Tag Archives: canada

The Nearly Impossible Journey of a Long-Term Survivor

An Inuit youth pulls an infant on a sled along a snow-covered street in Inuvik in Canada’'s Northwest Territories on April 3, 1974. The round building looming in the background is a Catholic church. (AP Photo)

On June 24, 1972, three boys decided to leave their residential school in Canada’s Northwest Territories and walk from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk (“Tuk”), in a bid to avoid punishment for stealing a pack of cigarettes from their dorm supervisor. Without a highway connecting Inuvik to Tuk, the boys had no idea they were undertaking an impossible journey of 90 miles over boggy tundra. At Granta, Nadim Roberts tells the story of Dennis, Jack, and Bernard — just one example of the horrific toll residential schools have exacted on Inuits, the Inuit community, and their traditional ways of life.

From the pond, the boys walked in the direction of the highest hill, where they could see power lines unspooling to the north-east. The 69,000-volt transmission lines had been strung the previous month. ‘These lines go all the way to Tuk,’ Dennis told his friends. He and Bernard were from Tuktoyaktuk, on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. If they followed the power lines, they’d be home in a few hours, Dennis said. School would be over soon anyway, and if they left now, they could avoid getting in trouble.

Residential schools had existed in Canada since 1831, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that a significant number of them operated in the north. These government-sponsored religious schools were established to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture by ripping them away from their families and communities. When Western European colonization and evangelization finally arrived in the Arctic, what had been a relatively unscathed Inuit culture began to change rapidly. Bernard’s biological parents had been part of the first generation of Inuit that passed through these schools. It was in such an institution that they first met and fell in love.

Before 1955, fewer than 15 per cent of school-aged Inuit were enrolled in residential schools. Most children still lived on the land with their families, learning traditional skills and knowledge. Rather than teaching students how to hunt, skin game, and build igloos and kayaks, residential schools taught a curriculum used for white children in Alberta.

By 1964, more than 75 per cent of Inuit children attended residential schools. Their values, language and customs were supplanted overnight by a culture that saw itself as benevolent and superior, and saw the Inuit as primitive beings in need of sophistication. The young Inuit who went through the residential school system experienced an assault on their traditional identities that had shattering consequences: they are often referred to as the ‘lost generation’.

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Ahead by a Century: A Gord Downie Reading List

Gord Downie performs at WE Day in Toronto in 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)

I remember the day in 1987 when my then-boyfriend popped their first EP, “The Tragically Hip” into the cassette player of his dad’s Chrysler Cordoba. When “Last American Exit” came on, I loved it instantly. It’s been on my playlists for 30 years. I’ve seen the Hip at community colleges, hockey rinks, bars, summer festivals, and arenas. I’m part of a swath of Canadians for which the Hip’s music meant good times and Canadian pride; our stories, truths, and landscape writ large in songs with incisive lyrics and driving beats.

Among my favorite Hip songs, “50 Mission Cap” honors Bill Barilko, whose last goal won the 1951 Stanley Cup for the Toronto Maple Leafs. That spring, Barilko went missing on a fishing trip and the Leafs failed to win a cup until 1962, the year Barilko’s remains were discovered. Then of course, there’s “Ahead By A Century,” in which Gord asks us to embrace the moment, reminding us that “there’s no dress rehearsal, this is our life.” Part poet, part visionary, part activist, Gord Downie was a dervish on stage, growling those lyrics into the minds of audiences for three decades.

On October 17th, Downie passed away after battling glioblastoma for two years. In his moving tribute, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “We are less as a country without Gord Downie in it.”

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Downie is that he chose to spend the last two years of his life accelerating his contribution to social justice, working toward a better life for others, toward a better Canada. He used his profile and his songwriting to foster reconciliation between Canada and First Nations people by raising awareness of the atrocities and generational effects of residential schools. For his work, the Assembly of First Nations honored Downie with an eagle feather and a Lakota spirit name — Wicapi Omani — which means, “Man who walks among the stars.”

Here are five pieces about a man who used story and song to share his Canada and, through personal example, inspired and challenged us to be better as a nation.

1. “For Gord: 27 Short Essays About The Tragically Hip, Plus One Poem” (TheBelleJar, BuzzFeed, June 2016)

In this round-up, 28 fans share their earliest memories of The Tragically Hip and how Gord Downie and his lyrics became the soundtrack to important moments in their lives.

