Courtroom vs. Classroom

My kid? A registered sex offender?”

Talking about sex with kids is hard enough. Having the sex offence talk might seem unfathomable.

Still, refusing to think or talk about a problem does not cure it. Ignoring an issue does not dispel it. Paradoxically, keeping students in the dark about sexual offences is exactly what our teachers are supposed to do this year.

On one hand, talking about sex crimes might seem too sophisticated and too dark for children.

However, sexual crimes range in severity. They can seem trivial at first glance. Indeed, many sexual offences have euphemisms:

  • A stolen kiss
  • Surprise butt slap
  • Drunk sex
  • Sexting
  • Peeping Tom

What makes these offences even trickier is that they are not always crimes. Is all sexting criminal? Of course not. Is sex after consuming any alcohol always rape? Nope. Do all students know where the law draws the line?

Does your child?

Here is the problem. Criminal law dealing with sex offences is complex. Sex offences are not just about stranger rape. Sex offences happen online, on phones, in grocery stores, at parties, amongst friends.

Courts and lawyers are still grappling with issues of consent, inebriation and sex, child pornography and texting, and sexual bullying.

All-things-sex are getting more complicated every year. This year, Ontario educators are being told to provide even LESS information on the topic of sex.

Pop quiz!

  1. When Johnny sexts a naked picture of himself to his girlfriend, is he breaking the law?
  2. When a high school senior hooks-up with a junior, is it a sexual assault even with clear consent?
  3. Is the explicit Sailor Moon cartoon that kids googled on the internet “illegal pornography”?

If you fail this quiz in real life, there is no re-test. A failing grade when it comes to breaking the law is a conviction. The punishment? Sex offender registry, minimum jail sentences, probation, prohibition from internet/parks/pools…

Surprised? With proper sex education you wouldn’t be.

Lack of information is a wicked trap. You can easily commit a crime you did not know existed. You can easily be found guilty of a crime you did not know existed. It happens all the time.

In the eyes of the court, the fact that a person did not know what they did was illegal makes them ignorant, not innocent. Ignorance of the law is not a defence to a crime.

Closing our eyes does not stop sexual offences, it abets them. The #MeToo movement aimed to open the public’s eyes to sexual offences we had been blind to. Shutting down reality-based sex education places the blindfold back on.

In every subject, students need to know material before they are tested on it. Educators must have an up-to-date and accurate curriculum to navigate these difficult and complicated issues.

The time to learn about the legal landscape of sex is not in the courtroom – it is in the classroom.

The Juggle

“Girls can do anything!” got translated somewhere along the line into “Women must do everything.” – Kristi Coulter.

I will begin with an apology. I am sorry that your Cup of Jo may have runneth dry lately.

To be honest, this is the fourth time in a month that I have started this very column. I was unable to find enough time to myself to write a piece on work-life balance. Now that, Alanis Morisette fans, is ironic.

Juggling the Work-Social-Health trifecta can be an exasperating trick.

As with juggling balls, maintaining a rhythm between just 2 items is fairly simple. You focus on the first item until you feel confident. At this moment, you divert your eyes and focus on the second item. You focus on the second item long enough to feel confident. Once you are confident you’ve handled the second item, you return your attention to the first – just in time. Repeat.

Bringing-in that third ball adds complexity. You have to think two steps ahead. Your margin of error is smaller. You need hyper-focus and very quick reaction times just to keep the act going. If you divert your eyes too early: disaster. If you lose focus: big flop. If you get stuck on one item: everything goes to hell in a handbasket. What pressure!

Soon, it feels like you don’t have enough hands to manage this trick. You become exhausted from trying to do everything and be everything. At a point, you realize, you cannot do this forever. Even if you could, would you want to?

Trying to balance Work-Social-Health concerns in our lives is just as tricky. Having two of the three focuses allows us to feel accomplishment, but we seem to flake out on the third item.

  • We can be a kickass professional in excellent physical condition year-round. However, push-ups on money-stacks can be a lonely activity when your friends and family are out enjoying life.
  • We can spend our days at the spa with our friends, but neither our banks nor our friends are going to finance a life full of play.
  • We can work hard and play hard and ignore our health. The enjoyment, like our time on this earth, would be short-lived.

Even though Health-Work-Social are equally important areas in our lives, we feel we can only do two and lose our work-life balance. How is it that we have all gotten here?

I have three ideas.

First: we have set the bar too high. In the not-so-distant pass, we lived in small communities. At work, we competed locally. At home, we socialized privately. Our health was nobody’s business but our own. With the internet, communities have expanded to include the entire world. We compete against global conglomerates like Amazon. Our private moments are posted for approval on social media. Our fitness is judged by online postings of race times.

When every sale needs to be a “deal”, when every post needs to be a “like” where every race needs to be a PB, life is exhausting. We either need to have hyper focus, or we need to bear the burden of faking it until we make it.

Second: we have added in extra tricks. If all of these things weren’t enough, we sabotage ourselves by artificially making our juggling act harder. Imagine if Cirque du Soleil had to start a pack of cigarettes and finish them by the end of each show? We add all kinds of extra hurdles to our already packed lives: cigarettes, booze, serial shows, and Candy Crush, to name a few.

These distractions only make our work-life balance harder. Not only do they take extra time, but they make us less productive, healthy and social. If you thought a half marathon was hard, try training for it alone with a hangover and the black lung.

Third: we need to give ourselves a break, for heaven’s sake. In trying to do everything and be everywhere, we easily forget that this is supposed to be fun. Although life isn’t supposed to be easy, it is supposed to be enjoyable.

We have chosen wherever we are because, at least at some point, it seemed like a fun option. We owe it to ourselves to enjoy the lives we have. We only each get one (except cats – which is why they are allowed to be so damn unpleasant).

What should we do with these? Well, we can’t take down the internet. But we can choose to take time away from it on a regular basis. We can disconnect our lives from the competition and start trying to support one another locally, again.

We can kick the bad habits in our lives. The habits that, like YA fiction vampire villains, ask to be your boyfriend then suck the life out of you. We can re-prioritize our busy lives by ignoring things that claim to artificially relax us and using that time to get things done or, even better, to actually relax.

Finally, if we don’t like what we are doing, it is imperative that we act to change it now for the better. Maybe we can be on one baseball team fewer. Maybe we do not need to be the bodybuilding champion of the world. Maybe we can be happy just because we get to live here in sweet, sweet, Deep River Ontario.

We cannot change the world that we live in, but we can choose how we move within it. We can step away from our screens, kick an unhelpful habit and focus on the fun and relaxing parts of life.

We cannot juggle three flaming knives all of the time. We can, however, simplify the trick and remember that juggling is supposed to be fun.

Little Theatre, Big Issue

The controversy surrounding Confederate Monuments and Sir John A. MacDonald tributes has come to Deep River with the local production of Anything Goes.

What do we do about historical nuances that we wish were not a part of our past?

As a society, we recognize the importance of remembering and accurately depicting defining historical moments of our culture: in war, in politics, and in art. We have filled history books, compiled museum exhibits and erected statues to help us recall and, in many instances, revere important historical events and persons. We remember and celebrate theatre in a specific way: by re-creating and performing it.

In the last few years, we have re-examined the way we pay tribute to more complex parts of our history – specifically, the aspects that are marred by racism and prejudice. What does it mean to pay tribute to a known racist? What does it say about us to erect a monument that inspired racism?

If we memorialize racism, are we condoning racism?

Nobody could dispute that erecting a statue of Hitler sends a very chilling and aggressive message about racial and religious intolerance. When we name a bar after a former racist prime minister, the argument is muddier. What about if we perform a play that did not intend racism, but is racist nonetheless?

The 1930’s musical theatre piece, Anything Goes, by Cole Porter, premiers April 13 at Mackenzie Highschool by the Deep River Players. The play itself has innocent intentions. The action is set onboard a cruise ship where the antics and blunders of celebrities, criminals and crew result in love triangles, intrigue and comedy. The musical is light-hearted, a little cheesy and extremely dance-y. At first blush, one senses Porter simply meant to engage the audience in a “good time” for a couple hours.

The play, however, is undeniably racist.

Anything Goes has been written and re-written multiple times. The first version was sickening. The show’s signature song lyrics included racist slurs so derogatory that I have removed them from this column. (Adam Feldman has reproduced them in his Time Out, New York opinion piece on the play, if you wish to seek them out).

At the time the play was written, America was ripe with racism. The 1930’s may have been the time of swing dancing and Hollywood glamour, but it was also the time of the Nazi rise to power, of the Ku Klux Klan and the perpetuation of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Now, as the lyrics say, “Times Have Changed”. Society is much more progressive – and less racist – albeit by no means clean of all racism . The show, too, is less racist, having many of its lyrics replaced.

Nevertheless, Anything Goes still features a highly controversial scene where the main characters engage in a lengthy vaudeville portrayal of demeaning racist stereotypes for comedy. Porter wrote the scene to feature actor William Gaxton, a specialist in comedic disguise. The play is built around the racism inherent in this disguise and, as such, cannot be removed.

Herein lies the dilemma. The play is an accurate portrait of the 1930s. While the time was a fun, care-free, and silly time of luxury for some, it was not that way for all. Prejudice ran so deep at the time that it was embedded not only in the dark shadows of society, but in its brightest emblems.

Anything Goes presents an ethical and cultural dilemma at the feet of a small-town theatre troupe. Like the cities re-considering Confederate statues or establishments questioning Sir John A MacDonald’s namesake on their windows, the Deep River Players had to decide what to do with a great musical that had a big racism problem.

The way I see it, there are two options: ignore the issue, or deal with it.

The Deep River Players could have ignored the racism issue by proceeding without acknowledging the racism in the show or could have chosen not to do the show altogether. Either way, the Players would have been side-stepping the issue: choosing not to engage with it. This cannot be the way forward. How do we learn from our past if we allow it to continue or pretend it simply did not happen?

The Deep River Players chose to deal with the racism head-on. I cannot imagine this was a decision to be taken light-heartedly. After all, this is a play produced and performed by a predominantly white cast. The play will be received by a predominantly white audience. They had to wrestle with the possibility – or even probability – that their own experience and background may allow some offensive material to pass or even slip-by, unnoticed.

The production team always needs to make choices in a play. For this play, they had to make many difficult and nuanced choices.They determined that acknowledging the racism meant including a sincere apology and warning in the program about the challenging content. They determined that addressing the racism in the show meant changing the script, where they felt they could.

Even before the dress-rehearsal, we have already seen this conversation about racism developing in the many questions it has brought up for everyone: production, cast and audience.

The production team had to ask themselves : what is wrong with this joke? Do we want the audience to laugh at this? Do we leave the scene in? Is writing an apology in the program enough?

As a cast member, we have had to ask ourselves similar questions: what does my participation in this musical mean? Am I condoning the racism inherent in the show? What part can I play or should I play to stand-up to racism?

The final questions will be left to the audience. It is my hope that our friends and family choose to not side-step the racism issue but similarly choose to confront it head-on by attending and considering. Anything Goes presents an opportunity to open-up a dialogue, to ask one’s self hard questions, to sit with an open but critical mind: How do we feel about the racism in this play? Have times changed enough?

While I cannot say I agree with each and every decision production made about this issue, I nevertheless applaud their willingness and courage in attempting to address this very divisive subject. Whether Deep River Players wanted to produce Anything Goes despite its darker side or whether it had the intent to open-up a discussion about racism, it certainly has a small controversy waiting at its feet at the premier.

The choice to engage a play with a racism issue was made months ago, when the Deep River Players decided to produce Anything Goes. The subsequent choices about how they were going to address the racism issue (what jokes would be kept in, what pieces would be left out) have been numerous and have at least indirectly affected all aspects of the show from costumes, to dialogue, to plot.

Did this Troupe err in choosing to re-create this theatre piece? Did it take a big step forward in addressing racism by choosing this piece? Did it manage to play this difficult hand right? Like any great production, the audience’s reaction to the production’s decisions big and small can only be known once the curtain opens.

