1.31.2008

vermont town calls for indictment and arrest of white house war criminals

In the town of Brattleboro, Vermont, this petition received enough votes to advance to a town-wide vote on March 4.
Shall the Selectboard instruct the Town Attorney to draft indictments against President Bush and Vice President Cheney for crimes against our Constitution, and publish said indictments for consideration by other authorities and shall it be the law of the Town of Brattleboro that the Brattleboro Police, pursuant to the above-mentioned indictments, arrest and detain George Bush and Richard Cheney in Brattleboro if they are not duly impeached, and prosecute or extradite them to other authorities that may reasonably contend to prosecute them?

The town's website has been besieged by wingnuts, so if you'd like to post a message of support, go here and click on "Your Comments".

The petition has no legal standing, of course. It's just a great idea.

And while we're in the nation of my birth, I'll break my self-imposed silence on the electoral goings-on to offer four words on Rudy Giuliani: I TOLD YOU SO!!

Apparently many people thought this man was really going to run for President of the United States! What a hoot.

New Yorkers know what Rudy is all about. You know, the people who actually lived through "America's mayor" [insert gagging noise here] as mayor? And yeah, the Republicans are going to nominate a pro-choice, Catholic, serial adulterer with two gay best friends. Sadly for us all, Republicans are not that stupid.

And now back to my boycott of the circus.

more truth on tasers

A study of Taser stun guns done in Chicago in 2006 refutes the manufacturer's about the weapons' safety. From CBC:
The team of doctors and scientists at the trauma centre in Chicago's Cook County hospital stunned 11 pigs with Taser guns in 2006, hitting their chests with 40-second jolts of electricity, pausing for 10 to 15 seconds, then hitting them for 40 more seconds.

When the jolts ended, every animal was left with heart rhythm problems, the researchers said. Two of the animals died from cardiac arrest, one three minutes after receiving a shock.

. . .

Bob Walker, one of the lead researchers on the Chicago study, said the fact that one of the pigs died three minutes after being stunned is significant.

"It says that the effect of the Taser shot can last beyond the time when it's being delivered," he said. "So, after the Taser shock ends, there can still be effects that can be evoked and you can still see cardiac effects."

This is also significant because up most so-called studies on Taser safety derive from one source: Taser Inc. When questioned about Taser safety, police departments all over North America simply quote their Taser-produced instruction manuals, and city governments nod their heads.

Tom Smith, chairman and CEO of Taser, was in Ottawa yesterday, defending his product to the House Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. The hearings were prompted by the tasering death of Robert Dziekanski, who was murdered by RCMP officers in the Vancouver airport in October.
Some of the most difficult questions came from Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh, who was attorney-general of British Columbia around the time that Victoria police became the first force in the country to try tasers.

Mr. Dosanjh asked Mr. Smith whether he was suggesting that tasers played absolutely no role in the 300 or so North American deaths that occurred after the device's use in the past few years. Mr. Smith said the use of tasers was deemed a contributing factor in only about 30 of the cases.

It was during subsequent questioning about Taser International's financial relationship with Canadian police officers that Mr. Smith revealed the company had paid two Canadian officers for services.

One of those officers, Darren Laur of the Victoria police, was compensated with Taser stock after designing a holster for the device. However, it was not publicly known that a second officer was paid until yesterday's hearing. After the session, Mr. Smith said he believes the second officer was from a Montreal police force and was paid to provide taser training in Europe because he could speak French.

Yesterday marked Mr. Smith's second Canadian public appearance this month. Two weeks ago, the Taser CEO was in Toronto, fielding questions at police headquarters. The Toronto Police Services Board is considering a request by Chief Bill Blair to spend about $8.6-million to equip and train every front-line officer with a taser.

A research analyst covering Taser International said a resulting purchase may be worth more than $3-million in revenue for the company. However, it is unclear when, or if, the deal will go ahead.

As usual, there's big money to be made from deadly force. And potentially big corruption, too.

The best source I've found for information on Taser use - and advocacy against its deadly use - is Truth Not Tasers. TNT's statement:
1) The safety implications of Tasers require urgent independent and unbiased study.

2) Until such time as independent and unbiased study into the safety implications of Tasers has been properly completed, a moratorium must be imposed upon these weapons.

3) If, after independent and unbiased study has been completed, the Taser is going to remain in the police arsenal, it must be placed at a level equal to lethal force on the continuum of force and used only as a second-to-last resort.

4) Safety standards must be developed for Tasers. There are currently no Canadian safety standards in place for this weapon.

5) Police must not be allowed to investigate themselves but must be subject to independent and unbiased civilian oversight.

6) Families of people who die in police custody in Canada must be provided with funding so that they may be properly represented by legal counsel.

An important list, worthy of our support.

I'm not sure where that leaves us with wackos like this: a man in Portland, Oregon used a taser on his 18-month-old son. He wanted to toughen him up. And this is a weapon people can own in their own homes, no questions asked. People like this make me question my core belief on reproductive freedom. (Child abuse story from James. Beautiful pictures of some non-abused canine babies on his blog!)

1.30.2008

james bow endorses wmtc for best progressive blog

Thank you very much to Bow. James Bow. for choosing wmtc for Best Progressive Blog in the Canadian Blog Awards. It's not exactly a run-don't-walk endorsement, but I very much appreciate the mention.

Today is the last day to vote.

the omnivore's dilemma: a natural history of four meals

I haven't had a chance to blog about The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, which I wrote about here, and finished last week. It's a fascinating book, remarkable in many ways.

Think about food. Brainstorm every aspect of food in our lives, and that's what this book is about: the political, moral, ethical, philosophical, environmental, social, cultural, and even spiritual aspects of the entire food chain.

Pollan touches on anthropology, biology, nutrition and human health, human psychology, animal behaviour, cultural norms, humans' relationship to nature and the animal world (both over time and across cultures), philosophy, cooking, and undoubtedly several disciplines that I haven't named. The book is often described as being about "everything in the world," and now I can understand why. Pollan is saying, in a sense, that how we get our nourishment - the choices we make, both individually and as a society - is intimately connected to everything in the world.

This dense melange is structured through four meals, derived from four different food chains: industrial, organic, hunted-gathered, and a fourth Pollan discovers during his research, best called "industrial organic". He traces each meal back through its chain, and through that journey, shows us the true origins and costs of our food.

In an entirely fascinating book, I want to highlight two areas that were particularly fascinating to me.

Pollan spends a lot of time at Polyface Farm, run by Joel Salatin of Viriginia. Through an amazingly ingenious plan, and extremely labour-intensive methods, Salatin runs a farm that is completely self-sustaining and uses virtually no fossil fuels. Chickens, cows, pigs, and - especially, above all, grass - all fertilize, feed and sustain each other. It is the healthiest environment imaginable: for the earth, for the animals and for the people who consume its products.

Salatin is a radical, and fully conceives of his work as socially and politically radical, as well as spiritual. (He is a devout Christian, and his farming is an expression of his faith.) Omnivore's Dilemma is worth reading for the trip to Joel Salatin's farm alone.

Another intensely interesting thread involved the meal that Pollan created entirely from ingredients that he had hunted and gathered himself. (Pollan is not suggesting this as a viable method of eating in the modern world. It was more of an educational exercise for him and for us.)

In this section, I had to ask myself, Did I know that fungi are neither plant nor animal? I must have known this once upon a time, but forgot. (That's my answer to everything now.) When I cook or eat mushrooms, I think of them as vegetables. But they are not. They are a third form of life, neither animal nor vegetable, and humans understand very little about them.

Well, I just learned something about mushrooms. And if that sounds dull, read this book and you'll change your mind.

* * * *

I have been reading Michael Pollan's work in magazine form for many years, but I had been avoiding reading The Omnivore's Dilemma for two reasons.

One, I had the impression Pollan had drifted into a very elitist sphere, disconnected from the reality of most ordinary people's lives - something along the lines of lecturing people who work at Wal-Mart on the importance of buying organic strawberries for $4.00 a pint.

This was unfounded. The world Pollan would build would be a healthier world for everyone. Food would cost more, that is true. But one of the central points of this book is that modern food prices are artificially low, and we never see the true cost of those low prices. Wresting food production from industrial control, educating people on nutrition, making more healthy choices available, would benefit everyone.

And since the people most directly affected by environmental degradation, unsafe labour conditions and other related ills, are low-income people, a healthier food chain would directly benefit the world's poor.

The other reason I was avoiding reading this book was more personal. In a sense I was avoiding it for the same reason I wanted to read it. I knew it would lead me to make changes in my own shopping, cooking and eating habits.