2. “Yer Favourites” (Eric Koreen, Hazlitt, August 2016)

After initial die-hard fandom, Eric Koreen gets turned off the Hip for a decade after getting fed up with a small, boorish, white male contingent of the group’s fan base, interested only in hearing the hits in concert — certainly not opening bands with thoughtful, though lesser-known songs. Koreen eventually reconciles the Hip’s dichotomous hold on Canada, in that they “combine the intellectual side of Canadians — that we’re thoughtful, smart people — with that humble, meat-and-potatoes side, too.” Koreen suggests his change of heart came as a direct result of Gord Downie, who he characterizes as someone who could “be frustrated by your country but not disown it; that you can be an intellectual and an everyman at the same time.”

3. “How I Learned to Love the Tragically Hip and Still Be Punk” (Damian Abraham, Vice, August 2016)

Damian Abraham, vocalist for Canadian hardcore punk band Fucked Up, recounts how he turned from lifelong Hip hater to friend of Gord Downie.

I met Gord properly for the first time in the summer of 2010 backstage at a Tegan and Sara/City and Colour concert. Gord was to join Dallas Green onstage to perform the song they did together on the latter’s Bring Me Your Love record, and I had brought my family with me to watch the show. My son was toddling his way around the backstage with us in tow when tumbled out in front of Gord. After helping him up and making sure he was OK, he picked up Holden’s flung and filthy soother and rushed over the sink to wash it. As he handed back the washed pacifier, I told him that he didn’t need to worry about doing that.

“Of course I did,” he responded.

Youthful exuberance can lead to rashness. In my rush to embrace punk and reject all that didn’t fit with my new world view, I ended up throwing out a lot of culture that I was thankfully able to rediscover later. Of all these bands, there are none I am more grateful to have awoken to the greatness of than the Tragically Hip.

4. “On the Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo and a Shared Legacy” (Michael Barclay, Macleans, August 2016)

Jim Cuddy, of the legendary Canadian band Blue Rodeo, shares stories of times his band and the Hip crossed paths in their early years touring Canada.

We were supposed to be on right before the Hip, but the Eagles inserted some guy whose father owns the Knicks. It was a blues band, and he was terrible. But he had to go on then because it was his plane that the Eagles were flying on.

Then the Hip came on and they were on fire. Gord was in a big white outfit, totally drenched. At the side of the stage is Irving Azoff [longtime Eagles manager and former CEO of Ticketmaster and Live Nation] standing there with the Eagles, and he’s looking at Gord telling him to shorten the set, making gestures. It’s making me furious, because I know the Eagles only want to shorten the set so they can get on a plane and fly out, which they can’t do after midnight or something. So Gord’s doing his thing and continues on. Then the Eagles come on and do a miserable set, just sucking the joy out of the whole island. Afterwards I was sitting with Gord backstage and asked, “Didn’t that bug you?” He said, “Pfft, I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d be playing and have Irving Azoff telling me to shorten my set.”

5. “Gord Downie opens up about battling cancer, says it’s ‘creating something'” (Peter Mansbridge, CBC News, October 2016)

In his first interview after his cancer diagnosis, Gord Downie talks with Peter Mansbridge about living with cancer.

When you see people now, you want to hug and a kiss. Why is that important to you now?

I do. Yeah. That was happening before, though, all this, strangely. My life was changing and I felt that everyone that hung in there with me, all these years, were still there — they didn’t write me off or anything like that. And they could have. So yes, hug and kiss. And my dad, Edgar, definitely kissed on the lips. And me and my brothers taught a lot of men how to do it.

The Rainbow Railroad to Canada for Gay Chechen Men

File photo of Anzor, a gay man who spoke to the Associated Press on condition that he not be further identified out of fear for his safety and that of his family from Chechnya, the predominantly Muslim region in southern Russia. Rights activists from Human Rights Watch have said that high-level officials in Russia's Chechnya have visited detention facilities where gay people allegedly were illegally held and tortured.(AP Photo/Nataliya Vasilyeva, File)

As John Ibbitson reports at The Globe and Mail, there’s a new underground railroad to Canada. Through a safe house network, the Canadian government has been spiriting away gay Chechen men who face not only government persecution, but honor killings at the hands of their family. In this conservative Russian republic, the government not only looks away from these heinous crimes, it encourages them.