Bright-Eyed

happy christmasIsn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different… – C.S. Lewis
I like to imagine the newly elected Town Council sitting around in their big chairs in 2014 just staring at each other. Starry-eyed and hopefully grinning, thinking about all of the great things they were about to do. This venture, they must have thought, is going to be phenomenal.

We must have thought so, too. Each of the Council members were so well-liked, so well-respected, we voted them in over many other very popular, capable and revered community members.

Fast forward four years later to 2018. References to Town Council are met with a sneer, personal insults are thrown at members of Town Council in public and in private, nearly every Council decision becomes divisive and includes at least one gossip controversy. Deep River Townspeople have become suspicious of our Town Council.

Are Deep Riverites all wrong?

Is Town Council out to screw us over?

How can both of these statements be untrue?

Plenty has changed over the last few years. Even in 2014, politics looked a little different. The increasing popularity of 24-hour news cycles, Twitter, memes, online blogs and Facebook pages mean that lay people have become more political than ever. We have easy access to information and we want more of it.

In the past (when social media was more about sharing photos than opinions), municipal news came from two sources: live Town Council meetings or NRT articles. Honestly, I used to skip municipal politics articles and go straight to the NRT Lost and Found column. Match-Up was sassy. Town Council meetings and articles were targeted to those who were actively interested.

In a new and more accessible world, Deep Riverites now have access to a quick and sassy Coles-notes version of municipal politics: other people’s online posts. Angry, excited and surprising posts are most likely to catch other people’s attention. Objective first-hand materials on the town website tend to be skipped-over. Which would you chose:

(a) A seven-paragraph explanation of a complex financial proposal and presentation?

Yawn.

(b) AN ALL CAPS POST WITH A PICTURE AND A &^%$ING SWEAR WORD?

You have my attention!

In Deep River, where social media does not reach, the social gossip does. Conversations that begin with “Did you see what so-and-so posted about…” are regularly overheard Saturday afternoons at the Legion.

Our newfound access to municipal politics begs the question: what’s the problem?

Contrary to the cliché, all publicity is not good publicity. Headline-driven news funnels out success. Opinions and drama make social media news. Competence and stability do not. Exposing supposed blunders and conspiracies happening in our own municipal government is a great way to lure people into caring about municipal politics. Using this tactic means, however, that Town Council members get caught in the net. The municipal news stream reads like a tabloid, and the Town Council is the favourite target.

Who should we blame for our biased municipal news stream?

Well, we could blame the townspeople for failing to read the town website and be objectively informed. However, the minutes are no John Grisham novel: they are boring and long. Tedium is why we never got interested in municipal politics in the first place.

We could blame our little NRT. Having solid hard-hitting investigative news stories that uncover newsworthy tips before the event happens would be amazing. In this day of SunMedia and a dying press, we are lucky to have a local paper at all – especially one of this calibre. Funding for “Spotlight” likely is not in the cards. Besides, who would be left to write the sassy Lost and Found?

Unfortunately, it seems Town Council takes the blame on this, too. In an information age, it is helpful to provide candid and timely updates to residents in formats they can understand and in formats that appeal to them. Our town likes to be updated and in the know so they can participate or at least feel like they can participate in a meaningful way.

The good news is that Town Council can change its lot. It can move from tabloid target to public ally by repurposing social media to its advantage.

By jumping ahead of the social media opinions and divulging the story before it becomes a story, the Town has a way of explaining itself. Deep Riverites can feel like they are working alongside Council in addressing the problems that affect us all. Social media can even invite participation for many who do not have the time or the confidence to otherwise share their views. Transparency alone can quell suspicion.

Town Council is not poised against us, the people. We are not the United States of America. Cobden did not meddle in our election, Mayor Lougheed is not antagonizing Bruce Township about the relative size of its nuclear reactors, Terry Myers’ children are not posting fake news on Twitter. While we will not always agree on the decisions Council make, we must all agree that they are doing their best for us.

Suspicions naturally arise when people feel they are being left in the dark about important decisions. If the Town wants the trust and confidence of the townspeople, they need to turn on the light early so we can easily perceive their best intentions.

Mean Behind The Screen

I was an amateur ballerina for eight years. I did not have a bright future as a dancer, but I did know the rules of the classroom. At the beginnings and ends of lessons, we had to acknowledge our teacher with a curtsy. Why an open-legged squat is a sign of respect remains a mystery to me. The rule, however, makes sense: in every interaction, we must begin and end with respect.

Outside of the mirrored walls of the ballet class, we see a handful of ways we show courtesy for one another in our communication even before we start: handshakes at meetings, warm greetings to start conversations, using formal prefixes for people we are just meeting. These symbols of courtesy have evolved alongside our communication and are practically intrinsic in any exchange- unless we are speaking through screens.

Chatting changed with the advent of e-mail, followed quickly by messaging, texting, then posting. We are less formal, we are more expedient. “You” becomes “u”, we omit punctuation entirely, we abbreviate “in my opinion” to IMO. We want to hurry-up and say our piece. Our fast-tracked communication has lost more than just grammar, spelling and full words. Somewhere along the line, we dropped basic courtesy.

Courtesy, at its plainest, is defined as behaviour marked by respect for others. In our community, it is on regular display outside.  A grocery line is not complete without a routine battle of the “sorries” between kind customers (“Were you here? I’m sorry, you go ahead” “No I’m sorry, you first, please”). Even a brief conversation downtown starts with a quick inquiry about our health (“How’re ya now?”) These exchanges, like a curtsey or a handshake, show our general respect for each other that transcends whatever the eventual conversation subject may be.

When we move behind our screens, our small-town familiarity and mutual respect is lost. Instead of assuming the best of people, we can assume the worst. Instead of looking out for one another, we can fall into the trap of throwing each other under the bus. Whether it be a garbage debate, the firefighter debate, or even a Tim Hortons debate, online conversations about “hot topics” can divide even the tightest of little communities.

In recent community discussions on several social media pages, a “thread” (group of typed posts) begins with one neighbour’s take on a hot topic. People respond by posting their own hot takes on the topic: usually brief, rarely without typos. In too many cases, the conversation devolves into mockery, name-calling, blocking and sometimes even aggression. On both sides of the battle: upstanding and kind members of our community.

How can we be so kind on the streets but so mean behind a screen?

On the streets in Deep River, we are not anonymous: we are recognizable, we are public. When we are behind a screen, it gives us the illusion of anonymity and privacy. We can say things we otherwise would not say. We behave as though our online personalities exist in a bubble. We have forgotten that we are still accountable for the things we say from the privacy of our smartphones. We ignore that the people receiving our words are our neighbours, colleagues and friends.

The benefits of aggressive posting cannot outweigh its problems. It is foolish to think that a single post or reply to a post will drastically change a complex issue on its own. It is very unlikely that a post can even change one person’s mind. However, an aggressive threat or mean-spirited joke can certainly have a detrimental effect on the typist’s own reputation, on the recipient’s sense of well-being, and on the general feeling of inclusivity and respect in a community.

In a community where we thrive on our mutual support, our reputations for kindness, and our heightened respect for one another, we must keep courtesy at the forefront of every interaction we have. The upside to the internet is that we have a moment at the end of a typed rant to reflect before we click “post” or “send”. We can choose to edit and amend to ensure we have shown respect to one another throughout the post. Online communication may not have a shortcut to show respect, it does not mean that we should forget about courtesy altogether.

In Deep River, our community members are too nice on the streets to be mean behind the screen. We need to hold our online communication to the same kindness standards we have in public exchanges.  Whether it be a ballet class, a Town Hall meeting, or an online exchange, we must begin and end with courtesy.

A Costly Cup of Tim’$

coffeeEarly in the morning this summer, I enjoyed a sweet workday start: sitting in my office chair, drinking what’s left of my Tim Horton’s coffee, and browsing Deep River Discussions. One post warmed my heart: “Huge shout out to Cody (not sure of his last name) from Deep River Tim Hortons”, it read, “…some of the friendliest service I’ve ever had.” The post blew-up with Likes, Comments and Shares: locals agreed.

I looked down at my coffee and remembered the smiling face and cheery greeting of the young man that served me. I DID enjoy my experience there. I SHOULD go back tomorrow. No sooner did the thought cross my mind that I realized that Cody from Deep River probably makes Tim Hortons an extra chunk of change, and that my Large Regular would not profit Cody at all.

Apart from our drive-thru run-ins, I have never spoken with Cody. I am willing to bet, however, that he makes little more than minimum wage. Having worked at that same Tim Hortons years ago, I have a small idea of what his workday looks like. He arrives work-ready in his work-mandated uniform at least 15 minutes before the start of his shift. He puts his phone away.

Cody’s work day is packed: he has regular chores that need to be finished before shift’s end, he has additional chores to do if he finishes the mandatory chores (if you can lean, you can clean), he focuses on each person’s experience while simultaneously meeting the corporate time requirements for maximum customer flow, and yet he still probably gets publicly criticized by one customer or co-worker once or twice in the day. His day is strictly regulated with conversation time being limited to 1-2 breaks of 15 minutes, during which he can eat by himself in a small back room. Cody earns every penny he is paid. The smile and cheery attitude is a bonus he throws-in for us.

Minimum wage jobs are extremely difficult. Personally, I have worked in over 20 different workplaces through high school, university, and law school. With the possible exception of articling, I have never found work as draining as when I worked minimum wage jobs – particularly, in the fast service industry.  The pace, the lack of recognition, the monotony of forced routine, the high number of tasks and lack of any real control in your day requires massive amounts of energy and leaves the worker with little to nothing left at the end of a shift. This is not to say that people who work at Tim Hortons do not like their jobs, nor that minimum wage jobs are devoid of reward. This is to say that they are damn tough.

As a capitalist society, we endorse reaping what you sow. The harder you work, the more you stand to profit, right? Not so for minimum-wage employees: they hit the glass ceiling hard, regardless of profit creation or capability. Cody is rocking it from the drive-thru window making even us locals want to buy into the Tim Hortons’ overpriced drip coffee enterprise. Cody realizes almost none of the additional profit he makes for his store. When the minimum wage was $11.25, the average Tim Horton’s employee earned $11.50. That average accounts for seniority! What about Cody’s boss? The Executive Chair of Tim Hortons, Paul D. House (even with credit for working double-double hours), makes approximately $945/hour. Is Paul D. House working 80 times harder than Cody per hour? No way, Housée.

Tim Hortons Corporation is structured so that, after franchise royalties, mandatory costs, mandatory expenses, etc., even our local franchisee will only see a small fraction of any profit Cody makes. Our Deep River Tim’s money is not local. It gets funnelled straight to the Big “Paul D. House” on the top: the CEO and all the coffee bean counters.

The Liberals have made a small change to the minimum wage that impacts us in a big way in Deep River. The minimum wage increased to $14 this January (annual salary of $29K before taxes). Prior to this, those making minimum wage lived on a wage sitting directly atop the poverty line at $22K (below the poverty line if they had even one kid). Since most minimum wage workers live locally and spend most of their time in the area, nearly 100% of their paycheques are funnelled back into Deep River: into town-run community services, local establishments, landlords and taxes. $14 per hour does not land anyone into the lap of luxury, however, it may mean that someone working at Tim Hortons can live (frugally) on one job alone. Minimum wage hike: good news for Cody, good news for Deep River.

Local franchises and businesses, however, may not see the minimum wage increase as all sunshine and ice caps. Minimum wages hit franchisees and small business owners hard: they expose the thin profit margin that differentiates local business persons from Paul D. Houses. The natural inclination is to look at minimum wage workers and blame them for the squeeze. This anger is righteous – but misdirected.

The $14 that goes into a skilled, minimum wage worker is money well-spent: it pays for a loyal employee, working hard under direct supervision, promoting the business locally, being taxed locally and spending their money locally. The tight squeeze in profitability is likely not from Cody’s extra $3 an hour, but rather in the exceptionally high costs of globalization, franchises, and large corporate retailers who inflate the bottom line expenses of Maw and Paw shops.