For a long time, I've been troubled by contributing to factory farming by buying and eating factory-farmed meat, but I haven't done anything about it. Now I'm finally ready to.

When I was growing up and throughout my young-adulthood, I was very prone to all-or-nothing thinking. It's a great way to paralyze yourself into inaction. Every decision becomes impossibly weighty, because it carries with it your entire future.

One of my biggest areas of growth as an adult has been moving away from that all-or-nothing trap. For many years now, I've understood the value of making incremental changes. I encourage myself (and others) to be flexible, and to remember that doing anything is better than doing nothing. Every step in a positive direction is worth taking, all by itself.

With these lessons foremost in my mind, I'm now investigating where I can buy pasture-raised meat. It won't be a perfect system, as (for various boring reasons) we'll mainly do this in the warmer months when we make dinner on the barbecue grill almost every night. And it won't effect food we eat in restaurants.

But it will be a positive action, and it may lead to other positive actions, and it's a step I'm ready to take.

* * * *

Michael Pollan has a new book out, called In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. But if you haven't read him yet, I think you'll want to read Omnivore's Dilemma first.

1.29.2008

racism has a new code word: canadian

Have you seen this yet? "In the U.S. south, is Canadian a new racial slur?" It's not anti-Canadian: it's a new racist code word.

People discuss its possible origins here.

Thanks to my researcher-in-chief. (Please don't forget to vote for Joy of Sox!) (And wmtc, while you're at it!)

olivia chow and bob rae say let them stay!



it's tala day!

dogs in the sun 10

One year ago, we brought Tala home.

Tala started out life in Tennessee, then was taken by a rescue group to Ohio. Next she was adopted by Husky Savers in western New York State. From there, it was only a short drive to Mississauga. Tennessee to Ohio to New York to Canada: she was on the Underground Railroad!

For a long time after we lost Buster, we didn't want another dog. Our six years with our emotionally damaged and physically frail pit-mix left us exhausted and bereft. His death left a tremendous void, but it was also liberating (something I was loathe to admit at the time). Our life was suddenly so much easier, and we were in no rush to change that.

Then one day, about a year later, I felt our family just wasn't complete. When I mentioned this to Allan, he told me he had been thinking the same thing. We made the leap, and it's been even more rewarding that we imagined.

It had been such a long time since we had a healthy, young dog! Buster was never that, and Cody was always a cat dressed up in a dog costume. That means we're going back to our first dogs, in the late 80s and early 90s.

And through all those years, we lived in an apartment. Having a bundle of energy that needs a ton of exercise is a whole lot easier when you live in a house with a big backyard. So not only has it been a terrific year, it's been a lot less work than we remembered.

Tala has brought so much joy into our lives. She's very smart, funny, mischievous and super affectionate. She keeps us smiling and laughing all day long. Even Cody loves her now.

meeting tala 08
Tala Bobala
Also known as: Talabo, The Bobala, T-bo, Skinny-Face Jones, Skinny Face, Skin, Little T, Little Bo, and sometimes just The Evil One. But in a good way.

Tala and Cody are both enjoying winter, but you know we're all waiting for the spring. Remember this?

1.28.2008

moral illogic: supporting peace, but not war resistance

Wmtc readers, once again, I ask for your help.

You helped me find my way in my new country when I thought Canadian Tire sold only tires and a Green P was a choice of side dish. You taught me strange expressions like Meech Lake Accord and Arrogant Worms. You comforted us when we lost our dearest Buster, and cheered for us when we found jobs. You helped me fashion my comment policy and keep this blog free of trolls.

You're an intelligent lot, with a strong moral compass and finely tuned bullshit detectors. So once again, I ask you to explain something to me.

A person claims to oppose the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. He (I'll use "he" for argument's sake) claims to "100% oppose" the Resident and the current US agenda. He claims to want peace.

Yet he also says, "Soldiers sign contracts, and they have to do what they're told. It's up to civilians to end the war. But until it ends, if soldiers refuse orders, they must pay the consequences, whatever the US determines that to be."

I ask you, knowing...

... how military recruiters lie,

... how soldiers are involuntarily re-enlisted ("stop-lossed"),

... how under the internationally recognized Nuremberg Principles, a perpetrator of war crimes is responsible for his own behaviour, that "I was under orders" is not a legal excuse, and that international law supersedes the orders of any sovereign nation,

... how the Uniform Code of Military Justice says a soldier has a right and a duty to refuse to obey illegal orders,

... how history shows that there will never be a shortage of people to blindly follow orders, with horrific results, but there has always been a shortage of moral courage to refuse immoral orders,

...knowing all this, tell me how can a person who claims to oppose the war also claim that all soldiers must continue serving, or else go to prison?

Please explain this to me.

1.27.2008

let them stay: saturday's event in toronto (now with photos)

Yesterday's event was awesomely fabulous! As one Campaigner said: we kicked out the jams.

The plan was fairly complicated, but everyone played their parts perfectly, and the whole thing ran very smoothly. The Bloor Street United Church was packed with supporters, and best of all, most of them were new faces. All but a small handful of people stayed until the end.

The speakers were in turn moving, inspiring and uplifting. I won't try to list them all, because I'll surely leave someone out. But I think the crowd was especially affected by hearing war resisters themselves speak. Their stories are so moving, you feel awed by their presence. Sara Marlowe, a singer and songwriter who is a central Campaigner, was the emcee, and she did an amazing job of pulling everything together and keeping the event moving briskly.

When the speeches concluded, Jamine Aponte, one of our incredible organizers (who is married to a war resister), announced the letter writing. As she got the crowd pumped, Campaigners fanned out with the materials we had assembled. A slide show helped with talking points and names, and Chris Brown played while everyone worked on their letters. No one left during the letter-writing, which was really cool to see.

For a while everyone was just scribbling away. Then the doors flew open, a whistle broke the silence, and Samba Elegua came a-banging in. The samba squad led all the people - and their letters - off to the post office. I stayed at the church to staff the lobby table (donations were pouring in), but I heard the short march was really high-spirited and fun.

Later, while celebrating at a pub, we heard reports from rallies in Ottawa, Vancouver and elsewhere: all smashing successes.

There were tons of media there yesterday, including CBC Radio, CTV, CityTV and Global. Global did a very positive story that included a brief clip from our Victoria chapter, showing this to be a national campaign. If you go here and choose "resisting with letters," you can watch it.

Here's coverage from: the Sudbury Star, the Toronto Sun, the London (Ontario) Free Press and the Ottawa Sun. Rabble.ca posted this first-person account from a resister.

About the demonstrations at Canadian Consulates in the US, the CBC website had this report, and this account from San Francisco - including an excellent photo - was posted on Bay Area IndyMedia.

Allan photographed the Toronto event for the Campaign, but we're working today and haven't been able to post the photos. I did get a link to this beautiful slide show of the event - which includes a photo of Tom from Canadian Hope mailing his letter! Nick from Life Without Borders is half-hidden behind Tom. (I was so happy they came to the event.)

Now it's up to Stéphane Dion. Will he stand for the illegal, immoral war, or stand behind people of conscience?

Posts on something other than war resisters coming soon, I promise!

* * * *

Photos from the Toronto event are here, here, here and here.

1.26.2008

let them stay: war resisters on common dreams

Common Dreams ran my piece about the war resisters. I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to reach a wider audience on this issue.

If you've come here through Common Dreams, welcome. No new post today, as I can't think about anything but today's event.

Don't forget to write your letters! Thank you.

1.25.2008

let them stay: today and tomorrow, u.s. and canada

A final reminder: today in the U.S., and tomorrow in Canada, there are important events in support of Iraq War resisters in Canada.

In the US, Courage to Resist, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out, and the thousands of peace groups belonging to United for Peace and Justice will hold vigils and demonstrations outside Canadian Consulates in San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, Washington DC, New York, Minneapolis and Dallas.

In Canada, there will be events in: Toronto, Vancouver, Halifax, Saskatoon, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Marathon, Ottawa, Grand Forks, Nelson, Victoria.

If you can't attend any of these, you can still help the resisters. We need you to do one thing, and to do it now: write to Stéphane Dion.

Make it a handwritten letter. It doesn't have to be lengthy or especially eloquent.

Tell Mr Dion that you support US war resisters in Canada. Tell him you want an immediate end to deportation proceedings against all war resisters and conscientious objectors. Tell him you want the Liberal Party to support a resolution that will allow the resisters to gain legal status in Canada.

