Letters

March 2005

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• 2,771 words

Marriage Counselling
Wendy Dennis (“What is Marriage?” December/January) asks if the institution of marriage needs to be reconsidered, or if it’s just us. Well, I think it’s us. The bleak state of marriage today is rooted in our ambivalence towards it. Marriage is one of the most worthy endeavours a person can embark upon, but it is not magic. It’s about choosing someone familiar, with whom one has much in common, and building a lifelong connection. We must take our time, and choose our partner carefully, using all our faculties, not just the desperate or indulgent ones.

Dennis also wonders if many of us are failing at marriage because expecting to live happily with one person for the rest of our lives is an absurd idea. In fact, expecting to live happily for the rest of our lives is itself absurd. Life is imperfect. But the urgency of modern life need not seep into marriages. Marriage, by its very nature, provides all the time in the world to sort things out, and to understand each other better. It is almost as massive and flexible as life itself, so fill it creatively. And please, have a little faith.
Gaëlle Hortop
Montreal, Quebec

Wendy Dennis calls marriage the glue that holds our society together, writing: “when marriage falters, the social fabric begins to unravel.” Oh, the pressure. Not too long ago, my own relationship navigated some rough seas, and I began to consciously explore how hard I’ve worked all my life to avoid disappointing men. From this process arose a question: In a world where men and women are not equal, is it possible for a woman to have an equitable relationship with a man? It seems unlikely to me. However, because it is up to each of us to unravel that social fabric and change the pattern, we have no choice but to keep trying.
Pamela Brown
Campbellford, Ontario

Wendy Dennis’s article was witty, interesting, and thought-provoking. Individualism is promoted and fostered in our society in many ways, from what we buy to how we vote. Research even suggests that North Americans attend church primarily for what they or their family will “get out of it.” The pick-and-choose-whatever-suits-me mentality works in many of these situations. An individualistic approach to marriage, however, is likely to fail.

As I reflect on my parents’ marriage, one word comes to mind: selflessness. My parents made many sacrifices for each other, and for us children, which would often contradict their individual desires, goals, and comforts. When faced with difficult situations, the first question for them was not, “How will this influence me?” but instead, “How will this influence my partner?” Surprisingly, as they made these decisions, they seemed to be happy. With this commitment to selflessness, their marriage has withstood daily troubles and challenging trials.

In my own marriage, with three children, I find that my first instinct when evaluating my situation is to ask, “How are things working out for me?” Now, after reflecting on my parents’ marriage, I am attempting to find ways to make my partner feel more fulfilled, free, and supported. I find that the best moments of our partnership are when we are thinking of each other. When we do this, acts of selflessness are encouraged.
Marcus Reed
Sherwood Park, Alberta

Toxic Feedback
Paul Webster (“Everyday Poisons,” December/January) clearly demonstrates the variety of “forces” that come into play when a federal government department considers taking regulatory action, for political (or economic) reasons, or because the science demands it. The comments attributed to Mr. David Anderson, the former federal environment minister, strike me as ironic and duplicitous. For example, Mr. Anderson indicates that he would have been quick to support the scientists at Environment Canada regarding their recommendations about penta- and octa-polybrominated diphenyl ethers (pbdes) if he were still the minister. Is Mr. Anderson implying that pbdes are the only chemical to date—out of the backlogged 23,000 chemicals being reviewed between 2001 and 2006—that may lead to some type of regulatory action? The laws of probability would have me think otherwise.

The former minister also mentions that the government has excellent scientists and labs that “will do the work that others won’t.” However, I believe Mr. Anderson sat at the Cabinet table while government scientists were laid off, and government laboratories were shut down in the late nineties. Either Mr. Anderson has forgotten about that, or he is a “born-again” supporter of government science.
Bruce Webster
Richmond, Ontario

I would like to congratulate Paul Webster for his well-balanced presentation of a topic which is only belatedly receiving recognition in the press. I was struck by the statement that “contamination levels across the continent are doubling every five years.” If one goes to the Web site mentioned by Mr. Webster, there are two articles by Health Canada researchers that clearly indicate contamination levels of pbdes are increasing dramatically across the continent, and that levels of pbdes in breast milk and fetal tissue are mirroring this increase. What will it take for the government to act? The scientific support to take regulatory action against pbdes is adequate, but has taken a back seat to political considerations, which is unfortunate for Canadians.
Diane Cloutier
Ottawa, Ontario

Paul Webster’s article is a story we’ve heard before, and will likely hear again, about weak chemical regulations in Canada, and the risks they pose to our health. The Hazardous Products Act only applies if there is a specific regulation for a specific product, which is why there are limits on the amount of lead in paint, but Canadian discount stores can legally sell jewelry that is nearly all lead. The Canadian Environmental Protection Act (cepa) is no help because it does not effectively address the presence of chemicals in consumer products. Products may leach substances already declared toxic under cepa, but the act cannot prevent them from polluting our homes and building up in our bodies.