For three months, the federal government has been secretly spiriting gay Chechen men from Russia to Canada, under a clandestine program unique in the world.

The evacuations, spearheaded by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, fall outside the conventions of international law and could further impair already tense relations between Russia and Canada. But the Liberal government decided to act regardless.

Hamzat, a man in his mid-twenties, is a recent arrival to Canada. (Hamzat is not his real name. The Globe and Mail is protecting his identity because he fears repercussions for friends and family in Chechnya, and because he is concerned that some Chechen-Canadians might wish him ill.) In an interview with The Globe, he was cautious but calm, offering a brief smile from time to time. He described how his ordeals began: One day in March, men wearing green khaki uniforms appeared in his place of work in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. He was handcuffed, placed in the trunk of a car, and taken to a local police headquarters. “I don’t know how to express this. I was in shock,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.

Hamzat was taken into a room and, still handcuffed, placed on a chair. He was surrounded by men who kicked him with their heavy boots and beat him with the brass nozzles of hoses. In later sessions, he was subjected to electric-shock torture.

The men wanted him to reveal the names of gay men he knew, just as another man under torture had given up his name. “I didn’t give them any information,” he said. “I lied to them.”

Between interrogations, he said, he and other gay men were kept in a cell with drug dealers and users, and confined to a small area because they were considered unclean. The interrogations lasted two or three weeks.

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A Bakery Death Reveals the Vulnerable Lives of Temporary Workers

(Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

Twenty-three year old refugee Amina Diaby died in Fiera Foods’ Ontario factory while making croissant dough. She was a low-wage temp worker, one of thousands in Ontario, and her hijab got stuck in a machine. For The Toronto Star, reporter Sara Mojtehedzadeh worked undercover on Fiera Foods’ production line in order to document the dangers of Canada’s growing temp economy works. Fiera’s system is stacked in businesses’ favor, with poorly trained temp workers risking their lives and health for low pay, no job stability, no benefits and few legal protections in return.

It’s a system that’s on the rise, and consumers should check their foods’ labels and research chain restaurants’ sources. The foods we buy from Costco and Dunkin’ Donuts might have been processed by newly arrived immigrants just trying to survive while they pursue the same dream of upward mobility that we do.

Temp agency employees are some of the most “vulnerable and precariously employed of all workers,” a 420-page report recently compiled by two independent experts for the Ontario government says.

Temps can be terminated at a moment’s notice, the report notes. Companies who use them are liable along with their temp agency for unpaid wages, including overtime and vacation pay, but not for most other workplace rights. Temps are often paid less than permanent counterparts doing the same job, and sometimes work for long periods of time in supposedly “temporary” positions. Agencies are not required to disclose the markups they charge on workers’ wages. New provincial legislation, which goes to second reading this month, seeks to tackle some of those issues.

Research conducted for the Toronto-based Institute for Work and Health also suggests that companies contract out risky work to temps. When a temp gets hurt, the company is not fully responsible because the temp agency assumes liability at the worker’s compensation board — saving their clients money on insurance premiums. This is a crucial financial incentive to use them.

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On Why Joni Mitchell Deserves Her Due

(Photo by Larry Hulst / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

At Bookforum, Carl Wilson writes on the genuis of Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell. In looking at David Yaffe’s Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell, Wilson argues that Joni’s musical talent and accomplishments have been “asterisked” over the years because she was a woman, and that it’s long past time she got the recognition she deserves for pushing musical and cultural boundaries with songs built on her “chords of inquiry” (unique chords based on her own tunings).

It’s 1984 or 1985, Prince and the Revolution are in California, and they decide to drive out to Joni Mitchell’s house in Malibu for dinner. All devotees—Prince says his favorite album ever is 1975’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns—they chat and admire her paintings, and then Prince wanders to the piano and starts teasing out some chords. “Joni says, ‘Oh wow! That’s really pretty. What song are you playing?’” as band member Wendy Melvoin later recalls. “We all yelled, ‘It’s your song!’” Prince will perform his gorgeous arrangement of Mitchell’s “A Case of You” in concerts up to the final month of his life.