Then, if you have time, write the same letter to Stephen Harper, and to Diane Finley, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

Names and addresses are here; you don't even need postage.

This letter-writing campaign is not an empty exercise. Through this concerted effort and the persistent lobbying of the Support Campaign, we have seen support for the war resisters among Parliamentarians steadily increase. Most of the key Liberals are now on board. We are waiting on Dion to give the official green light.

I urge you to write a letter this weekend.

Deportation proceedings have already begun against four resisters, two with young children. When the Canadian Parliament resumes on January 29, we want Dion to have received thousands of letters, all demanding one thing: Let Them Stay.

During the Vietnam War, at least 50,000 – possibly as many as 80,000 – Americans came to Canada to escape the draft or because they did not want to live in a country that was perpetrating such an immoral, needless war. What many people don't know is that Canada did not immediately allow the Vietnam resisters to stay. The Canadian peace movement campaigned on behalf of the resisters and pressured their government to do the right thing. Finally, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau said, "Canada should be a refuge from militarism."

Once again, Canadians are calling on Canada to be a refuge from militarism. You can help make this happen.

935 paths to war

There was an AP story this week, picked up by many news outlets, about the lies the Cheney Administration disseminated in order to justify the invasion of Iraq. The original study, by the Center for Public Integrity, deserves a deeper look.

The study is called "The War Card: Orchestrated Deception on the Path to War". This is the best kind of investigative journalism, work that methodically quantifies and proves. The liars can try to wriggle off the hook, but they have been skewered by facts.

All power tries to rewrite history. The more total the power, the more pervasive the rewrite. In our times the airbrushes appear with Orwellian speed, trying to tell us that what we know, really isn't so. That's why we need to constantly document the truth, and save it, cling to it, insist upon it.

From the overview:
President George W. Bush and seven of his administration's top officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, made at least 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Nearly five years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an exhaustive examination of the record shows that the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.

On at least 532 separate occasions (in speeches, briefings, interviews, testimony, and the like), Bush and these three key officials, along with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan, stated unequivocally that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (or was trying to produce or obtain them), links to Al Qaeda, or both. This concerted effort was the underpinning of the Bush administration's case for war.

It is now beyond dispute that Iraq did not possess any weapons of mass destruction or have meaningful ties to Al Qaeda. This was the conclusion of numerous bipartisan government investigations, including those by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (2004 and 2006), the 9/11 Commission, and the multinational Iraq Survey Group, whose "Duelfer Report" established that Saddam Hussein had terminated Iraq's nuclear program in 1991 and made little effort to restart it.

In short, the Bush administration led the nation to war on the basis of erroneous information that it methodically propagated and that culminated in military action against Iraq on March 19, 2003. Not surprisingly, the officials with the most opportunities to make speeches, grant media interviews, and otherwise frame the public debate also made the most false statements, according to this first-ever analysis of the entire body of prewar rhetoric.

President Bush, for example, made 232 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and another 28 false statements about Iraq's links to Al Qaeda. Secretary of State Powell had the second-highest total in the two-year period, with 244 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and 10 about Iraq's links to Al Qaeda. Rumsfeld and Fleischer each made 109 false statements, followed by Wolfowitz (with 85), Rice (with 56), Cheney (with 48), and McClellan (with 14).

The massive database at the heart of this project juxtaposes what President Bush and these seven top officials were saying for public consumption against what was known, or should have been known, on a day-to-day basis. This fully searchable database includes the public statements, drawn from both primary sources (such as official transcripts) and secondary sources (chiefly major news organizations) over the two years beginning on September 11, 2001. It also interlaces relevant information from more than 25 government reports, books, articles, speeches, and interviews.

. . . .

In addition to their patently false pronouncements, Bush and these seven top officials also made hundreds of other statements in the two years after 9/11 in which they implied that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or links to Al Qaeda. Other administration higher-ups, joined by Pentagon officials and Republican leaders in Congress, also routinely sounded false war alarms in the Washington echo chamber.

The cumulative effect of these false statements — amplified by thousands of news stories and broadcasts — was massive, with the media coverage creating an almost impenetrable din for several critical months in the run-up to war. Some journalists — indeed, even some entire news organizations — have since acknowledged that their coverage during those prewar months was far too deferential and uncritical. These mea culpas notwithstanding, much of the wall-to-wall media coverage provided additional, "independent" validation of the Bush administration's false statements about Iraq.

It concludes:
Bush and the top officials of his administration have so far largely avoided the harsh, sustained glare of formal scrutiny about their personal responsibility for the litany of repeated, false statements in the run-up to the war in Iraq. There has been no congressional investigation, for example, into what exactly was going on inside the Bush White House in that period. Congressional oversight has focused almost entirely on the quality of the U.S. government's pre-war intelligence — not the judgment, public statements, or public accountability of its highest officials. And, of course, only four of the officials — Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz — have testified before Congress about Iraq.

Short of such review, this project provides a heretofore unavailable framework for examining how the U.S. war in Iraq came to pass. Clearly, it calls into question the repeated assertions of Bush administration officials that they were the unwitting victims of bad intelligence.

Above all, the 935 false statements painstakingly presented here finally help to answer two all-too-familiar questions as they apply to Bush and his top advisers: What did they know, and when did they know it?

There are links to each person in the junta who spread the propaganda, the principal lies that they told, and a correlation between those lies and public opinion. Because, as the report mentions, these liars had a lot of help, as their lies were "amplified by thousands of news stories and broadcasts".

George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz: mass murderers. Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan: their paid assassins.

To date, there have been almost 90,000 documented Iraqi civilian deaths, and almost 4,238 combined "coalition" deaths (3,931 US).

The formula:

WarCardChart

plus

fox news

and

nyt logo

and

cnn

equals

war

and

iraq dead

and

one price of iraq

Incidentally, that last photo was made public by an employee of a Pentagon contractor, who snapped the photo in Germany and released it to the Seattle Times. She and her husband were both subsequently fired.

Lies, and the power to make the truth go away.

1.24.2008

many canadian women lack access to reproductive health services

... And second, health columnist André Picard writes about the state of reproductive freedom in Canada. Although abortion remains legal here, access is questionable - or nonexistent - for many Canadian women. Women in Eastern Canada, and especially rural women all over Canada, face a shortage of abortion services, as they do shortages of health providers in general.
On Saturday night in Toronto and at a number of events across the country in coming days, women will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the momentous Morgentaler decision.

And celebrate they should, all the while remembering that much remains to be done to ensure that reproductive choice exists in this country.

On Jan. 28, 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the country's abortion law and ended the prosecution (or rather state-sanctioned persecution) of Montreal doctor Henry Morgentaler.

As the late Madam Justice Bertha Wilson wrote in the judgment, a woman has a right to continue or terminate a pregnancy, free of state interference.

No law is necessary because no law can do justice to this deeply personal decision.

"It is not just a medical decision," Judge Wilson wrote. "It is a profound social and ethical one as well. It asserts that a woman's capacity to reproduce is to be subject not to her control, but to that of the state."

Since then, Canada's approach has been hailed as a model for ensuring safe, legal abortion - and it is, at least on paper.

While there are, theoretically, no restrictions on abortion, the number of abortions has not increased.

In fact, the number of abortions has held steady over all, and the teen abortion rate has actually fallen.

Each year in Canada, there are about 330,000 lives births and 110,000 abortions.

Despite what you see in Hollywood movies, the vast majority of those having abortions are not teens, but women in their 20s and 30s. They have, almost universally, exercised their freedom of choice judiciously, law or no law.

While the highest court ruled that the state has no place in the uteruses of the nation, the state does have a role in the provision of medically necessary health services, of which abortion is one.

Yet our health system - from the politicians who oversee it to the policy makers and administrators through to the physicians and nurses who should provide non-judgmental care in public institutions - has largely failed women who seek abortions.

The failings are many and varied, but revolve principally around lack of access to timely care.

In short, the arbitrary rules that have crept into the system in the past two decades make a mockery of the Supreme Court ruling.

In Canada, fewer than one in five hospitals perform abortions. One province, Prince Edward Island, offers no abortion services at all. Another, New Brunswick, has created unjustified (and likely unconstitutional) barriers to access, requiring referrals from two doctors.

In the nation's capital, Ottawa, the wait time for an abortion stretches to six weeks, a perversity. (If there is one area of care for which there should be a wait-time guarantee, it is abortion, obviously a time-sensitive procedure.)

But the greatest injustice is that faced by Canadian women living outside major metropolitan centres, particularly those in the North.

