"A Citizen"s Eye View"

Saturday, November 22, 2014

In My Canada, No One Gets Left Behind.

*Thao immigrated to Canada from Vietnam in the mid 90s. He had no special skills except for the fact that he is a hard worker. He is good, kind, decent and honest. In every way, reflective of those values we like to think of as "Canadian". 

He came to settle in my home city of Hamilton and with the support of the Chinese and Vietnamese communities, was able to gain regular work and was able to establish himself as a brand new Canadian citizen. 

Sometime after that, Thao was able to return to Vietnam in order to marry *Kim, whom he had corresponded with since coming to Canada. He was able to bring his new wife back to Canada where they set up a home together in the heart of the Chinese/Vietnamese community and in 2003, Kim gave birth to a baby boy and bestowed upon him, the English name of *John. They were living the dream

Thao continued to work hard. Despite the fact that he was an unskilled laborer, he has never been without work. And though Kim did possess some abilities, having worked in a camera factory in Saigon, it was decided that she would stay at home to raise John. They lived a humble, but honest life. And with the arrival of their son, it was an extremely joyful one. 

But as John began to grow, Thao and Kim noticed that all was not right with their little blessing. He was not attaining all the usual developmental milestones. He was not learning to talk or to communicate in any of the expected ways. And according to Kim, John remained cold and distant. He did not appear "attached" to her in the same way that other children might. He remained non-verbal and seemed perpetually anxious. He was aloof and distant. 

John began attending Junior Kindergarten at the school where I work at age four. It became immediately apparent that something was not right with John and even though most of us recognized the telltale signs of Autism, there was no diagnosis. Kim blamed herself for John being the way he was and she and Thao had hoped that the school would be able to teach him to speak. There had been no other "intervention" or support for the family prior to that. Mostly because being relative newcomers to Canada and existing primarily within the Vietnamese community, their English was limited so they had no idea that support of any kind beyond school even existed. 

The school was able to eventually help the family make the appropriate connections with community agencies. Coming from Vietnam however, Thao and Kim remained hesitant and wary regarding any involvement with government services. So they were slow and frightful of obtaining any kind of help beyond school. Kim continued to believe that she was for some reason, to blame for her son's disability. Some in the community had suggested that John's condition might be the result of her sins in a past life. She believed them.

Finally, though, an official diagnoses of Autism was arrived at.  And with a diagnosis finally in place, the appropriate school supports could be accessed. This is where I became involved with John. My job was to support him in school. By this time, he was in grade one. He was achieving absolutely nothing except to be an overall disruption to his class and to the school in general with his frequent and violent "melt-downs". Everyone in school knew John by his screaming tantrums. 

With the implementation of structure and programming geared to his needs, John began to improve somewhat. He became less of a disruption and he seemed to be actually learning some very basic literacy and numeracy skills. But it was clear that remaining in a "mainstream" setting was not the most efficient or cost-effective way to go with John so he was eventually transferred to another school which had a self contained classroom for children with Autism. 

In the meantime, The family was able to access more and more government sponsored services such as IBI (Intensive Behaviour Interventions), ABA (Applied Behaviour Analyses) and the help of a dedicated Social Worker in order to help the family to "navigate" the system and to advise on in-home behaviour strategies

It became apparent that in-home support was required in order to assist Kim and Thao to manage with John. My services were enlisted once again due to my previous school connections with John. Though my function was originally to provide "respite", to enable the parents to have some rest from the 24/7-365 ordeal of raising a severely autistic child, it has morphed into a multi-faceted role that now includes friendship. 

I have worked with John and his family now for five years. Kim no longer feels that she is to blame for John's condition, though she continues to go to temple once a week to pray for him just as any Christian mother would do. Thanks to school and the help of government funded community services, John is progressing to the level of his ability, which means that he is learning some basic self-regulating skills and means of communicating his wants and needs. But John is still severely autistic and will always remain so. His future continues to be unclear, especially with regard to when he becomes an adult and Kim and Thao age and become less able to provide for John's basic needs. He is so reliant on them.

Kim has often indicated to me that if she and Thao had remained in Vietnam, she doesn't know what would have become of John. She says that services like IBI are available there, but are limited to those who can pay for them. She feels that she would have had to give up guardianship of John by now if she had not come to Canada. And she cries. But even here, everyone acknowledges that without Kim, John would be in residential care by now. 


Six months ago, Kim was diagnosed with a brain tumor. All of a sudden, all bets were off regarding John and his care. The future seemed to come crashing home much faster than anyone was willing to admit. And this loving little family was thrown into crisis. 

But after multitudinous tests and evaluations, none of which would have been available to Kim in Vietnam, it was determined that her tumor was benign but operable. If she did not have the surgery though, she would go blind. 