With the minimum wage hike, Deep River Discussions has seen some angry posts. The brewing rage focuses on how over-paid minimum wage workers are. Some rants directly blame those minimum wage workers for their own unemployment. The out-of-town corporations who regularly price us out of small businesses and franchises somehow avoid all blame.  This logic is backward. The local minimum wage workers are not driving the franchise royalties and mandatory costs. The local minimum wage workers are not relying on out-of-country production and services to drive down their costs and price local vendors out of business. The local minimum wage workers want local businesses to succeed and have a vested interest in their success.

As a small community that relies on local business, on local support, and on a thriving population, we must be thankful. An increase allows our neighbours, who work for the least amount of money, to receive a fraction closer to what they have earned through hard and dedicated work. We need to focus our frustration not on the Codys, but on the Paul D. Houses, Galen G. Westons, and Stephen G. Wetmores. The middle-initial corporate barons not only hold our extra spending money on their Tim’s Card, PC Card, or Canadian Tire Cards, but also the key to the profit handcuffs on our local businesses, and the rightful earned wages of our community members.

White Screen Christmas

What was the best part of your day? My little four-year-old friend considered the question. On a busy holiday Sunday, she had a lot to choose from: sitting on Santa’s lap, carolling in the pub, gymnastics, a birthday dinner… The winner? Playing on mom’s iPad.

Internet, social media, and our screen devices have revolutionized the way we live. From everyday bedtime reading to planning your latest gala, technology is the backseat driver on our fun. During the Christmas holidays, our tech makeover is more galling than ever. Screens run rampant live-broadcasting our social events, taking pictures of our holiday food, filling the rare silent moment, and offering us guilt-free last-minute Christmas shopping.

This is not a Holly, Jolly reality. It is more of a Nightmare Before Christmas. Our obsession with screens creates some real privacy concerns, makes us anti-social, and can be downright depressing. My iPad-loving four-year old friend is lucky to have a very attentive mom who actively limits her access to and use of screens. However, after 18, we are on our own to monitor against our own screen-obsession.

Let’s talk privacy. Our smart devices smack of Orwellian predictions about our future. We record, track and disseminate our private lives through social media. One SnapChat program provides a live-feed GPS to track your every movement. On Facebook, I can see the events my Facebook “friends” have attended, what they were wearing, and who they were with. The fitness apps track when we sleep, heart rates, what we ate, even our measurements. Right now, these private broadcasts may not seem like a big deal. However, our informational world is still evolving.

How would your Health Insurer feel about the MacDonald’s diet you have been faithfully reporting to your Fitness app? Would your stalker ex-boyfriend like to see your live GPS feed? Would you like your boss to have access to your twitter opinion on a controversial topics? Everything you put on your device is available to any user with the right technology. We need to stop confiding in our phones like they were our best friends and start treating them like the frenemies they are.

Speaking of friends, our smart devices have become the stage-five clinger in our lives. Screens drive us away from the important people in our lives, constantly demand our attention, and then pit us against the people in our real-life social networks. A recent study reveals that one third of people admit they communicate less with their parents, partners, children and friends because they can just “follow” them on social media. Our smart devices also create divides between people: 42% of people felt jealous toward their friends who received more “likes” than they did. The nerve!

Spending our lives on our devices watching the best-of reel of our acquaintances’ lives on social media can be downright depressing. We spend less time outside, we have less human interaction, and we can easily feel like we are trying to keep up with an unlimited number of The Jones’. The sad reality of screens and social media calls into question why we use them at all.

Unless you hide away in a camp out in the Wylie Road backwoods, we are all stuck with screens. We use them out of necessity. Screens and social media do, of course, have a helpful, informative, and entertaining side. They are a guilty pleasure we all revel in. All of us have undoubtedly heard of a friend who publicly boycotts the modern world of screen technology and social media. We have all equally bit our tongues when the same friend returns back into the screen world quietly a few weeks later.

The key to harnessing the best parts of screens and social media has got to be informed moderation, not abstinence. We cannot ignore the positive or negative reality of social media. Hiding from technology leaves the non-user ill-equipped to participate in our modern world. Our best defence against the phone is informing ourselves of the dangers and adjusting our use accordingly.

I simply cannot end a pre-Christmas Cup of Jo as a Grinch. To turn things around, I have written a little parody of what I believe to be the most entertaining part of social media: Deep River Yardsale Facebook Group. At the request of Katie Roblin, please enjoy this little Carol, set to the tune of “My Favourite Things”. Merry Christmas, Deep River!

DEEP RIVER YARD SALE THINGS

One grass stained prom dress,

‘80s cassette player,

Used size-C brazier,

Four blades for your razor,

Kombucha Scoby,

Sad engagement ring:

These are some Deep Ri-ver Yard-sa-le Things!

***

Lulu Lemon Pants,

One actual rooster,

Old beat-up couches,

Broken baby booster.

What in the heck is a “Fingerling”?

These are some Deep Ri-ver Yard-sa-le Things!

****

Stolen road bike!

Gross homemade soup!

Shirt with a breast hole!
Once your friends buy your impractical things,

You, too, can mark them…

AS SOLD!

Mind The Gap!

One café in Melbourne Australia has started implementing a “Man Tax”. Male patrons are charged an 18% surcharge on their orders to account for the gender pay disparity.

The full additional funds raised by the surcharge are donated to a women’s service. The café is not making a profit- it is making a point. A gender surcharge seems unfair, discriminatory, and offensive, right? The point is that all of these adjectives are equally applicable to the gender pay gap. If our paycheques are 18% lower, should our bills not be 18% lower?

In short, no.

But… sort-of, yes. Let’s start with this ‘yes’ argument.

Women in Canada make 82% of what men do, according to the Statistics Canada census data just released. To break it down, women with a B.A. make an average of $68K versus $82K for men with the same degree. This is not just career choices. Fresh graduates in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, math) make $72K if they are male but only $59K if they are female. Even in female-dominated fields like nursing, men are making slightly more than their female counterparts.

Think of your daughter and son. If they both go to school and get the same degree, your son could take home the same pay, and then buy a new car every other year. Yes, exceptions exist. I am sure you can name one lady colleague who is as dense as a rock and currently out-earning your genius male friend. It is, however, an exception. The statistically proven rule in Canada is that women must pay the gender wage deduction.

Gender Pay Gap Deniers can be like Flat Earthers. Evidence of the gender pay gap and a spherical earth is indirect, can be complex, and requires a higher level of thinking. Some people need to see something in the simplest, most direct terms to accept it. This is particularly true when the concept does not line-up with their specific view of the world. Rapper B.O.B., for example, believes the earth is flat because the horizon always looks the same. Stephen Miller, senior advisor to Donald Trump, mansplains that women are paid less because women make the choice to have children, and have less demanding jobs.

We know (I hope!) that B.O.B.’s observation is right, but his conclusion is wrong. Similarly, Stephen Miller is partially right in his observations, but wrong in his conclusions on baby-making and job choice.

Women and men both make the choice to have children: two people are required. For every pregnant woman, there is an impregnator. On the other hand, one baby daddy may have several baby moms. By this logic, we can infer there must be more working fathers than working mothers. When the decision to create a child is made (on purpose or accidentally) by two, it makes no sense to say that only the female baby-maker should be punished in their final salary.

The gender pay gap is not softened or explained by the “women have less demanding jobs”, either. Looking at the per-hour wage, men make about $3 more than their female counterparts. It is troubling that career paths that hire more women tend to be compensated at a lower rate. But even at those jobs, women earn less than the men doing the same job. Even self-employed lady entrepreneurs make less than men! Harvard Business School academics explained that men and women are promoted in different ways once an employee has the job. Men are promoted for what they might do, whereas women are only promoted once they have successfully done it. Think about that for a second: who is going to advance in the ranks to a high-paying job faster?

Do not feel you have to believe me. Check it out for yourself! Have a look at the cold, hard numbers. I recommend Statistics Canada and Canadian Public Policy publications. We have known about the gender gap for well over a decade. These sources just confirm it is alive and well.

So what do we do about it?

Here is the ‘no’ argument on Man Tax. A simple slap-on solution for a historical and complex problem is not going to be the answer. We are a complex society. The solution needs to be equally complex, encompassing, and well-researched. We need to change our public institutions, our educational values, and our laws. This takes time and effort. Charging an inequality surcharge obviously presents a bunch of obvious problems: who do we charge it to? What about other, more marginalized groups? What about taxes? How about the kid behind the till who is trying to calculate this? The result of the man tax, of course, would be ridiculous and comical. I do not believe that the Australian café intended to make a public Man Tax policy. It was making a point. A great one.

Flat-Earthers and Wage Gap Deniers alike may need hard, concrete evidence of the feeling of absurdity, of arbitrary discrimination and of unfairness to feel the impact of the cost of gender. Slamming an extra $1-$2 drives a point home in a fun and viral way. For Canadian boys, instead of paying an extra $1 for your mancuccino, take a moment of your potentially overpaid time to consider the problem of the gender pay gap. If you’ve got a solid solution to eliminate the pay gap, you may have justified your own 18% yearly bonus.

The Grape Debate

Quick! Name three luxury items you would love to be able to afford.

  1. Infinity pool.
  2. Yacht with a slide.
  3. ValuMart grapes.

Since A&P closed its refrigerator doors over 20 years ago, ValuMart found itself with a grocery store monopoly in a small town, with plenty of fairly affluent folks. Combined with high shipping fees to traverse fresh produce down the 17, taxes, and inflation, the cost of food meant that sub-$100 grocery trips were a thing of the past.

Staring-down the hefty ValuMart receipt, you notice something startling. The first half of your grocery trip, through the produce and meats section, is much more expensive than the later jaunt through pre-packaged, processed foods aisles.

The grocery price disparity weaves its way into the food-decision-making process. “My kids like the $2.39 canned vegetable soup more than the vegetable soup it cost me $17.56 and a Sunday morning to make.” The temptation to eat canned is financial. Eating “clean” is expensive.

My friend experienced the grocery dilemma first-hand. Since she started eating clean (basically, eating real food with no additives, sugars, fillers), her grocery bill has doubled. “No wonder people don’t eat this way!” she complained. She felt her food bill was jacked-up because it was fresh.

Fairly or unfairly, this is the repeating chorus I’ve heard since I moved back to Deep River: ValuMart produce is too costly to make eating fresh food a financially smart decision.

I disagreed with my friend. All food is expensive. Real food at any grocery store still gives way more bang for your buck than the cheaper aisles. Here is how I proved it to her:

Fresh Soup and Chicken Breasts (Meal A)

vs.

Canned Soup and Kraft Grilled Cheese (Meal B)

The cost of our real food, Meal A, is approximately $30. Feeding the canned soup, Kraft Singles on white bread, Meal B, to a family of four costs less than $8, all-in. However, Meal A’s price per nutritional unit is actually cheaper.

The real food in Meal A packs important vitamins, nutrients, and protein into everyone eating it. 100% of the foods will be helpful to the body. Bodies will not only “feel full”, but will actually be satiated. Later that day, when bodies want to exercise/think/sleep/function, real food can only help.

Meal B’s nutritional value is miniscule. In the canned vegetable soup, we see that only a fraction of the ‘meal’ has real ingredients. The rest: salt, refined sugar, water, and chemicals I struggle pronouncing. The white bread and butter leaves little for a body to capitalize on. Do not get me started on the Kraft Singles. After Meal B, you’ll be hungry again in an hour, so you need to price-in an inevitable post-dinner snack.

Eating is fuel. Cheap processed food is like burning chemicals and garbage in your woodstove. Sure, this fire is quick and easy, and will flame bright and hot at the start. However, it will burn out quickly, you will be constantly replenishing it, the chemicals from the garbage can impact your health, and you’ll end-up reeking of its by-products. We are better-off to use quality wood to fuel a lasting, useful and pleasant fire.

Let’s turn to price per unit. If we say that 15% of canned Meal B ($8) is giving you nutrition vs. 100% of real Meal A ($30), then we can figure out what the food actually costs. To get the same 100% nutrition from the pre-packaged foods in Meal B, I would need to buy more of it, to the tune of $53 ($8 ÷ 15% … do I have that right, Mrs. Van Wagner?)

The worst part of pre-packaged food is life imposes additional extra costs to eating garbage. The remaining 85% of non-beneficial ingredients in canned Meal B will make a body lethargic, cause weight gain, and maybe even contribute to medical problems. We must add-on costs like gym memberships, Spanx, and sick/unpaid leave from work.