Virtually every hospital and clinic offering abortion services in Canada is located within 150 kilometres of the U.S. border, and there is not a single abortion provider north of the Trans-Canada Highway in Ontario.

A woman in northern Manitoba, for example, needs to travel about 20 hours to access the nearest in-province abortion provider. For women in the three territories, travel can be an insurmountable obstacle.

Abortion should be covered by medicare but, in reality, it is expensive. If a woman opts for an abortion in a private clinic - something that is often necessary given the lack of service offered in hospitals - she must pay out of pocket and be reimbursed. (This policy was recently struck down by the courts in Quebec, which deemed that medicare should foot the bill, regardless of where the procedure is done.)

Worse yet, if a woman travels out of province or to the United States - which, again, many women are forced to do because of lack of timely access domestically - she will not be reimbursed at all.

Further, Canadian women wanting to terminate a pregnancy have no option other than surgical abortion.

Drug-induced abortion - the method of choice of about one-third of women in Europe and the United States - is not even available in Canada. Mifepristone (brand name Mifeprex, also known as RU-486) is a safe, proven alternative, and its lack of availability in Canada is a scandal.

Between the legalization of abortion in 1969 and its complete decriminalization in 1988, women fought many tough battles.

Yes, it is time to celebrate.

But there are many more battles to be fought to ensure choice is not only theoretical but real.

Too bad the public is so complacent about this important issue. Thankfully, there is a new generation of women who are redefining the struggle.

"if this is normal procedure, we're all in trouble"

I'm trying to write something for publication about this weekend's War Resister Support Campaign events, so I must neglect the blog for a bit. In lieu of thinking too much, I'll pass along two good pieces I saw in today's Globe and Mail.

First, Gary Mason, who writes consistently and strongly against police abuse, has an excellent column on Willow Kinloch, the teenage girl who was brutalized while held in a Victoria jail cell three years ago, when she was 15 years old.
In some ways, it's even more disturbing than the video of a defenceless Robert Dziekanski being tasered to death.

Except Willow Kinloch is alive to talk about it.

All I can say is the just-released video of what happened to then-15-year-old Ms. Kinloch in a Victoria jail cell three years ago sickens me still. And I can't believe most right-minded Canadians won't feel the same way once they see it.

The back story is as follows: Ms. Kinloch was drinking with friends in a Victoria-area park one evening in May, 2005. Intoxicated, she was arrested by police and taken to jail. It was there, police say, that she was placed in a windowless, padded cell after she'd become combative and verbally abusive. Inside the cell, she screamed and cried hysterically, police say, while punching and kicking the cell door.

She was not handcuffed or restrained in any way.

Four hours later, Ms. Kinloch was deemed sober enough to be taken home. The buzzer in the apartment building where her parents lived wasn't working. It was about 4 a.m. at this point, so police decided to take Ms. Kinloch back to the police station until someone could come to pick her up later.

The four-hour time-lapse video released this week by Ms. Kinloch's lawyer shows a police matron entering the padded cell in which the young girl is being held. She asks the girl to take off her bra and shoes. Ms. Kinloch takes off her bra. She looks perfectly calm. Then she kicks off a shoe, sending it into the corner of the cell. At this point the matron pushes Ms. Kinloch up against the wall and grabs her neck.

Two male officers rush in and pin Ms. Kinloch to the floor, handcuffing her hands behind her back. A third male officer enters with nylon leash, which is used to bind Ms. Kinloch's feet together. Now she is effectively hogtied. The leash is slipped through the bottom of the cell door, which is then locked.

Over the next couple of hours, Ms. Kinloch moves around on the cell floor in an effort to find some comfort. She is kept in this state for four hours before she is released.

Before she is, her lawyer says, Ms. Kinloch is informed she is being charged with assault stemming from her brief struggle with the police matron who shoved her against the cell wall.

Of course, none of this surfaces at the time. It stays hush-hush while Ms. Kinloch hires a lawyer who subsequently informs the police his client is planning to sue for damages stemming from her treatment in the jail cell. Attempts to reach an out-of-court settlement drag on for months and, eventually, a few years. But the Victoria police stick to their position that their actions were justified.

With the case set to go to trial in June, Ms. Kinloch decided to go public with her story this week and release the never-seen-before surveillance video of the incident.

So here we are, with more than a few questions needing to be answered, starting with: What were the three male police officers thinking, using such abusive and heavy-handed tactics to restrain a 15-year-old female teenager who wasn't a physical threat to anyone?

Willow Kinloch is less than five feet tall. At 15, she probably weighed 90 pounds, if that. Yet police felt they had to handcuff her hands behind her back and then tether her feet - for four hours? How can police say they used "reasonable force" given the circumstances? How can what they did to a 15-year-old waif who had apparently sobered up from her once-drunken state be anyone's definition of reasonable force?

How common is this tethering practice anyway? Victoria police must lock up belligerent drunks all the time. How often do they handcuff their hands behind their back and bind their feet together with a leash?

I think we should know.

It's been reported that once the Crown had an opportunity to view the surveillance tape a few years ago, it decided to drop the assault charges against Ms. Kinloch, now 18. I guess so. To my eye, the only person being assaulted in the video is Ms. Kinloch.

I can't believe management at the Victoria Police Department knew about this case and didn't discipline the officers involved. I can't believe the police sat on this video for three years. Even if Ms. Kinloch was planning to sue and there was a chance the case could go to trial, there was nothing preventing the police from releasing the video and coming clean about what happened that night.

In my opinion, the tape is every bit as damaging as one you might see of a group of police officers beating up a suspect. And if we found out that the police were sitting on a video like that, we'd be up in arms. If Ms. Kinloch hadn't sued, giving her lawyer access to the jail cell surveillance footage, I bet we never would have seen this video or heard about this incident.

Just because Ms. Kinloch didn't die doesn't make the actions of the police any less wrong. No, she wasn't an angel. She was no doubt belligerent and, like most drunk teenagers, not a pile of fun to handle. But if the police believe inhumane treatment like this is somehow justified in this case, we're all in trouble.

This page at the Globe and Mail contains links to both videos.

1.23.2008

"i object": three generations of war resistance

A few nights ago, Allan and I attended "I Object: Three Generations of War Resisters Speak Out".

The panel, organized by a Toronto community peace group, featured Frank Showler, a conscientious objector from World War II, Tom Riley, a draft resister from the Vietnam War (now a organizer with the War Resisters Support Campaign), and Phil McDowell, a current war resister seeking refuge in Canada.

It was a fascinating evening, and a hopeful one, as everyone in the room in some way or another was a person who stands for peace. I was especially interested in Mr Showler's story.

Showler was moved by his Christian faith to seek alternative service when Canada entered World War II. As a conscientious objector, he joined Mennonites, Brethren, Quakers and other "peace-churchers" throughout Canada, but he himself worshipped with the United Church of Canada, the mainstream church.

Showler said when war first erupted in Europe, the United Church was opposed to Canada entering the war, because, their statement said, "War is contrary to the mind of Christ". But when Canada entered the war, Church officialdom rethought that statement. I guess Jesus changed his mind.

Some United Church ministers did not reverse their anti-war position, and some of those were able to retain their congregations, too. Showler was greatly influenced by his own minister, and clearly still believes opposition to war is his Christian duty.

As I'm not a Christian, and I'm not a pacifist (opposed to all violence and war, by definition), Showler's very principled stance gives me a lot to think about. I am very interested in people who are moved by religious faith to work for social justice. People of faith have been part of progressive movements throughout history and throughout the world. Although I am not one of them, it's something I wish every progressive person (and all atheists) would remember.

Showler gave us an interesting statistic. I don't have a source for this, but I also have no reason to doubt it. In World War I, he said, civilian casualties were estimated to be at about 10%. Meaning, 10% of all casualties were civilians. In World War II, including the atomic annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, civilian casualties were about 50%. In Vietnam, they were estimated to be about 75%. In Iraq, 85-90% of deaths are civilians.

War itself has gotten more worse.

Tom Riley, originally from the US (but with one Canadian-born parent) did not evade the Vietnam War for political reasons. He was not particularly political. He simply didn't want to die, and he didn't want to kill. Tom remembered his first Christmas in Canada, when he couldn't go home to his family. He's not one for hyperbole, and said simply, "It was very hard."

Once in Canada, seeing the US from an outside perspective, he gradually became more political. Now his main focus is helping the Iraq War resisters remain safely and legally in Canada. I could hear in Tom's voice and his words, his deep passion for this cause, which I share.