Last Wednesday, Kim had her surgery. It was an innovative procedure that is less intrusive than actual brain surgery and was performed by some of the best doctors in the country. She is currently receiving world class follow up care in hospital (though she's not overly thrilled with the food). In addition, social services are providing additional assistance with John in his home so that Thao can continue to work and spend a little time with his wife in hospital. 

Thao told me that in Vietnam, none of the services that his wife has received would have happened. And even if they were available, there would have been no way they could have afforded them. Kim would quite simply have gone blind. And there would have been no way Thao could have provided support for his son and work as well. He would have had to give John up to the state. He hinted that John might have ended up in a "sweatshop" but I can't verify the validity of this claim nor would Thao elaborate. But it's safe to say that he would no longer be living in a loving home and being given the best quality life possible for a child with autism. 

But thanks to Government sponsored social services and health care, Thao and his family are being given every possible opportunity to continue to live and thrive together. One day, John will most certainly have to go off to live in a group home of some kind. He will never be able to live independently, but at least he will never end up in a sweatshop. But right now, the day when John will have to leave his parents seems quite far off and he is being given every conceivable opportunity to remain with his family as long as they are physically able to care for him. 

And Kim will not go blind and will be able to continue to care for the son she has dedicated her life to. All because her family lives in a society that believes everyone, not just the privileged few, has a right to education, health care, community supports and social services. And despite the shortcomings of our current xenophobic, narrow minded, self serving federal government, Canada remains a kind, caring all inclusive family, just like Thao's family.  And in this family, no one gets left behind. 


* The names of family members have been changed in order to protect their privacy. I chose the name "Thao" for the father , because it means "courtesy" in Vietnamese. And this man is one of the most courteous, decent, honorable men I have met. 

I chose "Kim" for the mother's name because it means "gold" or "brilliance" in Vietnamese, which is certainly reflective of her value to the well being of her son and partner. 

I chose the English name of "John" for the son as it means "grace" or "mercy", which the child has received in abundance thanks to the caring and inclusive nature of our society. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Brief Comment on the Conservative Lie About Welfare Fraud and Bogus Refugee Claimants.

If this picture angers you, it's because it should...

Judging all people who use social services, be they immigrants, refugees or of Canadian birth, by the actions of those few who attempt to defraud the system (approximately .7% of all recipients according to the Guardian UK) is like judging all Canadians, according to the actions of a hand-full of Milhaven's most notorious. We can no more, righteously stand in harsh judgment of the 99.3% of welfare and social assistance recipients who are in need of help, claiming they are nothing but lazy fraudsters than we can fairly judge Canada to be a nation of thieves and murderers.

We just can't paint all social services recipients with the same brush. To do so is blatantly unfair to the vast majority of legitimate claimants and tends to stigmatize them, thus making it even more difficult for them to get back on their feet. And to politicize social services recipients and refugees as a bunch of freeloading bums does nothing but play to our negative emotions and is quite frankly, bigoted. And it makes for bad policy. It makes us an exclusive rather than an inclusive society.   

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Gulf War III. It's All About The Oil...Still!

Burning oil wells in Kuwait. Circa 1990
Well Citizen Stephen has got us involved in yet another war. Canada has been at war now for almost all of Mr. "H"s entire tenure. He came to office waving the bloody flag of nationalism and it appears he intends to go out in very much the same manner. 

Granted, His Harperness didn't get us into Afghanistan. That was Jean Chretien's doing. That was the so-called "righteous" war, the response to the 9-11 attack. But Stephen kept our Men and Women in uniform in Afghanistan long past their best-before date. Our involvement there just ended a mere six months ago. 

Of course, before that, there was Libya and prior to that, Gulf War II. If Herr Harper had been in power then, we would most certainly have been involved in that  disastrous debacle that commenced in 2003 and only just wrapped up (at least from the U.S. standpoint) in 2011.  

And long before that, there was George Bush Senior's Gulf War I which of course, Canada did participate in. Brian Mulroney was responsible for our presence there. 

While the Western coalition involved in the first Iraqi conflict used that country's invasion of Kuwait as an excuse for military action, we all know that war was about the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf. It is telling that as his forces withdrew under fire, Saddam Hussein's army chose to torch oil wells, not town's, villages or other strategic locations that might have been of service to his enemy. He wanted to deprive the West of its life's blood. 

It was only once Saddam had been effectively neutered as a threat to the West's supply of oil that the Americans backed off and sent in their "wildcatters" to douse the burning wells. Big Oil's interests in that area were safe for the time being. 

Sometime after that, huge deposits of oil were discovered in the Caspian Sea/Turkmenistan area. This was a huge deposit. An estimated 60 billion barrels of crude. It was SO huge that the two planned pipelines to the west via the Black Sea were not deemed to be sufficient to move all that much needed oil to Western markets. Also, the belligerent nature of bordering Iran at the time made the continuous flow uncertain via those two lines.