Adding-up costs: $53 in product for same nutrition + $100 gym membership + $15 Spanx, cheap food is the more expensive alternative.

I am not a mathematician. I suspect my numbers need tweaking. I’m also not an investigative journalist. I have no idea why groceries cost what they do, why Food Basics is cheap, or why I can’t afford to eat grapes most weeks at ValuMart. I suspect that the reasons are far more complex and boil down to logistics, franchise agreements, and the quality of the produce. In fact, this might be a great piece for the NRT to investigate…

I am a realist. Bailing on nutrition isn’t going to make your life less expensive, no matter what grocery store you shop from. Food is expensive. Good food is no exception. My friend will have to find an alternative to lighten the grocery load: potlucks, sending the kids to friend’s houses for dinner, waiting for the infamous $1.99 grape sale week at ValuMart.

Instead of crunching numbers, consider treating yourself to a little luxury once in a while. Dine on expensive ValuMart grapes! Go for broke: enjoy some fermented ones at the LCBO at the same time.

Who The Heck Is Larry Dumoulin?

treesEvery country needs its whistleblowers. They are crucial to a healthy society. The employee who, in the public interest, has the independence of judgement and the personal courage to challenge malpractice or illegality is a kind of public hero. ― Fuad Alakbarov

Deep River is a different place than when I left it in 2002: Centennial Rock has a new landscape, Mackenzie is now a Community School, and everywhere I look I see a name I did not know before: Larry Dumoulin. In the North Renfrew Times, in Counsel Meetings, on Social Media, in the aisles of Giant Tiger, on the CBC: Larry Dumoulin’s name and his opinion call out for change to everyone who will listen.

I had no idea who Larry Dumoulin was. Through my extensive research (Google, my friends and family), I understand Larry has lived here for a long time and even worked for the Town as Treasurer when I was still in elementary school. Mr. Dumoulin has had his spoon in the pot for years. With the advent of Facebook “Discussion Groups”, Larry Dumoulin is a household name. Larry regularly disrupts the status quo of our small town and is not afraid to do it.

Living in a small town, we wrestle with social dynamics that spill into all aspects of our lives. A medical professional who does our physical in the morning might sit beside us at church that evening. The police officer who confiscated our underage booze backpacks on the way to Summerfest might be the parent who invited us over for our friend’s birthday party the week before.  A councillor that we face-off against about municipal decisions one night might also be the teammate who wins the face-off for our hockey game the following night. Awkward? Ya. Surprising? Nah.

Close social ties in an isolated town makes a community stronger. Your doctor can fill a prescription quickly, the police officer might give you a “you’re a good kid” break, and our municipal officials consider the nuanced concerns of the townspeople. We all go-along-to-get-along in our non-social activities to allow for smooth and harmonious social lives.

The problem with going-along-to-get-along is that we maintain the status quo. Change does not happen. Systems that never worked are never fixed. Problems within an organization bloom into catastrophes. Small biases turn into systemic unfairness. Like the junk drawer in our kitchen, ignoring annoyances and problems can result in a heaping mess that nobody is willing to address.

Enter Larry.

I have never met the fellow. I understand that most of the bees in his bonnet are with the functioning of the Town. Whether it be an under-researched proposal to switch police forces, or the neglected decision of what to do about our fire services, Mr. Dumoulin is not content to go-along-to-get-along. Instead, Mr. Dumoulin asks hard questions. Mr. Dumoulin demands answers. Most importantly, Mr. Dumoulin incites the public to take an active concern in the town politics that affect us all.

We are not always happy with town decisions. Complaining to one another over brunch may feel great, but does little to change anything. Many of us cannot or choose not to publicly share our opinions on town issues because of our work, our social circles, or even our own ignorance on the topic. Having a town adjitator keeps everyone accountable, promotes change and certainly adds to our conversations around the water cooler.

For anyone who has yet to read one of Mr. Dumoulin’s indictments on the town issues, I urge you to get out your dictionary and have a stab at one. They are well-written, sophisticated submissions that easily put the President of the United States’ correspondence to shame. When you reach the end of the submissions, you may not agree with them. You will admit, however, that they are persuasive.

Mr. Dumoulin’s regular advocacy can seem intrusive, overbearing and, in short, annoying to some. Mr. Dumoulin’s positions on issues can be polarizing. Mr. Dumoulin’s methods can be controversial. Many do not agree with the arguments he makes or the creative ways he chooses to make them. Mr. Dumoulin’s voice on Facebook can be loud – so loud, in fact, that a new Facebook Group was required to discuss the issues he has taken-up.

Being a lawyer by trade, I recognize that speaking-up for change can be unnerving, isolating, and even punishing. Nevertheless, the most important discussions are often the most challenging. We are all very lucky to have someone in the town who is willing to have those discussions – whether we agree with him or not.

I began my year here wondering “who the heck is Larry Dumoulin?” I am left now wondering where our town would be without our favourite pot-stirrer. I propose a toast! Here’s to Larry Dumoulin: a man we can all count on to speak-up on our issues, even if we disagree with him, and even we have never actually spoken with him before.

 

Beware of Zombies

photo-1479142506502-19b3a3b7ff33I have criminals for friends.
The beautiful one? Criminal. The runner? Also a criminal. Silver fox? Yup. The redhead? Obviously. The baby-faced two-year-old? Not a criminal, yet. But he probably will be one day.

Sitting around on a Friday evening, I sneakily engage my otherwise well-behaved friends in a game of “You’re a Criminal”. Here is how I play: I toss-out activities into a conversation my friends thought were 100% legit. My naive friends admit participation. Bam! I reveal that they are criminals.

Feeling superior to my poor felonious friends? Before you begin judgment, let me contextualize my friends’ illicit behaviour. You can be convicted for over 500 different crimes in Canada. Chances are, you cannot name all 500+ crimes, let alone avoid committing one! Still not convinced? Let us play, “You’re a Criminal” together now. This challenge has two categories.

CATEGORY 1: ZOMBIE LAWS

In the spirit of Halloween, how many of you have broken a “Zombie Law”? We use Zombie Laws to describe offences that are largely unknown to the public, no longer prosecuted, but still technically crimes. Put your zombie arms straight out for each of you little lawbreakers who have:

• Water-skied without a spotter (up to 6 months jail and a 1 year driving prohibition)

• Challenged someone to a duel (up to 2 years jail)

• Pretended to practice witchcraft (up to 6 months jail)

(If you’re wondering: water skiing, duelling and practicing ‘real’ witchcraft are all not criminal offences).

If you’ve managed to dodge the zombie law bullet, this next set of laws will surely break your law-abiding bubbles. Worse: committing these offences will more likely result in criminal charges against you.

CATEGORY TWO: DRINKING OFFENCES

You probably already knew and avoided many of these offences. You know that drunk driving is a crime. You know you cannot drive a car (a) with too much booze in your system and/or (b) when the booze you drank makes you a bad driver. If these basic impaired driving laws caught you by surprise, please re-take driver’s ed…. sober. Driving a motorboat, snowmobile, or E-bike drunk are also criminal offences. Surprised? Now you know. Keep these offences in mind when you discuss how to get home after the Boxing Day Bash.

Now for offences that will really rock the boat. You can be charged with drunk driving of a “vessel” (a boat) even if the boat does not use a motor! As the laws now stand, driving any kind of boat/vessel drunk could lead to an impaired driving offence. For my final win in the “You’re a Criminal” game, let us wade through all of the crimes you have committed. All hands on deck to those who have:

• paddled a canoe drunk

• stand-up paddled drunk

• oared a raft drunk

• paddleboated drunk

• sat on a pool noodle drunk

As our cherry-on-top of these mind-blowers, note that cycling (even Todd Yourth’s super fast road bike) drunk on land is not a criminal offence. You can be fined under other, non-criminal laws.

Committing any impaired/drunk driving criminal offense is no laughing matter. The sentence for any of these bad lads includes: a criminal record, a minimum $1000 fine, a lengthy driving prohibition and a very real risk of jail. Yup. S!&$ just got serious.

To be fair, the Pembroke Court House does not have a backlog of drunk noodler trials. I have no idea how often impaired motor-less water offences are prosecuted in Canada. But they could be. You could be convicted. You could be sentenced.

The Trudeau government, in one of the least controversial political moves ever, has announced they are going to get rid of Zombie Laws. The State will go from not prosecuting pretend witchcraft to continuing to not prosecute pretend witchcraft. Good news for grade six sleepover participants everywhere!

Here’s the rub. The government had the opportunity to finally put the paddling-while-drunk issue to rest. While they were removing the Zombie Laws, the government proposed changes to drunk driving laws. With these changes, you could only be convicted of drunk driving a boat if it had a motor. Drunk canoeing could still be dealt with by way of fines (like cycling) but it would not bring with it the potential to ruin your career, stop you from travelling or send you to jail.

Unfortunately, to look tough on crime, the government ditched the proposed changes. Drunk paddling is BACK IN as an offence. This is crazy. We must not criminalize people for being idiots, so long as they are not hurting anyone else. We should not spend costly tax dollars prosecuting drunk paddlers, noodlers and SUP’ers.

How are some of the best people we know (yourself included) unknowingly unindicted criminals? The answer lies in bad laws that stay on the books. Bad laws are made as reactions to isolated events. When a lady was bamboozled by a fortune teller, a law was made forbidding fake witchcraft. Poorly-worded laws stay on the books because changing them is inconvenient. No politician wishes to be seen as soft on drunk driving of any kind – even drunk paddling. When we enact law based on emotion and political leaning rather than necessity and reason, we are left with laws that are regularly broken.

While “You’re a Criminal” is a fun cocktail game, we need to keep in mind that the consequences of breaking even silly laws are life-altering. We need to be critical of the limits we put on our freedoms and ensure that the laws we make are fair, reasonable, and absolutely necessary to protect the public from real criminal activity. If we want to ensure people take the law seriously, the laws we have must also be serious.

Until then, I will tell my little group of bandits to stop challenging one another to drunken pool noodle duels. Unless, of course, one reads my palm so I can bet on the winner.

**This column is written for entertainment purposes exclusively. It does not provide nor can it be relied upon as legal advice of any kind and is not intended to create a solicitor-client relationship. **

 

#YouToo

I know over 50 men who have sexually assaulted or harassed women. None of whom are outing themselves on Facebook in the #MeToo campaign.

#MeToo took a large, collective step against sexualized violence (assault, harassment, threats and intimidation). Women used significant courage to “out” themselves as victims of sexualized violence on public, unprotected Facebook. The step was in the wrong direction. The #MeToo campaign sought to raise awareness. We are already aware.

Sexualized violence  is an ongoing part of most women’s lives. Even the biggest sexist is the first to denounce perverts, pedos or rapists that might try and screw “his” wife, daughter or mother. We do not need a gimmick, a meme or a hashtag to prove that women everywhere have endured or are at a very high risk of enduring sexualized violence. We have come to accept it – to expect it.

This.

Is.

The.

Problem.

Growing-up, girls fully expect to eventually “be a victim” of sexual violence in some way. We will be judged on our ability to prevent being raped and our ability to cope with however we are sexually violated.

Girls are taught: do not trust men, do not wear things that might persuade a male to rape you, beware of male university students who victimize girls at parties or “spring break”. Take and wear rape whistles as a flimsy sort of protection. We are told not to meet with men after hours alone in the office, to avoid “boys’ club” discussions where men joke about sexual harassment and assault (unless, of course, we can “handle it”). The males we are taught to fear are the students at the school, the men in our community, the men we might work with.

The males are warned differently. You might be accused of sexual assault, so be careful. Not you might be a sexual predator. You might need to defend yourself against these allegations. Not you might need to check yourself to make sure you are not being sexually assaultive.

The public outcry about Weinstein was not that actresses were sexually assaulted and harassed. We assumed they were. Weinstein clearly did not self-identify as a sexual predator. The news was that systemic sexual violence and the complacent attitude of the public was finally identified and dealt with. “Women are raped” is old news. “We identify and stop supporting men who sexually assault women” is news.