Phil McDowell joined the US Army after September 11th, because he thought it was the right thing to do. When he was shipped to Iraq, he still believed that Saddam Hussein had a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction, and that there was a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda.

Serving in Iraq, Phil realized the entire pretense for the war was a lie. He also witnessed terrible human-rights abuses and felt he was complicit in them. A communications specialist, Phil knew that as he did his job (keeping the base's computers running), he made it possible for the perpetrators of those war crimes to do their jobs. He finished his tour in Iraq and was honourably discharged.

Until the Army called him back.

Phil was "stop-lossed," involuntarily re-enlisted, one of the US's many ways of avoiding the politically untenable - but militarily unavoidable - draft. Phil researched every possible legal avenue for not returning to Iraq, but found only dead ends.

Phil had never broken the law, and had never considered taking such a drastic step as leaving his country. After much soul-searching, he and his partner Jamine Aponte packed their car and headed north.

* * * *

After all three spoke, I asked Mr Showler if he had encountered any opposition to his resistance. After all, this was "the good war". Canada fought on the side of good, versus a clear evil. He said he didn't remember anyone saying anything to him. I thought: only in Canada.

I know something about American war resisters in the first World War: they were violently attacked, their homes were destroyed, they were thrown in jail for their beliefs. And that was World War I! I think, only in a place as (generally) civil and tolerant as Canada could conscientious objection to World War II not meet with violent opposition.

Now, again, Canada's civility and tolerance - and its commitment to peace - is being put to the test.

Tom Riley noted that, in his day, there was outspoken, widespread opposition to the Vietnam War, and tens of thousands of people were leaving the US to avoid the draft. By contrast, Iraq War Resisters go against a repressive climate in the US, and are far more alone. I still feel what Tom and others did during Vietnam was very brave, but I share his enormous admiration for the bravery of the Iraq War Resisters.

Another Campaign member told the audience that helping the war resisters stay in Canada is a concrete step they could each take to help end the war. And it's true. Every soldier who removes themselves from the US occupation of Iraq is a loud voice for truth, justice, peace and democracy. If we stand for peace, it's our duty to stand beside them. When Canada allows the Iraq War Resisters safe asylum, it will invigorate the US peace movement as nothing has since Vietnam.

I can't even contemplate Canada allowing the resisters to be deported. Right now we are teetering on the brink. Four resisters, including two with young children, face deportation, with many more waiting for the potentially bad news. In the US, they face jail time (in a military prison) and a "bad conduct discharge" - a felony offense. No one should go to prison for refusing to kill.

Please help.

Join us this Saturday. If you can't make it on Saturday, write a letter to Stephen Harper, Stéphane Dion and to your MP.

Let them stay.

teenage movies, teenaged mothers

We saw "Superbad" last night, perhaps the last people in Canada to see the movie. The writers are Canadians, and famously began writing a script together when they were 13, which eventually turned into Superbad.

As the movie was hyped out of all proportion here, and I was prepared to be disappointed - but I loved it. (We both did.) It was hilarious, sweet, and very well written and well acted. Superbad is created from a classic mold - our heroes go out into the big scary world to have adventures, and find their way home safely, lessons learned. The characters are believable and appealing; even when they're acting horribly, you only cringe for their innocence and naivete, you never dislike them.

I love good teenage movies, and I find so few that really work for me, and this did.

Now the teenage movie that everyone in Canada is talking about is "Juno". Ellen Page, the young star who was just nominated for an Academy Award, grew up in Halifax, and Michael Cera, of Superbad fame, is also Canadian.

I keep hearing and reading how sweet this movie is. Too bad I won't see it.

I can't bring myself to see a movie celebrating teenage pregnancy, and assuming - in typical Hollywood fashion - that abortion is not an option.

I've been pleased to see this phenomenon documented everywhere I turn. In the Globe and Mail, Judith Timson asks "When did abortion become a dirty word again?" (Answer: In 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected.) Macleans asks "Suddenly teen pregnancy is cool?"

Antonia Zerbisias, writing in the Toronto Star, notes that
But, just when the hit movie Juno debuted last month, the news about the climbing teen birth rate hit the headlines. Everybody began drawing connections to celeb baby mania and the recent spate of other flicks about unplanned pregnancies (Knocked Up, Waitress, Bella, Quinceañera) that end so cute you want to have morning sickness in your popcorn bag.

That's because, in Hollywoodland, the pregnancies bring all sorts of wonderful things to the pregnant characters – career boosts, huge inheritances, pie shops, toad-fathers-turned-into-Prince Charmings.

Not so much in real life. Which isn't surprising. That's show biz.

But is the entertainment industry so cowed by the religious hordes – or incapable of conceiving a strong woman who chooses not to go to term – that it can't come up with a script that doesn't end with a crib?

Maybe not: Not only does the U.S. have the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world – more than double that of Canada's – it also makes it harder for women to get abortions.

Not surprisingly, the best of the lot comes from my great hero (and former Haven Coalition colleague) Katha Pollitt, in her column in The Nation.
Maternity Fashions, Junior Size

Teens getting pregnant: bad. Teens having babies: good. If this makes no sense to you, wake up and smell the Enfamil. It's 2008! The hot movie is Juno, a funnyquirkybittersweet indie about a pregnant high school hipster who gives her baby up for adoption. The hot celebrity is Jamie Lynn Spears, 16-year-old sister of Britney and star of Nickelodeon's Zoey 101, who's pregnant and having the baby because she wants to "do what's right." The teen birthrate, after falling for fourteen years, is up 3 percent, a phenomenon perhaps not unrelated to the fact that abstinence-only sex ed, although demonstrably ineffective at preventing sexual activity and linked to higher rates of unprotected sex, is the only sex ed taught in 35 percent of our schools. (Although maybe teens are having babies for the same reasons grown women are--the birthrate for adults is up, too.)

. . .

Juno is sensible enough to realize she's just a kid and makes the choice that not long ago was forced on middle-class white girls. These days, 29 percent of pregnant teens have abortions; 14 percent miscarry; of the 57 percent who carry to term, less than 1 percent give up the baby. Paradoxically, the women's movement destigmatized single motherhood and thus helped make a world in which some of the old justifications for abortion no longer seem so forceful. Now it's abortion that is a badge of shame and "irresponsibility."

But feminists aren't the only ones over a barrel here. It has been amusing watching the anti-choicers squirm as they laud Jamie Lynn Spears's "life-affirming decision" to add a new member to pop culture's most notoriously dysfunctional family. Even Mike Huckabee--the candidate who protested that he was too busy to keep up with the NIE report on Iran's nuclear program--called it a "tragedy" before adding, "Apparently, she's going to have the child, and I think that is the right decision, a good decision, and I respect that and appreciate it." Off the campaign trail, Jamie Lynn has been getting a royal slut-shaming: a football player could probably have killed someone and gotten less criticism--as long as he didn't kill a baby, that is. Especially a really cute one. Or a dog. Even the New York Times ran a front-page story about how "disappointed" are the parents of the young girls who adore Zoey 101. As if it's unusual for 16-year-olds to have sex. Maybe if so many parents didn't have the idiotic idea that "perfect" girls like Zoey actually exist, they would talk to their daughters about birth control instead of assuming, as Jamie Lynn's mother did, that Jamie was "conscientious" because she always met her curfew. Mama Spears's parenting book has been put on hold, reportedly replaced by a million-dollar baby-photo deal made by Jamie Lynn.

Just to bring the whole reproductive carnival full circle, Florida's "Choose Life" license plates, of which more than 40,000 have been sold, have raised more than $4 million for low-income single moms. But there's a catch: only women who choose adoption qualify. A woman who wants to keep her baby can just go starve in hell. Since only a handful of women want to give away their babies--even among pregnant women who plan on adoption, 35 percent change their mind once the baby is born--the money is just sitting there. Maybe someone, someday will make a movie about that.

Pollitt praises the movie very highly, especially the title character, who she describes as "prickly, winsome, complex and original person: she wears work shirts, plays the guitar and has a luminous intelligence and a pixielike nonsexy beauty, and that is a way young girls are almost never portrayed in films." She likes that the girl initiates all of the decisions (including the sex) and controls her fate the entire time. That was great to read.

But although the two female friends that Pollitt saw "Juno" with both cried, she writes,
Still, and maybe this is why I remained dry-eyed, I couldn't get over my sense that, hard as the movie worked to be a story about particular individuals, not a sermon, it was basically saying that for a high school junior to go through pregnancy and childbirth to give a baby to an infertile couple is both noble and cool, of a piece with loving indie rock and scorning cheerleaders; it's fetal fingernails versus boysenberry condoms. To its credit, the film doesn't demonize teen sex; still, a teen who saw this movie would definitely feel like a moral failure for choosing abortion. Do we really want young girls to feel like they have to play babysanta? The mother in me winced at Juno, that wisp of a child-woman, going through the ordeal of pregnancy and childbirth.