So in response to this dilemma, the U.S. attempted to negotiate with the Taliban Government in Afghanistan for a third pipeline that would run north to south through that country, through Pakistan and finally ending at the Indian Ocean. 

Negotiations between the Taliban and an international consortium led by Unocal of California were going swimmingly until the bombing of two American Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998, allegedly by Osama Bin Laden who claimed to have had the blessing of the Taliban regime. Negotiations ended at that point.

Three years later came the 9-11 attack in New York, also allegedly perpetrated by Osama and his Al Quaida network who happened to be based in Afghanistan. 

America and the Western world as a whole were terror struck. They
Map of the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline.
To be completed in 2017. 
now had the moral excuse to go into Afghanistan in force to hunt for the terrorist general... and to make sure that pipeline got built. Of course, Canada was also there to help fight the good fight against evil and tyranny... and to protect that pipeline. 

It is interesting to note that the puppet president that the U.S. installed to lead the new Afghan government was Hamid Karzai, a former Unocal employee. And as Uri Averny of the Daily Ma'Ariv in Israel pointed out, it was quite telling that the majority of American operational bases in Afghanistan were located along the same route as the proposed Tran-Afghanistan pipeline. 

So while Canada was helping to fight the war on terror by putting "boots on the ground" in Afghanistan, it is coincidental that we were also helping the best interests of Big Oil and the West's insatiable thirst for petroleum. 

Then came Gulf War II. Riding on the coattails of the "Righteous War" farther to the east, George Bush Junior invaded Iraq, supposedly to finish off his father's work. 

He used the pretext that Saddam Hussein was supporting the terrorists and was producing weapons of mass destruction. Of course, Saddam had no tolerance whatsoever for the terrorists and wouldn't let them operate in his country. And as we now know, there WERE no weapons of mass destruction. It was all a flimsy excuse for going back into the region. 

Whether it was because the Americans felt that Saddam was growing too unreliable once again or because it feared neighbouring Iran's belligerence, or both, they needed to ensure the  continued flow of oil from the Persian Gulf. And they had their excuse. Thus began an ugly eight year war to protect the flow of crude to the West.

Mercifully, Canada took a pass on that whole affair. Chretien and subsequently, Harper, were content to stick with the "Holy" pipeline war in Afghanistan.

But then came yet another despotic ruler to self righteously topple. Muammar Gaddafi, ruler of Libya which is home to the fifth largest oil reserves in the world. Gaddafi had been a thorn in the West's side for decades and It was rumored that the U.S. had plans to take him out shortly after 9-11. 

But after 9-11, Gaddafi made efforts to mend fences with the West and actually denounced the New York attack. There was then, no mask of righteous indignation for the Americans and its allies to hide behind until the Arab Spring came along  in 2011.  The West finally had an excuse to send in their bombers. 

And Canada was there to help keep the oil spigots open. 

Now we have Gulf War III. ISIS, an Islamic army that was born and funded covertly by the Americans in order to topple the regime in Syria have marched into Northern Iraq and are threatening the oil fields there. 

Map of Exxon holdings in Northern Iraq.
ISIS operations in Iraq are concentrated in the Northern area known as "Kurdistan". Oil reserves there are so large that if that region were ever to declare it's independence, it would be home to the ninth largest reserves in the world. America's first bombing missions in this new war against "terror" where to defend the city of Erbil which is considered to be the nerve centre of the Kurdish oil fields and home to Exxon, Chevron and Mobil's local operations. 

So while the fight against terror is once again the impetus for war - ISIS having circulated videos of various Westerners being beheaded by an operative who curiously, has an English accent - one has to look no further than the interests of Big oil and the West's continued need for vast amounts of petroleum in order to keep their societies running. 

And Canada is there once again, helping to save the day from "Islamic Radicals", much like the Government of Harper is keeping close tabs on "Environmental Radicals" here at home. It's all about serving the best interests of Big Oil and fueling our ongoing lust for crude. 

So don't for a minute buy the nationalistic clap trap and fear mongering that Citizen Stephen and leaders like him are foisting upon us in order to justify our colonial misadventures. The wars of the 21st century are- always have been - and until the world breaks it's addiction to petroleum - always will be, about oil. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Without The Media, Harper Would Have No Message

At the gathering of the Conservative clan in Calgary in 2013, several of the good folks of the mainstream media bemoaned their treatment at the hands of the Harper faithful. 

They were penned into a corner with no water to drink (at first) and no wi-fi access. But even though these professional journalists were rudely shoved to the side and belled like cats with inordinately LARGE press credentials hanging from their necks so as to warn the clan's delegates who NOT to talk to, they were still in plain enough sight for the Cons to laugh and point their bony fingers at as though the press were thieves pilloried in the stocks. 