#MeToo is trending sexualized violence. It is normalizing it. #MeToo returns a woman’s individual trauma into the generic group experience we were taught to expect. #MeToo exposes victims while  predators stay shielded in anonymity and even ignorance.

Wait! There is an upside. #MeToo has raised awareness about something else. Unintentionally. The eye-opening negative responses to #MeToo. Sexual assault trolls. These trolling replies show us WHY people choose not to disclose what has happened to them. These trolling replies demonstrate WHY sexual violence against women is not only surviving but thriving. These trolling replies tell us that we still feel women must endure sexual violence.

What are we setting-up women for? I have made a quick list of some of the most common answers I have seen or heard to people disclosing sexual assault. Obviously, these replies seemed appropriate to someone at the time.

  • Did you tell him you didn’t want him to sexually assault you?
  • Maybe he thought you wanted it
  • This isn’t a great job for women – you knew that when you came in
  • This is why we don’t like hiring women
  • Were you wearing that shirt?
  • You don’t seem like his type
  • You were playing with fire
  • I have had difficulties in my life, too – you don’t hear me complaining
  • Stop playing the gender card
  • Were you drinking?
  • #MeToo – but I liked it.

Still a fan? Let us re-frame outside of the #MeToo disclosure in a way that will engage even the biggest sexists. If YOUR daughter, YOUR wife, YOUR sister, or YOUR mother told you her boss raped her, would you consider any of those responses appropriate?

None of these responses discuss the asshole rapist. The responses blame the victim. The responses assume women, did not adequately prevent sexual assault or are not coping well enough with this rite of passage. These responses prevent women from laying a charge and may even cause them to doubt whether they were “really” sexually assaulted. When these responses are triggered by #MeToo, we see the problem not about awareness of sexualized violence. The problem is that sexualized violence of women is too normal.

We need to change the dialogue. We need to move it away from victim-blaming to society-changing.  We don’t need to line-up women publicly to disclose the obvious, only to knock them down for it. For every woman who is disclosing sexual violence there is an unidentified sexual predator who is roaming amongst us. He relies on many of the responses, above, to justify his own behaviour. He may not see himself as a predator. For every potential victim of sexual violence, there is a potential sexual predator.

I hope that, rather than warning women to distrust men, we begin by warning men that they are at risk of being a sexual aggressor. We cannot stop sexual violence by warning potential female victims at every stage of their lives to watch out for men. We must begin by warning and educating potential predators: reminding men at every stage of their lives that they are at risk of sexually violating women. We need to move from #MeToo to #YouToo.

Band-Aid Solutions

I am a Country mouse. I love the rural lifestyle: the plentiful space, the low expenses, the juicy gossip. I, like other Country mice, embrace this lifestyle, giving-up the luxuries of big city living: the plentiful internet connectivity, expensive nights on the town and the Jamba Juice.

We can bike from Mount Martin Ski Hill to the Deep River Hospital in under 15 minutes, and walk the same in under an hour. Everything is accessible by the heel-toe express. We don’t have the luxury of public transportation. If our health, disability or injuries hinder our mobility, we can drive (or have someone else drive us) and park nearby.

Lucky for us Country mice, parking everywhere in Deep River is free.

In Deep River, we also enjoy high-quality free public healthcare. Like many public services, the Deep River and District Hospital struggles for cash. In November 2017, the hospital is monetizing its parking lot. The hospital would be the ONLY place in Deep River where you need to pay to park. The logic is confused.

Going to the bar? Free parking while you drink. Collapsed lung? Five dollars, please.

This is a City Mouse idea through and through.

Big City Mice are accustomed to paying for parking. Heck, they pay for everything else. Cities are different than the country. Crowded cities have paid parking everywhere. Parking is at a premium. The wealthy tend to pay parking because the wealthy have private transportation. Public transportation is available for those who are sick and injured. Our town takes the Country mouse approach: everywhere you park in Deep River is free, especially for those who need vehicles to access public services.

The hospital’s fundraising decision hopes to find money between the yellow lines of the hospital parking lot. This seems trivial at first glance. It isn’t. Putting a ‘tax’ on parking means putting a ‘tax’ on health care.

Free public access to health care is a pillar of Canadianism. We can go to the doctor’s and find out early that our freckle is not just a freckle. Kids can get the urgent care they need without bankrupting their families. From Far and Wide, Oh Canada, We’re Hospitalized for Free!

The health care parking ‘tax’ hits the Deep Riverites who are too sick or injured to walk hardest. It hits them at the hospital: the very place you need to go when you are sick or injured. The most vulnerable in our community, who must drive or have someone else drive them to the hospital, foot the extra cost of the hospital. The rest of us skip-out on the bill, but keep the comfort of having a hospital in an otherwise rural and secluded area.

Hospital funding is a political matter. If we are deficient in our ability to provide adequate healthcare, we need to look to our politicians, not our patients. The current Liberal government under Wynne has provided minimal increases to hospital budgets. Big money is found in big pockets: our elected government. If we are unhappy with the allocation of budgetary funds, we need to reconsider our election choices and, if necessary, lobby for change.

Until big change happens for the hospital, we need to resist the urge to make band-aid City Mouse solutions on the financial backs of the most vulnerable in our area. A wonderful part of Country mouse living is the small community living. We support each other, and we protect our sick, disabled and injured. Free health care in Deep River should mean just that. We shelter our sick and injured, we do not profit off of their backs.

 

Making the Cut

medalIn grade five, I was one of two kids to be cut from the 30 + student cross-country team. I am fairly certain the other was a smoker. I watched the race and saw my friends cross the finish line, hugging each other. It felt terrible.

On the Deep River Discussion forum this week, a dad was concerned that his kids likewise did not make the cross-country cut. The kids had tried hard but were not quite fast enough. He asked, is it appropriate to leave young kids out of school teams?  We have two competing sides.

TEAM 1 – LET EM PLAY: Only 30% of school sports is about the specific sport itself, in my non-expert opinion. The rest? Socializing, school pride, trips, health, physical activity, teamwork and leadership. In school, you can put a ball through a hoop/in a net/past the touchdown line hundreds of times, sure. I bet that what you remember more, however, was the team you were with, the memories of trips, and the exhilaration of exercise and pushing yourself past what you thought you could do. Looking at all the great benefits of elementary and high school sports teams, the answer seems obvious: everybody gets a turn, nobody gets cut! Flowers and rainbows all around!

TEAM 2 – KICK EM OUT: Without a low there is no high. Without an in there is no out. And without the possibility of failure, success does not taste as sweet. The participation-ribbon mentality, it seems, might discourage the internal motivation to push one’s self to the limit. If everybody succeeds in school, kids may not be prepared for the inevitability of failure later in life. Setting the goal of qualifying for a team is a great exercise for kids, particularly when the goal is harder to attain. Would you really run eight laps around the school everyday if you knew you could still make the team eating Oreos instead? Life is hard. Sports are hard. School is a great time to learn the importance of attempting goals even if you might not succeed.

To be entirely honest, when I read the Deep River Discussion post, I had my thumbs poised to talk about the importance of failure, the lessons learned in goal-setting, and the value of qualifying for a group you worked hard for. But I paused: that was my experience.

School sports need to be considered in context: not everyone comes to the tryouts with the same background. A friend of mine reminded me that, when she came to St. Mary’s in grade 7 from St. Anthony’s, she and her Chalk River friends had much less exposure to sports within their curriculum. Even within school classes, we understand some kids are provided with expensive gear, summer sports, and sports camps while others may not. This is the gap that kids come to school with. The gap is further widened when the school sports team only trains the kids who out-compete their peers. Teams also serve as a social net to facilitate friendships and bonding. Kids who are cut will necessarily miss-out on the high of competition, the comradery in the locker room, and the pride of being a part of something bigger.

Elementary school should be a place of opportunities and a place of learning. To meet both objectives, an alternative solution must be reached. Young kids have almost no control over their lives: they don’t make money, they are always in someone’s custody, they basically go where you put them. The consequences of being excluded from the team are too harsh for kids who have little control over how much they can work towards a goal. The solution needs to be a compromise. Having a B-Team and an A-Team for every sport ensures that everyone can participate in the B-Team, while those who are most competitive have the opportunity to further excel and qualify for an A-Team. Sport participation can be non-binary, inclusive and still fun.

After I did not make the team in grade five, I was devastated. I began to run again 13 years later, in the company of friends, my dog, and running groups (none of whom dared kick me out for being too slow!). It was not the fear of not keeping up with the group that motivated me to work harder, but their unconditional support. As I became a stronger and better athlete, the possibility of qualifying for the Canadian Age Group Triathlon Team did motivate me. The potential for failing heightened the stakes and pushed me further.

Last week, at 33, I raced against women from around the world at the International Triathlon Union World Triathlon Championship in Rotterdam. I felt proud to be a part of a great group of athletes representing Canada. Many women on the team likewise were not high school athletes. We shared stories, experienced a new city, met other amateur athletes from around the world, and pushed ourselves to new levels on a gruelling course. As I crossed the finish line, I realized I had hit the goal I had set for myself in grade five: I finally made the team, I ran the race.

 

Crybaby

jump gap“Are you worried you will regret not having babies?” a woman who does not know me well enough to have this conversation, asks me anyway. I take a quick panorama. Her runny-nosed seven-year-old is sinking his teeth into the shoulder of her screaming and full-diapered toddler. “Are YOU worried YOU regr—“. I cut myself off. Reproduction sensitivity is a one way street. Singles: Yield.
Alright, alright. Let me step away from my cats and turn down the crazy. To be perfectly honest, I love my mom friends and their kids. I love their kids… in doses. I enjoy hanging-out with and imparting my feminism on their progeny. I also like when I get to hand the kids back to moms for tantrum time. My dose of baby is a perfect one for me. I recognize that, for many, popping out minis then chasing them is super important. Canada, and Canadian Moms, must similarly recognize that for some, kid-free living is just as valid a choice.

We have lots of people on this little planet. A few too many, in fact. We get to choose to be a lone wolf or create our own wolf pack. As a non-birther, I support adding a cute little Mimi to the human race, who very well may grow-up to cure cancer. I am even happy to meet kind-of-ugly little Fred who may grow-up to watch lots of movies and not do much else. I am not the only one who supports baby-making. In Canada, employers allow for parental leave, our government gives baby bonuses and tax breaks, our social circles band together for baby showers, birthday parties, Halloween, parades, etc. If you want to have a child or if you want to have five you are financially, socially and fiscally encouraged to do so. Heck, I encourage you. Make some more Deep Riverites!

In the unspoken reproduction debate, nobody grinds my gears quite like SmugMom. SmugMom is the term I use for any parent, male or female, who has decided that their life has become more valuable than anyone else’s by virtue of procreation. I cringe when SmugMom waxes on about how smart/wise/mindful/psychic they have become since their little Whatshisname entered the picture. SmugMom loves to talk about other parents behind their back, rolling their eyes dramatically as they critique someone’s bottle-use. SmugMom hates any suggestion that their kid is anything but a prodigy. SmugMom loves to critique Cup of Jo articles (see what I did there?).

Families with kids have lots to deal with, of course. However, it would be nice for anyone who chooses not to have kids, who cannot have kids, or who are waiting to have kids, to have a few societal no-kid-boosts. I would love to get a one person “family discount” on anything. It would be great if I got time off to NOT take kids to the dentist. I’ll leave work for a couple of hours to enjoy the choice I made not to populate. I could even go to the dentist’s office, enjoy the laughing gas and play with the toys in the waiting room. I want to get a “thanks for not having a baby” bonus. A solid $50 a month for not putting a little junior feminist loudmouth into grades 1-12. You’re welcome, teachers of the future.

Have I offended everyone yet? Ok let me take it back a bit. Your kids are cool and we are all genuinely happy you had them. Even the loudest one. None of you guys are SmugMom. I am clearly referring to that other parent we were gossiping about over wine the other day. If I have offended you, let me make it up to you with a dinner at Kelsey’s – bring your kids for the discount.