This anecdote from David Yaffe’s Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell is rare for being sweet and funny, not sad or rancorous. It’s endearingly humbling, while still hinting at her ample ego: She really does love her own stuff, even when she doesn’t know it’s hers. And why shouldn’t she? For more than a decade, the singer from Saskatchewan bounded from masterpiece to masterpiece, her second-string songs superior to almost anyone else’s best. Yet, among her generation’s legends, she is the most persistently sidelined.

Mitchell excelled at channeling the subconscious of her time, especially as it was negotiated between men and women, but she was also always trying to get outside that orbit. She didn’t want to be a case of anything, except herself. The very chords she played were unique, belonging to no tradition except the one she generated with her own tuning system. She’s called them her “chords of inquiry—they have a question mark in them.” It wasn’t until she began working with jazz musicians that she found a band that could follow her (the rock dudes were hopeless). Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter took her as a musical peer. With rare exceptions, she refused to let anyone else—that is, any man—produce her albums, making her a pioneer in the studio too. No wonder Prince identified.

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Making Your Own Appointment to Die

Getty Images

At the Walrus, Dave Cameron profiles David Forsee, a man with a fatal lung disease called Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF), who chose to end his life under Canada’s right to die legislation. As his time diminishes, Forsee and his friends and caregivers struggle to be at peace with the choice he made and the time he has left.

Forsee says he’s trying to be “conscious of being curmudgeonly,” but he can’t deny that dying, and the ipf in particular, has made him impatient with small talk. In his prime, he rarely hurried a thought, and in his illness he can’t afford to. “It’s not always necessary to fill the air with empty words,” he once scolded Ollmann during a drop-in.

Truman again appears at Forsee’s back. “It’s strange, rooting for someone to be able to die,” she says. “He could be with us, cognizant, for a couple more months, but it’s not up to us.”

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Immoral or Merciful? Canadian Doctors Divided on Medically Assisted Death

(Photo by Valerie WINCKLER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Before assisted suicide was legal in Canada, there was a secret society devoted to helping Canadians end their lives on their own terms. As Nicholas Hune-Brown reports at Toronto Life, even though medically assisted death has been legal in Canada for a year, it remains controversial. Although some palliative care doctors — who believe in providing physical and psychological comforts to patients, but not in hastening death — are vehemently opposed to what they view as an immoral act, other doctors are slowly coming to terms with the patient’s new right to die in cases where death is “reasonably foreseeable.”

In April 2016, four months after his diagnosis, Jack went to the hospital with pneumonia. When he got out two weeks later, he needed a feeding tube and a suction machine for his saliva. He could no longer look after himself, so he moved in with April, her partner, Robert, and their two-year-old daughter, in Smiths Falls, Ontario. The man who had always been a blur of activity suddenly needed his daughter to help him out of bed. The professional smooth talker had trouble speaking, a single sentence sometimes stretching out over excruciating minutes as he struggled for breath. On more than one night, he’d begin to choke, and April would have to call an ambulance to help clear the mucus building up in his throat, watching helplessly as a look of utter horror spread across her father’s face. When she took him to the bathroom each morning, he would say the same thing: “I want to die.”

Since Jack Poelstra, Gerald Ashe has overseen nine more deaths. He’s been there as Canadian families have invented new rituals for a new way of dying—reading poetry and listening to favourite pieces of music, watching as family members have taken turns giving their final hugs and kisses. When I asked Ashe if he was ever upset by the process, if it ever felt like a burden, he thought for a moment. “You know, I think I’m a pretty sensitive guy,” he began. “But I don’t feel upset about it.” The patients had been so sure, so appreciative. The families were so relieved. To Ashe, it was clear that it was something that needed to be done, and he was glad that he was able to do it with care and empathy.

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Inside the Canadian Credit Bubble, Where Too Many Canadians Live Beyond their Means

The credit cards that once empowered many Canadians are now allowing people to bury themselves in debt they can’t recover from. In The Walrus, Raizel Robin writes about this new middle class. It’s an aspirational one that lives paycheck to paycheck, is not always willing to give up certain lifestyle choices and luxury activities, and relies on Payday loans that only compound their problems. Some financial analysts warn that the day of reckoning is approaching.