You see, the Conservatives in general and Stephen in particular don't think very highly of the mainstream media. They consider them to be the enemy in much the same way that His Harperness has declared the Courts to be the enemy of Senate reform. You see, every populist kind of guy needs an enemy that justifies his crusade. Even if that enemy happens to be nothing more than a road-side windmill. 

But the Conservatives disdain for the media was best expressed by
Harper "Lickspittle" Marjory LeBreton.
Better wipe your chin there Margy.
former Tory Leader in the Senate, Marjory LeBreton  when she denounced the Ottawa Press Corps as being nothing more than a bunch of Liberal "lickspittles". Though it was plain to see that the discoloured drool that dripped from Marge's wrinkly chin plainly belonged to Stephen himself. But the Cons have never let a little thing like hypocrisy get in the way of their rhetoric. 

Stephen you see, really hates to be held to account. He and the clan's spin doctors have gone to great lengths to portray Harper as a really smart guy so being stymied by really tough questions - well - makes him look just plain stupid. Hence the incessant spin and regurgitation of vapid talking points from Steve and his bobble heads, most of whom he has little or no faith in to not shoot themselves in the foot. Or worse, accidentally wing Stephen with a misplaced, unscripted comment. 

He gives Parliament the same treatment, not that he cares a whit about Parliament. It is merely window dressing behind which he maintains his autocratic rule. But there are actual CAMERAS and real live reporters in the press gallery. And the fear of looking foolish or being caught with his pants down in front of the media simply terrifies Citizen Steve. 
"Get thee back most foul and odious
seekers of truth"!

So Harper, as he does with all his detractors, bashes the media and attempts to discredit them as being "Liberal Elites", the enemies of the common man. But the fact is, when reporters such as Terry Milewski press Stephen for answers to tough question, he is simply doing his job. He has done nothing less with any previous Prime Minister. And sometimes, he made them look foolish too. 

But credibility has always been a concern for Harper ever since the days 
The Gospel according to
Fred Flintstone. 
of the Reform Party when members routinely made themselves look ridiculous in front of the national media ("man walked with dinosaurs" comes to mind). No credibility translates into no votes and Harper has gone to great lengths to paint what currently passes for a Conservative party as credible. At least enough to con as many as 38% of voters.  And many of those 38% voted for Steve himself because of the "smart-guy" persona that he has portrayed. 

So there are no more Prime Ministerial press-scrums for fear the Liberal intelligentsia posing as reporter's might cause Stephen to look foolish or worse - Negligent or dare I say, crooked. 
As long as the media keeps giving face-
time to the Harpernaughts, Canadians

will be giving face-time to their palms. 

But it is a sick and twisted relationship Citizen Stephen has with the press. You see, as much as he claims to loathe the media in general (with the possible exception of his incestuous relationship with Sun News), he needs them. Without the boys and girls in the Press Corps, The P.M. and his underlings would have no vehicle with which to convey their tightly controlled, highly scripted and mind boggelingly banal messages. Yet he abuses them at every opportunity. And like a beaten dog, the whipped media follows Herr Harper around looking for fallen crumbs and the remote possibility of a pat on the head.

I've asked media types why they continue to allow Stephen and the Harper Youth to abuse and humiliate them the way they do. But I'm conscious of the fact that I'm questioning people who are stuck in a cycle of abuse and I need to be careful not to blame the victims here. 

I've pointed out to them that if they just stay away, stop covering Harper's Follies, the shabby treatment would stop. The only people covering the Gestapo in the PMO would be Ezra Levant and his crew and nobody watches them anyway. 

But The Boys and Girls of the Press Corp - to a man and woman - have babbled about their professional duty and that they've taken oaths and all that. So they wear their "whipping boy" persona's like badges of honour and continue to allow Harper to use them like he would a cheap whore. 

But there was one day in 2013 when the Cons were holding a caucus meeting, Stephen would only allow cameras and TV into the soiree on the condition that no questions would be asked. In essence, this was to be nothing but a photo-op. From out of nowhere, the Press Corps, seeming to have had enough of being kicked around, decided to boycott the event. The only coverage was from - you guessed it - Sun News. 

Of course, Harpers Spinners turned the brave stand by the media types into a fundraising opportunity. It may or may not have been a successful cash grab. But that's neither here nor there. The important things is that the MSM stood up for themselves that day and said in unison and in a loud and clear voice: "ENOUGH". And for an excruciating moment in time, Harper's world shook uncontrollably.    

We've since gone back to the old relationship in which the press are throttled into being Harper's reluctant messengers. But with the next federal election just around the corner, lets hope the Media remember the day they stood up to the Emperor and embrace the notion that without them, Harper is nothing more than a sparrow-fart in a wind storm. No one will hear him. 

If Harper gave a press conference and nobody 
bothered to cover it, will he still have made 
a noise?