 

This University Bu$ine$$

photo-1457369804613-52c61a468e7d“The best things in life are free,” I heard the radio belt-out. I believed that thoroughly until, at the age of 5, I asked the lady behind the counter in Chalk River for a little bag of penny candy. As it turns out, the best things in life were 50 cents. The bruised banana my mom left for me in my lunch bag was free.

Moving through life, the cost of the “best things” in life continued to astonish me: vacations, formal dresses, beer money, and, incredibly, education. Education was the key to happiness. I had been hearing that refrain long before high school – all the way back to when mom finished Cinderella stories with, “but she refused to marry him, because she wanted to get her University degree and get a good job first.” In Deep River, the message is: a University degree is tantamount to success.

Once I got to University, however, I was surprised. When I looked around the drunken frosh-week campus, I did not see the leaders of tomorrow. I felt stuck in overcrowded lecture halls with professors as bored with the material as I was. I was floored, then excited, and finally disillusioned, when I attained an A- in Physical Geography: a full-year course where I had skipped all but the second lecture.

I watched the money I had painstakingly saved mopping floors in the Tim Hortons’ smoking room seep through my bank account in tuition fees, boarding costs, textbook sales and ATMs. I lived on a shoe-string budget, despite spending tens of thousands of dollars. Don’t get me wrong: I was having a blast. The armchair accountant in me (I majored in Psychology) demanded to know what I was getting for my money. At the end of the year, it became clear: I had paid for five “credits”. I was buying my degree.

The Canadian University system is, in my over-educated opinion, a business model. The buy-in is $100,000.00 over four years. In that four years, as long as you fulfill your end of the bargain (make timely payments, regurgitate key words on assignments and exams, and enlist in the mandatory courses), you will emerge with two pieces of paper: a transcript and a degree. The latter, nobody will ever ask to see except your grandmother.

For free, I’ll give you three lessons you can learn in University.

  1. BUSINESS: The customer is always right. Going to University or College does not require a genius mind or much of a work ethic: it is a business. A time-consuming homework assignment or an unsatisfactory grade can be quickly bumped-up with a well-timed complaint (bonus points if mom or dad made a sizeable alumni donation). The student knowledge pool does not fund these small utopias – bums in chairs do. Public relations and student satisfaction can outweigh the need for academic integrity in an institution. Fear of litigation can deter an institution from standing-up for its teachers. A professor’s motivation to keep their job or secure tenure can overcome their desire to ensure the proper transmission of important knowledge.

 

  1. LANGUAGES: Universities speak in dollar bills. The dude who still spells Freud with a “y” will be graduating with the same Psychology degree you are. The “mandatory” new $300 version of the Professor’s textbook is differentiated only from last year’s $20 used textbook by three new sentences and a colour scheme. Your hard-working 4.0 GPA roommate will be denied entrance into a semester when his OSAP loan did not come through before the enrollment cut-off.

 

  1. ECONOMICS: University bachelor degrees are a dime a dozen. When everybody gets a degree, the value of all degrees declines. On a resume, University completion is the new high school. If you do not have something to supplement your shiny papers, like a trade or nepotism, you are probably going to be hanging out with your degree in your mom’s basement.

 

Sure, a University degree can be a step to success in many cases. A B.A./B.Sc./B.Eng. is a necessary rung on the ladder to any Professional designation or degree. As savvy consumers, however, it is important to walk into a six-figure investment with your eyes wide open and considering all available options before deciding on the default path.

As a Deep Riverite graduate from two Universities with a law degree, I understand the potential necessity of “paying to play”. However, reviewing the Sunshine List replete with Hydro tradesmen, firefighters and police officers who are not still repaying massive student loans, one will recognize that “playing it smart” can also mean not investing in seven years of University tuition and residence costs.

Are the best things in life free? Sure. Everything else costs hard-earned money. I am loathe to overspend on the very institution that is supposed to teach how to think critically. The University investment may not be the right one for every 20-something and certainly is not the right investment for most career paths.

I have learned lots since that day at DJ’s convenience store. I worked a lot of jobs, saved lots of money, blew that money on University, and came through the other end with degrees, and later a job. The things I value most, (cue: nostalgic violin music) I acquired during the time I was dropping bills, but did not actually pay for: life lessons, relationships, character. Sadly, we cannot live on the free things alone.

False Equivalence

Several young street merchants approached my friend offering knock-off designer bags in Taiwan. “Same! Same! But different…” Speaking in a learned language, these young kids were candidly expressing a concept the President of the United States does not understand: false equivalence.

If you have been living under a rock (or perhaps on Indian Point, or camping somewhere off the grid, or snug in your basement watching Netflix), you have saved yourself the horror of watching the racist Nazi BS south of the border.  Spoiler alert: we are about to end your blissful ignorance. Take a swig of your margarita and let’s dive in.

The quick recap is that August 11 and 12 marked a two-day revival of neo-Nazi extremist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia. The group began with a protest against the removal of a Confederate statue. The demonstration ended with a murder and white nationalists CARRYING TORCHES yelling blatantly fascist and racist slurs: “blood and soil,” (invoking the Nazi philosophy “Blut und Boden”); “Jews will not replace us”; “Go the f*** back to Africa” and “F*** you fa**ots”.

As a quick aside: I realize this is a community paper. As I sit at my computer now, I contemplate removing these hateful words, the crass references to violent and offensive language. Unfortunately, white washing this event, this hate, and this violence, does not make it go away. We need to witness the magnitude of what is happening and see it for exactly what it is.

Back to the States. The newly minted President of the United States clearly has a situation. A situation that is monumentally terrifying and that calls out for action. He addressed the situation by condemning violence – ON BOTH SIDES. Jaw drop.

Nazis vs. People against Nazis. Seems like a clear-cut bad guy vs. good guy scenario, right?

Voldemort vs. Harry Potter.

Cancer vs. Patient.

Mosquitos vs. Deep Riverite.

Apparently, Trump did not think so. His staff did. Trump, who wastes no time in condemning anything (the news, the London Mayor, the FBI, Amazon.ca), did his best to avoid condemning a race-based protest. Instead, he likened the self-proclaimed ethnic cleansing group with the citizens who showed-up to protest hate.

Violent Hate Groups cannot be equivocated to those who defend themselves and others against violent hate groups. Don’t take it from me, ask a veteran.

We can break it down logically as well. We can find some similarities between the groups. Both involved people. Both groups attended at the same location. Both were yelling. The scene became violent. This does not make both groups equally blameworthy.  Virginia Senator Kaine identified the difference: the violence “was fueled by one side: white supremacists spreading racism, intolerance & intimidation. Those are the facts.”

In any conflict, we can find some similarities. More level heads and clearer minds can and should identify when one of the parties has crossed the line. Identifying, addressing and condemning morally blameworthy acts is particularly important for (a) a world leader to do (b) in a time of crisis, and importantly (c) any time when Nazis are involved.

The responsibility to loudly, publicly denounce and decry hate speech does not stop at the feet of a world leader. It extends to the public, to the cities where hate is, and to the doorsteps of little towns where we hear about it. Last week, comedian Tina Fey sarcastically joked that we should drown our outrage in sheetcake. The satire was lost on some, and so the point must be made clear. Simple. No matter who or where we are, we do not tolerate Nazis. We need to loudly encourage those who defend against hate.

Some things are simple: simple enough for kids to understand. Lex Luther and Superman are both superheroes, of course. In that way they are the same. Their differences, however, cannot be underplayed. We condemn Lex Luther’s evil attacks on innocent people. We support Superman’s defence of humanity.

 

Ain’t Misbehavin’

dogLife lessons come in strange forms. The Life Lesson Trifecta hit me in the summer of 2014. One hot Kingston afternoon, my dog nearly managed to have me eating out of the palm of his hand – or, rather, from the bottom of his dish.

As a first-time dog owner, I had a lot to learn about training a 65-pound, sweet, high-energy labradoodle puppy. His weight, energy and determination turned many of our walks into complex, dynamic obstacle courses. A brisk winter walk became a dog-propelled tobogganing adventure, a jog by the lake turned into a puddle jump and log roll, a stroll through the park became a series of red rover games with unsuspecting strangers. Max passed puppy school three times, only to school me outside of class: he knew what to do – and he knew he didn’t have to do it. I had run out of options until I came upon the website for the Dog Whisperer of Kingston, Ontario.  “Just $100. GUARANTEED SATISFACTION. UNLIMITED FREE FOLLOW-UPS, if Needed.” This Dog Whisperer scooped me: mind, hopes and wallet.

The Dog Whisperer’s entrance was as grand as his promises. He rolled-up like a gangster and parked out front in his decked-out station wagon that read “Ain’t Misbehavin” in big, bold font. My plans for the afternoon were now public knowledge. The 5’10, 110-pound middle-aged man sauntered to my door, cigarette dangling from his mouth. Max, sensing the upcoming snafu, eagerly ran to meet the knock. Using my extremely graceful one-legged, two-armed, dog restraining, double door pulling manoeuvre, I opened my door for the Dog Whisperer.

“STOP! He announced. We will do it AGAIN! This time – I am the King!”

His extremely strange announcement worked. Max and I both stopped mid-door routine. Max searched my eyes to find out who in Dog’s name I had invited into the house. This was going to be a ride.

The next thing I knew, the Dog Whisperer was taking us out for a walk in the streets. I was on full display before my neighbours, friends, and the general public. He explained that, if I want to be king, I need to act like the king.  His voice inflated as we walked out the door: “THIS IS MY HOUSE!” he shouted. He pointed downward, and proclaimed, “THIS IS MY SIDEWALK!” He pointed at my elderly neighbour’s Toyota: “THIS IS MY CAR.” A young family with a child and a baby walked by, and he yelled “THIS IS MY BABY!” Needless to say, the family made a sharp left turn off of my street.

I was about to suggest that we retreat inside when I heard a low groan from a nearby dog. The Dog Whisperer was instantly intrigued. To my dismay, a very pregnant woman sat with her children, an elderly woman, and a medium sized boxer in a muzzle only 20 yards away. Oh, Good Lord. Max and I were ready to bail, when the Dog Whisperer pulled on Max’s leash. As expected, the Dog Whisperer had sniffed-out a learning opportunity. We walked over to the area he had already designated HIS park. The pregnant woman asked us to just walk away. The Dog Whisperer was not having any of it. “I AM THE DOG WHISPERER,” he announced. The woman started to plead, “Turn around, sir. Don’t come closer”. “YOU NEEDN’T HAVE ANY FEAR” he proclaimed, pulling Max with him. The boxer’s groan turned into a growl. The pregnant lady stood up and loudly proclaimed right back: “MISTER, I AM 8 MONTHS PREGNANT WITH AN ANGRY DOG AND AN OLD MOTHER. YOU NEED TO BACK UP!!” The Dog Whisperer had missed the memo: She was King. This was HER park.

The lesson continued for another hour and a half. I was poked and jabbed while the Dog Whisperer demonstrated on me how he would physically get Max’s attention. We returned to my home where he and Max chased each other in laps through my hallway, past my glass dining room table and over my furniture. The piece de resistance, however, he kept for last. “I need crackers!” He implored. I told him I was gluten-free. We began a bizarre negotiation about crunchy food I may or may not have in my cupboard. We eventually settled on raisins. The Dog Whisperer had a final exercise for me.

At this point, I realized I was having a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I watched as the tall middle-aged man in my kitchen grabbed Max’s full dish of dog food and raisins, and sunk to his hands and knees. I gasped as he stretched his head forward to eat the raisins out of Max’s bowl of dog food. The Dog Whisperer’s food concentration was broken only to give an occasional growl to Max and I. Max again looked up at me, as if to ask if I was crazy enough to join this guy on the ground. I was not.

The Dog Whisperer had been in my life for two hours. While Max still could not be walked steadily on his leash, I learned three important lessons:

  1. Nobody – not I, not Max, not the Dog Whisperer – nobody is the king of the world. You can only ever be the king of you.
  2. Read guarantees carefully – free services are only worth what you would be willing to pay for them in the first place.
  3. No level of dog obedience is worth eating dog food for: Max knew this beforehand. I needed to see it with my own eyes.

 

Immature Amateur

Four Sundays ago, I wept. Hard. Like a baby. I stood-up, looked in the mirror, saw how sad I was, and amped-up for more crying. The reason for my unpretty self-pity party? An amateur race.