Indeed, while the largest chunk of our household expenditures goes toward groceries, transportation, and shelter, many Canadians seem uninterested in prioritizing needs over wants—according to a recent cibc poll, only half of those surveyed were willing to cut spending on non-­essential items in order to keep up with bills. Our debt load is, in a sense, the result of an aspirational burden. “Middle class” once meant exactly that—the ­median in household net worth, or the point at which half the population has a higher income and the other half a lower one. A 2013 ­internal government document deemed middle-­class incomes to be anywhere between $54,000 and $108,000—that’s quite a spread. Middle-­class status has thus become more of a state of mind than a demographic bracket. Federal finance minister Bill Morneau recently admitted as much, defining middle-class Canadians, in part, according to the “lifestyle they ­aspire to.”

But it’s hard to deny the fact that such lifestyles tend to be defined by consumption, or what one American sociologist has dubbed “upscale emulation.” A bankruptcy lawyer I spoke with has helped clients in just this fix—clients such as the Toronto architect crushed by $105,000 in tax debt and $75,000 in credit card debt who still managed to vacation in the tropics four times a year with his wife. Or the divorced, ­self-employed Toronto chiropractor who made $4,900 a month and insisted that both her kids attend private school—until the Canada Revenue Agency froze her ­accounts. We spend our way into the standard of living we feel we deserve, buying stuff that makes us who we think we are, or want to be.

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How the Canadian Government Tried to “Remove the Indian From the Child”

Residential school survivor Lorna Standingready is comforted by a fellow survivor in the audience during the closing ceremony of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Wednesday, June 3, 2015. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP)

Betty Ann Adam was three years old when she was taken from her mother in what is known as the “’60s Scoop,” a period spanning 30 years in which indigenous children in Canada were removed from their homes to be placed with white families as church-run residential schools were closing. “The government’s stated intention with the residential schools was to ‘remove the Indian from the child,’ by removing them from their parents and having them educated by white Christians” — another horrific, government-endorsed attempt at cultural genocide.

At the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Betty Ann Adam recounts her abduction, her trials fitting into white society, and her trepidation — and eventual joy — at being reunited with her blood relatives.

I’m in a police car. It’s a hot summer day and the seat is burning my legs. The woman puts me on her lap. Next, I’m in an airplane looking down at tiny cars on the road. Finally, I’m at the farm where I find myself, without knowing why, living a new life.

I was part of the Sixties Scoop. I’m an indigenous woman who was raised as a foster child in a non-native home. My birth mother, Mary Jane Adam, attended Holy Angels Indian Residential School in Fort Chipewyan, Alta. She left the school in her teens but never returned to the reserve to live.

I realized my indigenous identity had felt like a shadow that followed me and that I had feared all my life. When I stopped running and turned to meet it, I saw a friend. I saw my family. I saw myself.

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The Complicated Power of DIY Justice

Don’t you ever get tired of waiting for the system to deliver justice? In Esquire, Suzy Khimm enters the underworld of Canadian vigilantes who hunt pedophiles and make popular videos of busts. They have names like Creep Hunters and Creep Catchers. Some members were molested themselves, and they’re done waiting for authorities to help. But going rogue requires walking the line between avenger and criminal, and mistakes have led to widespread changes in the movement. Now some are asking what they want more: to be famous or effective?

When he took over the Creep Hunters last fall, Brady boasts, he created a culture of professionalism for their work: All chats and videos were required to be posted to the “head office” (a virtual workspace) and vetted by a “legal team” (a law student) before being published online. The group required members to sign a service agreement and complete a training program, using a manual called The Book of New Blood. The group even appointed an “office manager,” a 55-year-old former HR assistant who organized all the chat logs—the smutty propositions, the overwrought confessions of love, the dick pics—to send to the police.

So far, Creep Hunters hasn’t gotten anyone convicted, and only one catch—snaring a deputy sheriff in British Columbia—has resulted in charges of child sexual exploitation. But Brady insists that Creep Hunters could be the ideal complement to traditional law enforcement. Compared to the U.S., Canada has been slow to toughen its laws on child sexual exploitation: In 2008, it raised the age of consent from fourteen to sixteen years—the first time it had changed since 1892. Brady believes that the country needs to take America’s lead in cracking down on sex offenders, and that groups like his can help close the gap. Since predator catchers don’t have the ability to make arrests, they aren’t subject to the same entrapment laws that limit how police carry out their own sting operations; they can go where the police don’t, then turn their evidence over to the authorities.

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