 calendar featuring the Grannies in their birthday suits ou presque, strategically posed behind the props they use when protesting.

The 2003 film Calendar Girls, starring Helen Mirren, was the inspiration, Hadrill said, noting that taking their clothes off was less difficult for the grannies than putting on high heels.

The calendar is a crash course in issues of concern, with each page featuring a humorous photograph with a serious message, and a “quick response” symbol leading the reader to a relevant website.

“Magnus has spent eight years filming the Grannies in Canada and the States, and he has a lot of footage,” Hadrill said. “Apart from the cost of the printer, all the proceeds go to him.”

With recent government cuts in art funding, $45,000 is still needed to complete the project. There are a few more scenes to shoot, including the Grannies’ “UN-convention” to be held in Victoria in August and which will also mark their 25th anniversary.

The calendar is available in N.D.G. at Maison Verte, at 10,000 Villages in Pointe Claire, by calling 514-697-4195, or at $20.