I choose to do triathlons, obstacle courses and running races. My life has been a fairly common middle-class one. I live in a house, I have an office job, and I drive a car to work. My comfortable lifestyle means I have to add-in exercise in order to stay healthy and fit.

Those who have known me for a while know I haven’t always been particularly healthy. I have indulged in all of the fun stuff: junk food, parties, and (ugh) tobacco.

On a whim in my twenties, I ditched smoking, late nights, and poutine for swimming, biking and running. I decided to challenge myself in an amateur sport to see if I could actually do it. Fast-forward six years later, I competed in over 30 races, train regularly and have begun to expect results.

Like many amateur athletes, my relationship with sport has evolved alongside my dedication. We begin by wondering if we can do it. We aim for bigger races, longer distances. We try to beat our personal bests. Then we go after each other, reaching for the podium.

Competition is revered in our society. We emulate Olympians, reward extra-curricular achievements, and buy soft drinks from professional athlete spokespersons. Like all fun things, competition must be enjoyed in moderation: particularly for us lay folk.

There comes a time when amateur sport can go too far. Identifying that obscure grey line can be difficult. Often, seen only in hindsight. The easiest marker of excessive hobbying is when it ceases to be fun. Triathlon does not hold the monopoly on excess, but it does attract some exemplary cases.

Chris Inch, a local amateur triathlete, announced this year that he had tiptoed across the fun-line. Inch is well known around the area for being a dominating force in endurance events: winning local triathlons, competing in ultra-marathons, and nearing qualification for the World Ironman Championships. In a surprise move this year, he publicly “outed” himself for overtraining, to the detriment of his relationships. It was time to take a step back, he announced. He felt his fixation on training had overcome his priorities.

Last month, Kristen Johnson, an accomplished amateur triathlete, made international news for purposely sabotaging her competitor. Johnson was spotted, and videotaped, letting the air out of another athlete’s tires at the Syracuse Half Ironman. Johnson isn’t the first to be accused of amateur cheating. Another amateur triathlete, Julie Miller, of Squamish B.C., was banned from racing by Triathlon Canada after she was accused of cutting the course. Both women have denied the allegations. Notably, these amateur races rarely offer any monetary prize. Wins are for pride. When competition brings out envy and deception in athletes, there is little to be proud of.

Returning to little old me: I do not have the racing chops of Johnson and Miller. I definitely do not have Inch’s dedication or skill. I came to triathlon to better myself. So why, in God’s name, was I lying red-faced in a pool of self-deprecating tears? This cannot be the “better” Jodie I had sought out.

I had run my best, but I felt weak. I was embarrassed about the mistakes I had made during the course. I felt guilty about training choices. I was disappointed that I was not the athlete I had believed I was. As I stepped out of my tantrum, I sat up for a catharsis. I had become so self-involved, I had forgotten that I was the only one who cared about my performance! Narcissism had overtaken self-improvement, and I was left with emptiness.

Amateur sport can be revealing. It shows us at our best, when we cross the finish line smiling and powerful. When we overdo it, however, reflection on our performance can be as flattering as a Walmart fitting mirror: showing only our flaws. Rather than looking away from the mirror, we can look harder, examine, and work on our weaknesses: fixations, envy and even narcissism.

I picked myself off the bed that day. I threw my helmet and shorts on the next day and, literally and figuratively, got back on the bike. I was not the same athlete I had been at the race – I was smarter, I was more compassionate and I was more humble. Amateur sport can hurt physically and emotionally. Amateur athletes, however, have the capacity to grow.

The “Easy” Button

Like many 7-year-olds, I often wondered what the heck my belly-button was. What did it do? Where did it come from? Why was it mysteriously absent from my pet, MC Hamster? I had a myriad of other, even more embarrassing, questions about this apparent anomaly.

There were some questions I did not have as a 7-year-old girl. Was my belly-button sexy? Did showing my belly-button make me more susceptible to sexual assault? Would I be blamed for voyeurs watching me if I showed my belly-button?

Of course I didn’t have these sexist, sexualized, and shaming questions about my body. I did not have those questions about my girl friends’ bodies, I did not have those questions about my boy friends’ bodies.

I was seven, for Pete’s sakes.

The belief that my body parts could be objects

  • to be ashamed of,
  • whose appearance would invite sexualized violence,
  • that were distractions for voyeuristic males

was gradually bestowed upon me as I continued to live in a world that perpetuated sexism.

As a female adult, I wholly reject that belief.

When that belief informs dress-codes for 7 year-olds, I’m shocked.

My friend is a proud mom of a confident little 7-year-old girl who goes to a local school. At the end of the school year, the school goes on a super fun trip to the waterpark at Logos Land.

Like with any school trip, paperwork ensues.

Amongst the paperwork, she received a note with your standard directives as well as a to-pack list. In the list: bathing suit, towel, sunscreen, etc., and one infuriating item:

FOR GIRLS, an appropriate bathing suit (one piece or tankini;
if they have a bikini, they will be asked to wear a shirt over top).”
(my emphasis)

WHAT the WHAT?!

Instead of going on a fairly expletive-driven rant, let us make at least SOME part of this school letter educational. For three marks, identify the incredibly sexist and demeaning issues in this advisory.

  1. New rules for girls.
    In case this wasn’t blatantly sexist enough, these two words make very clear that the school’s made-up dress-code for Logo’s Land explicitly only applies to girls. Boys: do whatever you want.
  1. Girl belly-buttons are NOT appropriate.
    What differentiates a bikini from a one-piece or tankini? That’s right. The belly-button. Whose belly buttons are not “appropriate”? Girls’! Boys, however, have much more appropriate belly-buttons that deserve to be shown.
  1. Public punishment and humiliation is still an in-thing.
    Little girls who offend this code will be doomed to wear the Scarlet T-shirt. Public humiliation here will either deter the little offenders or make them into examples for the others.

This rule breaks the real rules. With a policy only for girls, the dress code does not treat students fairly regardless of gender and sex. It offends 5.1.5 of the Renfrew County Catholic School Board Code of Conduct and our right to be free from discrimination: a basic Human Right.

Let’s talk practicality. Let’s talk about little Suzie who left her letter at her dad’s house. Or watch Jane, whose parents did not read the eight millionth piece of paper coming back in their kid’s backpack. What happens to Prim who had the gall to wear something still less revealing than her brother but happens to be a bikini?

Girls who dress slutty get punished. This the hard and ugly rule that lies beneath this policy: intentional or not. There are all kinds of rationales for sexist dress codes: the boys will be distracted, girls invite trouble by showing too much, girls’ belly buttons are just sexier than boys’.

These little 7-year-old delinquents will learn a hard lesson very early. They will learn that parts of their bodies, only because they happen to be women, are something to be ashamed of. They will learn that women’s bodies are sexualized by others, and the body-owner (not the gawker/assaulter) is the one to hold accountable. They will learn that, slut-shaming happens regardless of whether you are sexually active.

I have no issue with dress codes. Heck, if the dress code was “all kids must wear a t-shirt”, I would have no issues. It’s hot out; the sun is dangerous. If the dress code was a more conservative “all kids must wear a snowsuit”, it would be ridiculous, but at least it would not be sexist.

I’m sure the folks at our schools are not a bunch of sexists. These policies are rotten ideas that cling to our modern world through tradition and absent mindedness. Full-on misogyny is close enough in our history that it can leak through unnoticed.

Now that the school knows, I hope the school will reconsider.

To my seven-year-old self: I’ve figured it out. Belly-buttons are for body shaming.

She’s All That

silhouetteAn outsider might believe the Ottawa Valley would be a hard place for a woman to succeed.

It can be hard to succeed anywhere as a woman

We are far from progressive, urban cities

…we are soooo small…..

Notwithstanding all that – the outsider’s perception could not be further from the truth.

This past March 7, 2018, on the eve of International Women’s Day, over 100 women and men gathered to celebrate women’s achievements and to bring awareness to women’s issues.

The event raised thousands of dollars for a local women’s shelter (one of only 2 shelters in Canada to be accredited), was hosted by a woman, included five female speakers from different backgrounds and professions, was organized by a five-woman committee, and was sponsored by many local businesses – many of whom are owned or operated by women.

The best part? One maven put it all together.

Carolyn Arnold, chef and owner of Maven Catering, exemplifies Deep River and Laurentian Hills’ successful investment in women. Carolyn pulled from the community to find her gift. Once she harnessed and refined her culinary skills, she returned to the Valley where she created a small social empire. We could not be luckier.

Carolyn is different from many Deep River success stories. If you speak with an engineer at the Plant, a successful journalist or even a lawyer, many will begin by attributing their success to the strong scholastic program they endured and even thrived in at Mackenzie High School.

While our Renfrew County Board of Education is nothing to turn up one’s nose at, Carolyn’s story takes a different turn here. She recalls an esteemed science teacher advising her parents that “Carolyn needs to spend less time on her extra-curricular activities and more time on her studies”. Well-intentioned? Yes. Wrong? Absolutely.

While academics were not a comfortable fit, the community was. In hindsight, Carolyn attributes her success in business to the strong inter-personal relationships and community connections she developed while volunteering, working as editor for the school yearbook, and participating in our community events. As the chef and owner of a highly successful and unique homegrown catering company, the skills she honed right here in Deep River were the magic ingredient to make her business a massive success.

What makes Maven different from many home-based start-ups is its incessant support of the community and community events. Heck, she organizes half of them. Open mic nights, yacht club band nights, food and wine pairings, pub crawl and, of course International Women’s Day: Maven, Maven, Maven, Maven, Maven. It isn’t always financially advantageous on a micro-level for a business to be a town social convenor, but that does not seem to bother Carolyn.

Speaking with Carolyn, I asked why she does all of these events, if a strong profit is not guaranteed. Carolyn believes that it is important to make where you live a place that you want to live. While we are enjoying a catered concert, Carolyn typically spends the first half of the evening in the kitchen, before jumping out to crack a cold one with the rest of us.

This column is not to simply tell Carolyn she’s fantastic. I can probably just find a card for that. This column is to talk about the importance of investing in women.

During Maven’s Second Annual International Women’s Day Dinner, I heard four extremely talented and very unique speakers explain the kinetic power we unleash when we support women. We heard that the world still puts-up barriers that can block, specifically women’s, success. The barriers can be overcome, however, by recognizing the importance of small achievements, by gathering and fostering support, creating opportunities in traditionally male-dominated trades and teaching women to confidently stand, hands on hips, to face that adversity.

Intentionally or not, Deep River did that for Carolyn.

She was bolstered by her community in even the smaller leadership roles she took in the town as a young woman.

She relied on the strength and guidance of her friends and other women in the community as well as on the continued support and empowerment of the townspeople – male and female.

She sought out and found a career in a traditionally male-dominated field and makes it work as the sole breadwinner in her home.

She is tough as nails. Culinary work has got to be one of the most stressful careers there are (have you SEEN Gordon Ramsey?) – but Carolyn pushes through, dusting off her chef jacket, smiling and ready for the next challenge.

Looking around the Dinner at all of the mavens Carolyn brought together, it is clear Deep River and Laurentian Hills’ successful investments with women neither started nor ended with Carolyn.

In a Country where only 23% of mayors are female, two of our last three mayors have been women. We have a large and thriving group of Women in Business. And, if the rest of the upcoming generations are half as talented as the 16 year-old speaker and humanitarian, Morgan Campbell, the Ottawa Valley can continue to expect greatness.

Outsiders may be surprised by the success of the Ottawa Valley: both in its men and women. For us, however, we know the value of hard work and great investments. I’m proud that my hometown innately knew to invest in Carolyn the way it has invested in so many of my friends, family and colleagues.

The next time someone seems shocked at the great little town we have here, you can tell them it is no surprise. When you invest in strong women, you strengthen your community.

What’s Bail and Why Should I Care?

This morning, the Attorney General, Yasir Naqvi, announced a new ‘strategy’ to tackle Ontario’s growing bail problem. The ongoing attention to bail in the province has a lot of Ontarians questioning their knowledge of what is bail, really, and… who cares?