There are better regulations of newer substances, but they are still far from adequate. Moreover, the information submitted on new chemicals, and the basis for any legislative action, is hidden from the public.

With a review of cepa coming soon, health and environmental advocates hope the government will strengthen the act, thus preventing the likelihood of another flame retardant blunder. An act that applies to substances in consumer products, and requires thorough and transparent evaluations of new chemicals, would be a huge improvement. A government truly willing to get serious about chemical contamination would be even better.
Dr. Kapil Khatter
President, Canadian Association of
Physicians for the Environment
Toronto, Ontario

Arctic Angst
Andrea Mandel-Campbell (“Who Controls Canada’s Arctic?” December/January) sounds the alarm on the much overlooked topic of national security in the Canadian Arctic. The presence of spies, submarines, and foreign ships in the North is nothing new, as the article suggests. Indeed, ever since the U.S. Navy submarine uss Nautilus journeyed to the North Pole in 1958, the Arctic has been a haven for American, Russian, British, and French nuclear-powered submarines.

Through the sixties, seventies, and eighties, my father flew as a maritime patrol pilot in the Canadian Air Force, tracking these subs and other ships on all three coasts. As far as he and his colleagues were concerned, a foreign vessel in Canadian waters without invitation was an intruder, regardless of what flag it flew. His job was to let those vessels know they were under surveillance, and not always welcome.

This is no longer the case. As Mandel-Campbell correctly notes, budget cuts over the past two decades have left the Canadian military incapable of effectively patrolling the Arctic archipelago, not to mention the rest of the country. Foreign vessels are more or less free to roam the Canadian Arctic unchallenged.

Perhaps the federal government’s neglect of national sovereignty issues in recent years would be understandable if there was no strategic, economic, or political reason to enforce it. But given the Arctic’s potential importance to international shipping, its vast natural and mineral resources, as well as the need to safeguard its own citizens, the government’s abdication of its responsibilities is inexcusable. Regrettably, the day may soon come when it will be necessary to redraw the map of Canada.
Garth Eichel
Victoria, BC

Canada’s policy of neglect toward the Northwest Passage is reflected in its treatment of the Inuit. Forced relocation, starvation, and chronic disease were the historic legacies that Canada imposed upon the Inuit people in the name of sovereignty. Apparently, that policy of neglect continues.

Our nation has failed to secure the Arctic’s resources, preserve its fragile ecology, or protect the well-being of the Inuit people. Our most vulnerable people and ecology are still being ignored. The Inuit’s high suicide rate and crushing housing shortages are the crumbling foundations of a broken covenant. Now, Canada’s abuse of the people’s trust has extended to the land, where a lack of coherent policies and sustainable development strategies, and now global warming, has put the region in crisis.

The opening of the Northwest Passage will lead to petroleum and mineral development, tanker spills, and more aggressive foreign military incursions. The failure of parliament to protect the Inuit and the Arctic is ultimately the failure of all Canadians. We must not take this precious region for granted. Nothing is free, especially a home and native land.
John Holman
Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories

Our naive approach to defending Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic should come as no surprise. Sam Steele’s legacy of upholding cherished Canadian values like peace, order, and good government in the North has obviously been ineptly reconfigured in contemporary Ottawa. It seems as though a bumbling Dudley Do-Right has taken over the job of preserving these values—except that now, he’s not getting his man.
Alessandro Nicolo
Montreal, Quebec

Democracy in Burma?
There are many viable places to pin one’s hope for Burma, but the military regime is not among them. The fact that their May National Convention was held in an isolated military compound should have been David Kendall’s first tipoff that the convention process was an empty showcase. The absence of the main opposition groups should have been his second. If General Khim Nyunt had sincere intentions of negotiating democracy, his arrest last October limits his effectiveness, to say the least.

As for Burma being “marooned” by “punitive” sanctions, there seems to be no shortage of foreign investors willing to prop up the dictatorship with joint-venture projects, including a good number of Canadian companies. The Canada Pension Plan invests in companies that do business with Burma’s junta.

Burma’s ethnic minorities live on resource-rich hills, but the trickle-down effect of investment amounts to clearing jungle, transporting supplies, and building roads. Slave labour is so widespread and brutal that Burma is the only country to have been ejected from the International Labour Organization.

Kendall says that a lack of legitimate investment drives the country’s drug trade; but the same cabal of generals and officials who are involved in joint-venture investments are keeping the wheels of the drug trade greased. These are the conditions which Burma’s pro-democracy movements live with every day, which is why freedom, not investment, is foremost on their minds.