At this point, at least one reader is contractually obligated to tell me to lighten up. Juno is not meant to be political, it's just meant to be fun. Why can't I just enjoy it?

I can only sigh. I've been hearing that question in varying contexts all my life. No matter how I answer it, I've learned that people who are not political generally will not understand.

When you are a political person, your worldview informs everything you do: everything you see, everything you read and as many of your actions as you can manage. Perhaps it's the same for people who are deeply religious: their faith informs their entire lives. For me, as an atheist, my political worldview functions as my religion: it's the lens through which I see the entire world.

That's the general context. But there's a specific context, too.

I write for kids and teens, I used to work with teenagers (and loved it - and miss it), and I'm passionate about girls' issues. I've been involved in the reproductive rights movement for more than 25 years. And I've chosen to be child-free.

These are all very basic and important parts of my life and of my self. So how could I, for the sake of two hours' entertainment, watch this movie with no context? How could I switch off my thoughts and feelings about girls, teenagers, pregnancy, abortion? Even if I wanted to compartmentalize my life so thoroughly, I don't think it's possible to do.

That's what it is to be political.

Sometimes you have to see the movie so you can write about it. If I were Katha Pollitt and writing one of the most widely read progressive columns in the US, I would. But sometimes you can just skip the movie, and the anger and disappointment you'll inevitably feel afterwards. And since I'm me, writing this blog, that's what I'll do.

1.22.2008

wmtc is finalist in canadian blog awards

Thank you! Wmtc readers have made this blog a finalist in the Canadian Blog Awards, in the Best Progressive Blog category.

Honestly, I didn't think it would get that far. I'm very pleased, and more than a little surprised, to be in the company of such Canadian heavyweights as Calgary Grit, Daveberta, Stageleft and Uncorrected Proofs.

Allan, of course, is a finalist for Best Sports Blog. He tells me this was never in doubt.

I feel as if I've already won an unexpected measure of recognition. I'm not expecting to win the award, and won't be at all disappointed when I don't. But if you did vote for wmtc, thank you very much. Very cool.

blog for choice: 35 years on

Blog for Choice Day


Today is the 35th anniversary of the passage of Roe v. Wade. I went back to see what I wrote for last year's Blog For Choice efforts, and decided I would post it again.

I am pro-choice because I am a human being.

I am pro-choice because I deserve control over my body.

I am pro-choice because without reproductive freedom, women are slaves.

I am pro-choice because I know the difference between a human being and a blob of cells.

I am pro-choice because no government has the right of absolute control. The government's rights stop where my body begins.


"A woman's right to choose" has become the euphemism for abortion, but choice is much more than the right to terminate a pregnancy. Choice is bodily integrity. Bodily integrity means freedom from rape, freedom from unwanted pregnancies, from forced or coerced sterilization. It means freedom to love and create families with whom we choose. Choice - bodily integrity - is the very bedrock of freedom.

In Canada, the equivalent of Roe is R. v. Morgentaler (1988), later clarified and expanded in R. v. Morgentaler (1993).

Who is this Morgentaler?, non-Canadian readers may ask. He is Henry Morgentaler, a Holocaust survivor, an immigrant to Canada, and one of the great heroes of freedom. The motto of his Toronto clinic: "Every Mother a willing Mother, Every Child a wanted Child".

Although R. v. Morgentaler is often compared to Roe, Morgentaler is better law: it serves women much more fully. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that laws criminalizing abortion violate a woman's right (under section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms) to "security of person". "Security of person," to my mind, means bodily integrity.

In the War Resisters Support Campaign, I work alongside Canadian women who fought that fight in the 1980s. And they won! Veterans of the American pro-choice movement may cry when they read the Morgentaler Clinic's FAQ. Canada is not a perfect place, but this means more to me than I can say.

Since the 1988 ruling, there are no laws regulating abortion in Canada.

I recently read this New York Times book review about another everyday hero of freedom.
This Common Secret - My Journey as an Abortion Doctor
By Susan Wicklund with Alan Kesselheim


Reviewed by Eyal Press

One morning in January 1991, Susan Wicklund arrived at work wearing a heavy coat of makeup and a curly auburn wig pulled over her half-inch-long gray hair. It was a get-up worthy of a double agent, and it succeeded in helping Wicklund slip unnoticed across enemy lines, though not without feeling as if she’d stepped into a version of "The Twilight Zone." "Why do I have to do this?" she scrawled in her journal afterward. "WHY?"

The price of concealment is the central theme of Wicklund's memoir, "This Common Secret," which offers a rare glimpse into the life of an abortion provider who, like her dwindling band of peers, learned to don an array of disguises over the course of her tumultuous and peripatetic career. Wicklund grew up in a small community in rural Wisconsin populated by gun owners and deer hunters. She went on to become a reproductive health specialist who helped staff abortion clinics in five states, mostly in the Midwest, places that, by the late 1980s, had become veritable combat zones.

Wicklund's daughter, Sonja, who contributes an epilogue in which she recalls breaking down every time she learned that another abortion provider had been shot, saw her mother as a pillar of strength who never let the wrath of anti-abortion protesters faze her. As it turns out, the stoic demeanor was as deceptive as the wig. The unstinting pressure — "Wanted" signs bearing her photo posted up around town, throngs of demonstrators amassed outside the places where she worked — often drove Wicklund to tears. She took to carrying a loaded .38-caliber revolver. She watched what she said to strangers, sometimes even to relatives, refusing for years to tell her grandmother she performed abortions out of fear she'd disapprove. When Wicklund finally divulged the secret, her grandmother shared one of her own: at 16, her best friend had gotten pregnant, most likely following an act of incest. She'd tried to help her end the pregnancy with a sharp object, and watched her bleed to death.

"This Common Secret" does not attempt to offer a comprehensive account of the abortion conflict, much less an evenhanded one. Though Wicklund claims to respect those who harbor moral qualms about abortion, her book makes no effort to engage critics of Roe v. Wade. The narrative has a somewhat slapdash feel — a journal entry on one page, a flurry of statistics on the next — and, though recounted in the first person, lacks a distinctive voice, perhaps because the book was written with a co-author.

Yet in setting down her story, Wicklund has done something brave, not only by refusing to cower in the shadows but also by recounting experiences that don’t always fit the conventional pro-choice script. Before receiving her medical training, Wicklund had an abortion herself. She was asked no questions, offered no advice and left the clinic feeling violated. Years later, she terminated the pregnancy of a woman who’d been raped and wanted an abortion. Afterward, Wicklund examined the product of conception and discovered the pregnancy had occurred two weeks earlier, meaning it was not a consequence of the rape. Both she and the patient were horrified.

Opponents of abortion might view such episodes as proof that abortion is evil. For Wicklund, they are what drove and inspired her to help each woman she encountered make an informed, truly independent choice. At a clinic she ran in Montana, this meant placing the emphasis on counseling, which sometimes strengthened a patient’s resolve to terminate her pregnancy and other times led her to reconsider and bear the child instead. Wicklund may never convince the protesters who demonized her that women should be free to make such decisions on their own. But in sharing her secrets, she has shown why there is much honor in having spent a lifetime attempting to ensure they do.

And finally, here is my essay about the hollow state of reproductive freedom in the US, which I wrote in 2005: "For Millions of American Women, Roe Is Already History". It hasn't gotten any better.

Celebrate Roe: Celebrate Freedom.

1.21.2008

if you haven't voted in the canadian blog awards...

...round one voting ends tonight at 11:59. Wmtc nominations are in the sidebar, plus please vote for Joy of Sox!

more from ezra levant

Ezra Levant has a piece in today's Globe and Mail online edition. An excerpt:
A few days ago, I was interrogated for 90 minutes by Shirlene McGovern, an officer of the government of Alberta. I have been accused of hurting people's feelings because, two years ago, I published the Danish cartoons of Mohammed in the Western Standard magazine.

Ms. McGovern's business card said she was a "Human Rights Officer." What a perfectly Orwellian title.

Early in her interrogation, she said "I always ask people... what was your intent and purpose of your article?"

It wasn't even a question about what we had published in the magazine. It was a question about my private thoughts. I asked her why my private feelings were of interest to the government. She said, very calmly, that they would be a factor taken into account by the government in determining whether or not I was guilty.