A keystone of the Criminal Justice System is that, as citizens, we are all presumed innocent until we are proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Being charged, alone, cannot take away that presumption of innocence. However, once you are charged under the Criminal Code, the State (the police and the Crown) have the ability to hold you in jail (detain you) if it can show that you are a flight risk, pose a danger to the public, or that releasing you would be contrary to the public interest.

In other words, innocent or not, getting charged with a criminal offence may mean that you are going to be spending months in jail if you can’t “get bail”.

How does one get bail? Without getting into the nitty-gritty of the legal tests, most people will need a couple of key things: an address to live in pending trial and a surety. However, to be successful, these requirements are nuanced by the prevailing attitudes of Courts and Crowns:

  • Address: An address won’t likely be approved if it is where the offence took place or where the complainant (alleged victim) lives. Courts and Crowns may resist addresses that aren’t permanent (think shelters, or short-term hotel rooms). For many alleged offences, courts will want an address where the surety will live.
  • Surety: A surety needs to promise a bond (an amount of money – usually a minimum of $500) to secure their role – the surety will likely need to show that they are able to fulfill that monetary promise if needed. Sureties should know the accused person and should be able to justify their belief that the accused person will behave while released. Bail is less likely to be granted with sureties who have criminal records. Sureties cannot be co-accused, and should not be complainants (victims) of the alleged offences.

The conditions go on; however, I think this gives you a taste.

Now imagine you are charged with an offence against your partner at your home. Overnight, could you find a long-term home and a friend to live with (who will promise a large bond) that would satisfy these burdens? Now think about someone less privileged than you: someone who may not have a home or someone new to the area – how much harder would it be in this case?

With bail being harder and harder to secure, it means more people have the unbearable choice: do I stay in jail until my trial, or do I plead guilty and get a criminal record to get released (even if I didn’t do it)? This is the choice many Ontarians have to make.

On the flip side, provincial detention centers aren’t designed to hold a bunch of innocent people while trials take months to years to happen. This means that the jails are overcrowded, leading to a host of new problems.

Mr. Naqvi has announced proposed changes to our system: new beds (to address some of the address issues), more Crowns (I’m not sure how 32 Crowns across all of Ontario will actually help), and access to duty counsel in some detention centers (to provide more information). Will this change what is broken about our bail system? In my opinion: not really.

Although we can be thankful that bail is receiving some attention, the Minister seems to have overlooked a huge problem with bail: an attitude from many Courts and from Crowns that bail (the release of those presumed innocent) is something that should be heavily guarded and only provided with stringent conditions. Until then, all we can do as defence counsel is argue for change, fairness and the constitutional right to reasonable bail: one client at a time.

Impaired by Drug – How Can They Prove It?

This week, the OPP launched their annual Festive RIDE campaign with a bit of a twist. Inspector Mark Wolfe has explained that the OPP will be partnering with Petawawa Military Police, Deep River Police and the Ministry of Transportation to target drivers who are impaired by drugs as well as drivers impaired by drinking.

The new focus of the RIDE program might come as a bit of a surprise to some. Can the police detect if a driver has consumed drugs? Perhaps more significantly, Can a Court determine, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a driver is impaired by drugs?  In short, the answer is Yes and Yes.

 

Since January 2016, the Upper Ottawa Valley OPP has set-up 260 RIDE spot checks. The spoils of these checks? Twelve impaired by alcohol charges and 2 impaired by drugs.

Unlike alcohol, drug consumption is difficult to identify and even more difficult to quantify. In the broadest of terms, police can gain this evidence through one of two ways: the driver confesses to the drugs (Sorry, officer, I was a little high and lost control for a second) or the officer is able to make an ‘expert opinion’ through his own observations and/or the evidence he collects as a result of those observations.

If the driver confesses, this evidence will be used against him as proof of impairment.

Police do not need a confession to form an opinion about whether the driver is impaired. An officer may perform Standard Field Sobriety Tests to determine the sobriety of the driver. These tests include:

  • Walking in a straight line and turning
  • Standing on one leg
  • Eye movement tracking

If the officer believes the suspect has failed the SFST, they will be taken as soon as possible to a Drug Recognition Evaluator. The Criminal Code of Canada allows an officer (usually referred to as a “Drug Recognition Evaluator” or DRE) to conduct further tests including:

  • Pupil measurement, comparison, pulse, and eye tracking
  • A “gaze nystagmus test”
  • A “lack of convergence” test
  • Balancing, walking and turning, one-legged standing, finger to nose (think: every tv show you’ve ever seen with a roadside)
  • Blood pressure, temperature, pulse
  • Pupil size measurement in different lights
  • Nasal and oral cavity exam
  • Muscle note and pulse exam
  • Exam for injection sites

From these tests, the DRE officer can make the opinion that the person is impaired by drugs. The officer can also demand a saliva, urine or blood sample to send for analysis to determine if the driver has drugs in his system.

 

How does this play out on the road?

  1. Police officer has reasonable suspicion that the suspect has a drug in his body has driven in the past three hours.
  2. Police conduct SFST
  3. Police form reasonable grounds that the suspect is impaired by drug
  4. DRE officer performs DRE evaluation
  5. DRE test allows demand for bodily sample
  6. Bodily sample sent to toxicologist for analysis
  7. Toxicologist provides report that drug was in the body and that what effects that drug might have had at the time of driving

Let’s take, for example, the local case of Robert Conron. One morning in December 2010, Mr. Conron was found in his running vehicle while he was asleep. When officers awoke Mr. Conron, they observed he was slow, lethargic and unsteady on his feet. The officers found no booze or bottles in Mr. Conron’s car nor any smell of alcohol on his breath. The officers then conducted a “Standard Field Sobriety Test”. After the Field Sobriety Test, the officers brought Mr. Conron back to the station and conducted further tests. Officers then demanded that Mr. Conron provide a urine sample. The sample was sealed and sent to the Centre of Forensic Sciences.

On the SFST and the DRE, police testified that Conron didn’t perform particularly well: he was uncoordinated and had issues with his balance, but passed the Gaze nystagmus tests and pupil-measurement test. However, the urine sample he provided returned a report of a number of detected drugs.

To put it simply, the police officers at the scene were satisfied that Mr. Conron’s behavior and performance on the Field Sobriety Tests merited further investigation through further testing which then led to urine analysis. On the totality of that evidence, the Crown prosecuted Mr. Conron. However, at trial, Mr. Conron was acquitted.

 

How does Drug Recognition Evidence get handled at court?

To convict someone of impaired driving by drugs, the trial Judge must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  1. The accused was in care and control of the motor vehicle
  2. That the accused’s driving was impaired and
  3. That impairment was the result of drug consumption (as opposed to distraction, for example)

In Mr. Conron’s case, the Crown was able to show that Mr. Conron was in care and control of the vehicle: he was in the driver’s seat while the car was running. However, Mr. Conron’s lawyer argued that his missteps on the Field Sobriety Test and DRE could be explained by the fact that he might have been tired, or simply uncoordinated. Finally, the evidence was not sufficient to prove that the drugs in Mr. Conron’s system would have necessarily impacted his driving.

 

What can we expect going forward?

Since Mr. Conron was stopped in 2010, the education and training surrounding the investigation of impaired driving by drugs has advanced. Since Mr. Conron’s case was heard in 2012, the law, too, has evolved.

In a 2015 Ontario, R. v. Bingley, the Ontario Court of Appeal determined that the evidence of the officer completing the testing after the SFST (the “Drug Recognition Evaluator”) is expert evidence that can be admitted as some proof of driving impairment on its own. In other words, if a police officer qualified as a DRE believes that a driver is impaired, the officer’s opinion of impairment can be used to convict the driver. If this evidence had been admitted as expert evidence in Mr. Conron’s case, he may have had a much different result.

The investigations and prosecutions for driving while impaired by drugs, in the Pembroke region and across Canada are a hot topic, causing much debate and controversy. Nevertheless, a few things can be said for sure:

  1. If you believe you may be impaired by drugs or by alcohol, it is always best to find an alternate form of transportation and avoid driving.
  1. A confession (whether in jest, sincerity or otherwise) to an officer can, and likely will, be used as evidence against a driver in these situations.
  1. If you find yourself charged with the offence of impaired by drugs or impaired by alcohol (also referred to as “DUI”), it is advisable to contact a lawyer immediately to help you navigate this complex and specialized area of law.


Jodie Primeau, Barrister & Solicitor

Call 613.732.2883 if you have any questions about cases like this or if you are in need of legal assistance. 

This is my personal weblog and the views expressed here are solely the author’s and should not be attributed to my firm or its clients.  The material and information provided on this website are for general information only and should not, in any way, be relied on as legal advice or opinion. The author makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, currency, or adequacy of any information linked or referred to or contained on this weblog. No person should act or refrain from acting in reliance on any information found on this website or blog, without first retaining counsel and obtaining appropriate professional advice from a lawyer duly licensed to practise law in the relevant province, state, territory or country. This blog is presented for informational purposes only. These materials do not constitute legal advice and do not create a solicitor-client relationship between you and Jodie Primeau. Please note that I am only able to provide legal advice to clients and will not provide free legal advice. Please don’t send me any information or questions by email or otherwise because any information sent to me cannot be considered to be solicitor-client privileged or confidential.

 

Consequences of Being Charged

Have you been accused of committing a crime?

The Criminal Justice System can be a complicated place for anyone charged with a criminal offence. To navigate court appearances, to understand your rights and obligations once you’ve been charged, to explore every defence available and, where it is appropriate, to argue for the most fair sentence is complex work. Criminal defence lawyers are professionals that spend their lives working through, understanding, and even changing this system. If you have been charged, you want a professional to properly advise you and protect your best interests.

Charged, but not guilty

If you have been charged with a criminal offence, regardless of whether you are guilty or innocent, you are required by law to follow the rules of the Canadian criminal justice system. This will include attending court, attending to have fingerprints taken, following rules while you await your trial, and may risk being held in custody until your matter is completed.

Failing to follow the rules of the Court and of the Police while you await the completion of your matter can have significant repercussions: you can find yourself with more strict conditions, land yourself back in jail, and even be charged with further criminal offences. While the presumption of innocence is paramount, the courts require all persons charged with criminal offences to follow the rules of the court and of their release until their matter is complete.

Pitfalls of a criminal record

A criminal record can place a permanent, heavy burden on a person’s livelihood and ability to travel. Criminal records may be suspended by a successful application for a Record Suspension, however, the decision is made by the Parole Board of Canada and the suspension may be revoked at any time on the basis of your behaviour. There are additional provisions for the suspension of a life-time driving ban that may result in the context of impaired driving offences.

With respect to certain international travel, the United States Immigration department officials may choose to deny the admission of individuals with discharges or criminal records.

Apart from a number of issues not listed here, a Criminal Record can also bring serious consequences with regards to obtaining certain licenses, accessing restricted areas, obtaining employment in areas, the assessment of insurance premiums, admittance into some professional organizations, and maintaining current employment.

Avoiding a criminal record in many cases is possible with negotiation and advocacy, depending on the charge, facts of the case and circumstances of the person before the court. A lawyer will advocate on your behalf to try and help you avoid a criminal record through negotiation, legal argument, or trial.

Jodie Primeau, Barrister & Solicitor
Call 613.732.2883 if you have any questions about cases like this or if you are in need of legal assistance. 

This is my personal weblog and the views expressed here are solely the author’s and should not be attributed to my firm or its clients.  The material and information provided on this website are for general information only and should not, in any way, be relied on as legal advice or opinion. The author makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, currency, or adequacy of any information linked or referred to or contained on this weblog. No person should act or refrain from acting in reliance on any information found on this website or blog, without first retaining counsel and obtaining appropriate professional advice from a lawyer duly licensed to practice law in the relevant province, state, territory or country. This blog is presented for informational purposes only. These materials do not constitute legal advice and do not create a solicitor-client relationship between you and Jodie Primeau. Please note that I am only able to provide legal advice to clients and will not provide free legal advice. Please don’t send me any information or questions by email or otherwise because any information sent to me cannot be considered to be solicitor-client privileged or confidential.