I hope Kendall pursues his interest in Burma, reads more deeply, and talks to a wider range of people in the years to come. If Kendall looks beyond the revolving door of generals, their quest for foreign backers, and their showcase events, he will find a wellspring of optimism among the people who have committed their lives to freedom.
Patricia Elliott
Bangkok, Thailand

God In A Pick-up
The Walrus positioned itself into my regular reading rotation when your latest issue carried Donna Morrissey’s memoir (“God in a Pick-up Truck,” December/January), a story about Morrissey driving home with her father during a blinding coastal snowstorm. Readers from a time before all-weather roads identify with the experience, so well described by the author. But Morrissey is more than a gifted writer. She’s a great personality and a natural comic. Last spring, she captivated everyone here in Charlottetown during a reading she gave. I’m not so much interested in promoting Morrissey as I am in doing what I like people to do for me—point me toward great reading.
John Eldon
Green Charlottetown
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Rationing Health Care
So often when rationing is mentioned, the discussion seems to centre on the burden senior citizens place on the system (“Life, At What Price?” November). As I approach my eighty-sixth birthday, I wonder why people my age are constantly singled out. I recall a story I heard when I was young about the elderly Inuit who, when they no longer felt useful, would leave their igloos and wander off into the wilderness. It strikes me that this is what some commentators might wish for the elderly.

My wife and I visit the doctor three or four times a year for regular checkups and to have prescriptions renewed. Between the two of us, over the past twenty-five years, we have had four one-day surgeries and a hospital stay of five days. Is that any worse than people half our age? Should only the elderly require health-care rationing? Perhaps one-pound premature babies, organ transplant recipients, or people who require medication costing $125,000 to $250,000 a year should also be considered. The list could be endless.
Hugh McFarlane
Surrey, BC

Pesticides In China
Given our own rampant use of pesticides in Canada, we could be facing the same dark end as those who use the stuff to kill themselves in China, albeit by a slower process (“Death Takes A Holiday,” November). Since the explosive growth of pesticide use after World War II, thousands of medical and epidemiological studies have shown that exposure to pesticides can cause numerous types of cancer. Non-Hodgkins lymphoma and leukemia, as well as birth defects, allergies, and depression have all been linked to such exposure.

Pesticide restrictions require political will and immutable prevention strategies. In their April 2004 comprehensive review of pesticide research, the Ontario College of Family Physicians confirmed the dangers. If that doesn’t give the argument balls, consider that since 1950, the rate of testicular cancer has tripled.
Cynthia Martin
Ingramport, Nova Scotia

The Walrus On-line
Your on-line debate (“Is Canada Disappearing From the World Stage?” October) was both innovative and engaging. However, the discussion was largely limited to the question of how Canada should conduct its foreign policy—in particular, how we should engage the United States. Little time was devoted to the all-important “what”—specifically, what does Canada want to accomplish internationally? Nor was much time dedicated to thinking about the equally significant “who”—who are the players now shaping Canada’s foreign policy?

Canada’s role in the world is no longer determined solely by the Department of Foreign Affairs, or even the federal government. Foreign-policy issues are increasingly perceived as domestic challenges with an international dimension. Consequently, those tackling these issues—and thus shaping Canada’s role—include all levels of government, non-profits, businesses, and individuals. Renewing our role in the world will require a discussion that engages, and a vision that inspires, all these actors. At present, neither of these conditions is being met. Linda McQuaig’s assertion that Canadians are happy with Canada’s current role does not reflect my own experience. Young Canadians I speak with perceive Canada as a country adrift, unsure of its goals.

Meanwhile, these young Canadians are not waiting for their government to formulate a vision. They have identified issues high on their agenda — e.g., environmental degradation, corporate social responsibility, and international health — and are already working alone or with companies, non-profits, and universities to address them. By taking actions that empower themselves and those around them, and operating within global networks that focus on tangible results, these individuals are the new vanguard of Canadian foreign policy. For this reason, I may agree that Canada is disappearing from the world stage, but would vigorously counter that Canadians are increasingly active, and successful, in the international arena. More importantly, understanding what is driving our individual successes could be the key to developing a new foreign-policy framework that simultaneously articulates what our agenda is, recognizes who the actors are, and outlines how we can achieve results.
David Eaves
Ottawa, Ontario

Utne Award
I just saw on the cbc website that The Walrus has won the award for Best New Title in North America from the Utne Independent Press Awards. Bravo!
Jane Hargraft
Toronto, Ontario

“The time has come,” The Walrus said, “to talk of many things.” Send us a letter, an email ([email protected]), or a tweet, or post on this website. Comments may be published in any medium and edited for length, clarity, and accuracy. Mail correspondence to: 411 Richmond St. E., Suite B15, Toronto, Ontario, Canada  M5A 3S5