While much of the progressive Canadian blogosphere chants, "It's not a criminal proceeding... it's just an investigation... it's not a criminal proceeding... it's just an investigation...." I will also repeat myself. I don't care. This shouldn't have been investigated.

If a person files a so-called human-rights complaint about something published or spoken which she or he finds offensive, there should be no investigation. They should be told, sorry, your human rights could not have been violated by something that appeared in a magazine. Because, in my opinion, there should be no law restraining anyone from speaking or publishing whatever they choose. The government should have no business investigating what any Canadian is thinking, saying or writing.

I doubt I agree with Ezra Levant on any other issue. But on this one, I do.

And you know what? I'm sick of being told I'm uninformed or not really Canadian or that I've been brainwashed or suckered in or that I'm importing dangerous beliefs from the US. There is no one "Canadian" way of thinking, nor should there be.

I stand up for Mr. Levant's right to publish whatever he chooses, without government interference, because I want that right, and I want every human to have that right.

That anyone could consider themselves a progressive and not stand for free speech and freedom of expression is, to me, very sad. And dangerous. Laws repressing free speech are used against dissenters, pacifists, freedom fighters and revolutionaries the world over.

Thanks to Lone Primate for sending the link.

question from an american considering moving to canada

Steve, his husband and their two sons live in Pennsylvania. They're disgusted with the US and are contemplating the Great Move North.

The men were married in Toronto, but while they like Canada's largest city, they're looking for something different when it comes to a home. Steve writes:
We'd like to find a small-to-medium-sized city, say anywhere in the range of 30,000 to 100,000 people. It could be a satellite of a larger metropolitan core.

The key thing we're looking for is open space within easy reach - trees, water, and wildlife in its natural state rather than a cultivated park. A library and a bookstore. A grocery store that stocks some specialty foods - we have a wheat allergy in the family and need some access to gluten-free foods, though this is not too critical since you can order just about anything online these days.

A place to ride a bike. A lake where the kids can skip stones. Good schools. Access to a concert hall for the occasional parents-night-out.

A Catholic church where we can, quietly and unassumingly, belong.

I write web software, and my husband is in medicine. We recognize that a move to Canada would probably mean that we would swap roles - currently, he works while I raise the kids. But he's feeling ready to cut back and spend more time at home, while I'm more likely to be able to find work in our new country.

I think the best way to describe what we're looking for to say we want to take a step backward in time. I remember my own youth of running around our neighborhood pretty much at will, and a network of parents at home (honesty forces me to say they were pretty much all moms in those days) who all kept an eye on things. My husband has similar memories, though his are of the woods and the mountains near where he grew up. Here, today, I can't imagine allowing my six-year-old to run loose for four hours. Then, it was just no big deal.

We'd like to have friendly relations with our neighbors, though we wouldn't want to be intrusive. We like to play bridge, and love to have friends over to play board games. My husband enjoys going to concerts and movies (me less so - I'm more the crossword-solving type). We like to sing in our church's choir and go for hikes in the woods.

Steve and his husband are thinking Ontario, because they don't want to move their sons too far from their grandparents and other extended family. There's a Boston connection, so perhaps something in Atlantic Canada would work.

But experience tells me that no matter what I write, readers are likely to suggest locations all over Canada. Plus, I get email from prospective immigrants to Canada on a regular basis, and other readers may find your answers helpful. So all suggestions and explanations are welcome, even if they don't exactly fit Steve's specs.

1.20.2008

a defence of free speech

I don't share all of this man's beliefs. I'm not worried about "political Islam" taking over the West, and I doubt the women on the Human Rights Commission will be wearing head scarfs anytime soon. But I love his defence of freedom of expression, and his rejection of the overly elastic definition of human rights.

He and I may not subscribe to the same checklist of values, or even align in the same quadrant of the political compass. But this rant is excellent. I wholeheartedly agree with his robust defence of freedom of expression, and why we need it.


Thanks, as always, to James.

1.19.2008

follow-up: chris matthews apologizes for sexist remarks

Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's "Hardball," apologized on-air for his sexist comments about Hillary Clinton.

The National Organization for Women uses the word apology in quotes.

Media Matters has the full text and clip of Matthews's statement.

My post about Matthews's sexism here.

the invasion continues

Have you seen this?

You know how I feel about the omnipresence of advertising. If I were a parent and saw this, I would go ballistic. More power to the folks in Needham, Massachusetts who protested this latest invasion.

Many thanks to James.

fear and loathing of the big city

One of the reasons we stopped getting the Toronto Star home-delivered was its over-attention to random crime and accidents, and the inevitable fear-stoking that went with it.

Star editors must see one of their paper's principal functions as increasing public fear and anxiety over unlikely events - stabbings, shootings, high-speed traffic accidents. All bad things, no doubt, all things we'd surely be better off without. But the front-page placement, screaming headlines, and random quotes from nervous neighbours (of course they're nervous, there was a shooting in their neighbourhood an hour ago) seem designed to plant the belief that crime is rampant and to keep the public on edge.

Today the Star took a time-out from blotter news to run a reality check.
As long as there have been cities, there has been fear. Fear of violence, fear of death, fear of anonymous, big-city crime.

High-profile cases of random crime – like the recent shootings of John O'Keefe and Hou Chang Mao, both innocent bystanders killed within a week – feed the public's anxieties.

But is that fear justified? Random crime isn't going away, but neither is it increasing. Does a spate of random killings put us in greater danger than before? The Star asked an expert statistician to assess the risk.

University of Toronto professor Jeffrey S. Rosenthal is the author of Struck by Lightning: The Curious World of Probabilities, a book about probability and randomness in everyday life.

Q: For the average Torontonian, what are the odds of getting killed in a random crime, like, say, a stray bullet?

A: In Toronto, about 12 people per year are killed by a stranger. There are 2.6 million people in the city, so your chances of getting killed by a stranger are about one in 220,000.

So, not very likely at all.

Q: How do you calculate that?

A: We work in terms of statistics for recent times, like the number of homicides per year. In 2007, there were 84 homicides in Toronto. (It usually goes from 60 to about 80.)

There are also statistics on the victim-offender relationship. Only about 15 per cent (of victims) are killed by a stranger. So 15 per cent of 80 homicides ...

In comparison, your chances of getting killed by your spouse are one in 135,000, or about 50 per cent higher.

And if you are a woman and your spouse is a man, your chances are 8 times higher than if you are a man.

Incidences of relationship violence, including murder, are magnitudes higher than those of random violence. For example, 30% of Canadian women who are currently or previously married have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence at the hands of a marital partner. (Sources and more statistics in this previous post.)

Today the Star ran this story, titled "You're Safer Than You Think". But tomorrow, or shortly thereafter, it will continue splashing random murder and mayhem across its front pages.

Relationship violence is pandemic. Random violence is relatively rare.

The focus on random violence helps demonize cities, low-income neighbourhoods and, often, people of colour. Relationship violence happens in urban, suburban and rural settings, among the haves and the have-nots, and everyone in between.

A greater emphasis on relationship violence - its root causes, possible strategies for prevention, how to cope, where to find help - could potentially help many people and families.

The emphasis on random crime just sells papers.

1.18.2008

on liberals, conservatives, good blogosphere citizens and free speech

One of the categories in the Canadian Blog Awards is "Best Blogosphere Citizen". That interesting idea made me think about what it means to be a good blog citizen. In trying to define that, I naturally thought of what a bad blog citizen looks like, and the various blog-related behaviours that I don't like.

Because I have a comment policy, and don't allow all comments at all times, many people would think I'm a bad blogosphere citizen - not to mention a hypocrite, as I'm a staunch proponent of free speech. But I'm comfortable with the rules here, which enhance the experience of this blog both for myself and most readers, and which I derived over time through trial and error. We once had a very good discussion here about controlling comments, and it helped reinforce my views. Nevertheless, to some potential commenters, my comment policy makes me full of shit.

Two of my own least favourite examples of blog behaviour showed up recently in comments.

First, a commenter stopped by to tell me what I was blogging about was trivial and undeserving of my outrage.

And next, another commenter stopped by to deliver a lecture (actually a series of lectures), because clearly I am uneducated on the issue at hand. If I knew the facts, I would have agreed with him.

I don't know if I've ever left a comment like either of those on someone's blog, but if I am ever moved to do so, I hope I remember these examples and stop myself.

Because I was not born in Canada - and especially because I am from the United States - there is a tendency among some Canadian-born Canadians to assume that, if I disagree with them, my views stem from my ignorance of Canada. And then to volunteer to teach me.

I've learned a lot about Canada since our decision to emigrate, as I've made it my life's work to learn as much as I can about my new country. I have lot left to learn, of course. But if I disagree with the views of certain Canadians, chances are high that it's not because I don't understand the issues. Indeed, if don't understand an issue, I don't espouse views on it at all: I ask questions. This blog is filled with my questions about Canada, and the wonderful wmtc commenters have helped me understand everything from the Night Of Long Knives to Canadian Tire money. But if I'm not asking questions - if I'm stating "this is how I feel" - chances are very good I understand the issue.

* * * *

There's a disturbing corollary to this. I've noticed a tendency among some liberal Canadians to denigrate conservative Canadians as being somehow less Canadian. Even unCanadian. Often the US is to blame: their conservative ideas are mimicking American conservatives, and these folks are trying to turn Canada into the US.

Now you know I'm not a conservative thinker. But why should there be one way to think that is truly Canadian? Liberal views might be the majority here in Canada, but are conservatively inclined Canadians any less Canadian than liberals?

My recent defence of free speech garnered several comments, both on wmtc and elsewhere, explaining that my American ideas, such as the belief in the unfettered right of freedom of expression, are dangerous to Canada. Yet I have met - both in person and online - many, many Canadian-born Canadians who share my views on free speech. They may be a minority here. But what of it?

In the US, conservatives seek to define what it means to be American and label liberals as unpatriotic and unAmerican. In Canada, many liberals seek to the do the same about conservatives.

Canada, with its huge geography, its populace from all over the world, its commitment to diversity and tolerance, is anything but a homogeneous country. And the social and political beliefs of Canadians are anything but monolithic.

And Canada, like every society, is not static. Immigrants coming to Canada with their own views will change Canadian society, as will successive generations of Canadian-born Canadians.

Yet I routinely read and hear Albertans denigrated as being less Canadian than other Canadians, because of their more conservative beliefs. In the past this came up around Stephen Harper; now it's come up around Ezra Levant.

First, that's as ignorant as calling New York a "blue state," ignoring most people who live north of New York City. Do we need to point out that there are progressive people in Alberta? That there are conservative people in Ontario? That there are both, everywhere?

And second, if the majority of Albertans adhere to conservative beliefs, does that make them any less Canadian?

Certain issues such as freedom of expression are not properly categorized as politically left or right. There are libertarians on both sides of that political divide. A long time ago, a conservative commenter on this blog - Canadian-born - noted that the power structure of any society will attempt to restrict freedom of expression. In the US, he said, that's the conservatives, but in Canada, it's the liberals. That observation has stayed with me a long time.

As I said, I've met many Canadians who share my views on free speech. They tend to be either very conservative or very progressive. They live all over Canada. They are not American, nor supporters of American policy. They disagree that the need to restrict free speech to maintain public order is a Canadian value. They would like to see laws restricting free speech reversed. They may (or may not) be a minority. What of it?

I strongly believe that certain human rights must be protected without regard to popular opinion. If most Canadians claim to be against abortion, it must still be a woman's right to terminate her own pregnancy. If most Canadians claim to support capital punishment, citizens should be protected from state murder. Same-sex couples should have the same rights as mixed-gender couples. And so on.

But beyond basic Charter rights, must we aspire to such an orthodoxy of thought as to claim the belief in unfettered free speech is unCanadian? And must we be so parochial as to claim that belief is best left to folks from - ewww - Alberta?

There is no one Canadian set of beliefs or values that we all must adhere to. Surely that is not the Canada I worked so hard to emigrate to.

1.17.2008

am i on a roll or what?

I have a short letter in today's Globe and Mail. Since letters to the editor are a paid subscription page, I'll reprint it here.
Your article 72-Hour Party People (Travel, Jan. 16) asks, "Who has the time and freedom to take a two-week vacation any more?" Anyone who can't rearrange his or her life to take two consecutive weeks of vacation should think seriously about reorganizing their priorities.

No outrage, just a thought.

Our own vacation plans just increased from ten days to a full two weeks. Newfoundland is so big, the distances are so great, that ten days would have meant leaving too much out.

let them stay: jan 25-26 days of action update

Plans for the January 25 and 26 Days of Action in support of US war resisters in Canada continue apace.

Unfortunately, so do the deportation proceedings.

Four resisters now face deportation, including two families with young children. I'll resort to cliche: it's a race against time. Will the united opposition adopt a proposal to Let Them Stay (as recommended by the Committee on Citizenship and Immigration) before the final deportation orders come down?

In the US, on January 25, Courage to Resist, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out and other peace groups will hold vigils and demonstrations outside Canadian Consulates in several cities. You can join them in San Francisco, Seattle, Washington DC or New York, and possibly some other places. Details here.

In Canada, January 26 events are being added all the time, including Joshua Key, of The Deserter's Tale, speaking in Saskatoon, and a letter-writing campaign in Thunder Bay.

The Toronto event now includes Shirley Douglas, Bob Rae (our latest Liberal supporter!), Olivia Chow (patron saint of the resisters), Vietnam draft resister and musician Bill King, musician Chris Brown (this one, not this one), and authors Lawrence Hill and John Hagan.

Everyone who attends the event will be asked to write a letter to Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion, then we'll all march to the post office to mail them. Have you ever heard of a march on a post office? We think it's a fun, participatory and somewhat goofy idea.

It will also be very effective. By the time Parliament resumes on January 29, Dion will have received hundreds - possibly thousands - of letters about the resisters. Those letters will reinforce and support the Campaign's persistent lobbying efforts.

It's a very tense and scary time for these brave soldiers for peace, and for their families. But we believe we can get this thing done.

1.16.2008

harlem of the north, part 2

I have a letter in today's Toronto Star about this. Just a short version of yesterday's blog post.

They edited my "30 years" to say "a good many years". Let's just say many, many, many.

iraq moratorium # 5 this friday, january 18

The fifth Iraq Moratorium is this Friday, January 18. Today is a good day to think about how you can make visible your opposition to the US war on and occupation of Iraq.

In the US, more than 80 events are planned. They include:

  • The Raging Grannies of Mountain View, California will visit US Armed Forces recruiters. Their message: Killing( or Dying) is not a Career!

  • A vigil at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Maryland will call for money to be spent helping wounded veterans, not the war.

  • A peace march in Brattleboro, Vermont will feature drummers, horns, bagpipes, and dancers.

  • A public forum in Duluth, Minnesota will feature Native American and African American leaders speaking against the war.

  • A candlelight vigil in San Mateo, California will honor the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and incorporate his words against war.

    To see a list of actions, go here and click "80 Iraq Moratorium Day #5 Events: Find one near you!".

    * * * *

    The Iraq Moratorium is an ongoing effort that asks people, on the third Friday of every month, to take some action, either individually or in a group, to call for an end to the war.

    You can wear a button or a black armband to work. You can join a vigil. You can write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. You can put a sign in your window or on your front lawn. You can talk to your neighbour or co-worker about your opposition to the war.

    Today is a good day to plan what you can do this Friday to contribute to the peace movement.
  • dylan moran will soon be everywhere

    About six years ago, flipping channels late one night, Allan and I stumbled on "Black Books" on Comedy Central, the US comedy channel. This British comedy, starring and co-written by Irish comedian Dylan Moran, was one of the funniest shows we had ever seen. The Comedy Network never promoted it, and they never re-ran it. It disappeared.

    Allan found some episodes online and downloaded them, and kept a look-out for a possible DVD set. Meanwhile, the show became a legend in our world: something glimpsed once, then cruelly snatched from our grasp.

    That was the state of Black Books in our world for the past six years.

    Then, last December, Allan learned Black Books was out on DVD: a boxed set of three seasons. I didn't even know there was a third season! He ordered a set, and we waited.

    Then we saw "Shaun of the Dead" [corrected: previously said "Hot Fuzz", my mistake], and were amazed to see Dylan Moran in a small role. We had never seen him in anything but Black Books.

    Then our DVDs arrived. Let the Black Books Festival begin.

    Then my blog-friend Nigel Patel mentioned he bought the Black Books boxed set with some birthday-gift money.

    Then last night we saw "Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story," and who has a small role in it? Of course. Dylan Moran.

    Any minute now he'll become the world's most famous comic actor.

    Very funny movie, this Tristam Shandy. It features British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, among others, including Stephen Fry playing two small roles.

    But if you rent DVDs and can find Black Books, you're in for a real treat. I recommend starting from the beginning.