Letters

June 2005

by
• 2,745 words

Sand Storm
Thank you for Don Gillmor’s article on the Alberta oil sands (“Shifting Sands,” April). From my vantage point in humbler British Columbia, there is no question that Fort McMurray is king and that Albertans are riding the wave of big oil into what they deem to be a most certain future. Gillmor’s article also speaks to a curious irony: as the rest of the country is talking about shedding its addiction to fossil fuels and getting on side with the Kyoto Protocol, Alberta is embracing oil with gusto.

Furthermore, just as we are demanding that Canada develop a knowledge and service-based economy, debt-free Alberta seems content to be not a hewer of wood and drawer of water, but an extractor of oil and a polluter of rivers. As China and the United States duke it out in the oil sands, Premier Ralph Klein and the oil industry are drooling over a bidding war. Where is regulatory Ottawa, and who is protecting Canada’s interests?

The case of Alberta, and now Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, clearly illustrates what happens when provincial governments have possession and control over natural resource wealth. The fact that these provinces feel no obligation to the rest of Canada speaks volumes about the emptiness of our various mottoes, whether “from sea to shining sea” or “the True North strong and free.”

In the next election, perhaps some adventurous politician will put forward the idea of truly sharing the wealth. This may require getting rid of the provincial order of governments altogether. Such a move would have the added benefit of allowing the federal government to properly fund cities, which, despite what the Alberta hinterland might think, are still the engines of growth and cross-cultural understanding. It would also allow us to have fewer elections, which might translate into better governance.
Christopher Simpson
Vancouver, BC

Thanks for the interesting article about our home area. We would like to add that the retail industry in Fort McMurray has an extremely high turnover rate, due in large part to the high cost of housing. Those who don’t work at the plants, or for contractors who provide supplies or services to the plants, usually exist on poverty wages, which in Fort McMurray is considered to be anything less than $70,000 a year.
Murray and Pam (last names withheld)
Fort McMurray, Alberta

Divorce Me, Please
Nearly six years have passed since the local Catholic tribunal annulled my first marriage. Joan Bryden’s article (” ‘Til Decree Do Us Part,” April) brought back the outrage and cynicism I felt at the time. My ex-husband and I were both raised as Protestants, but after our marriage ended in divorce, he initiated annulment proceedings so that he and his new wife-to-be, a practising Catholic, could be married in a Catholic church. I got a letter from a tribunal I had never heard of, stating that The Defender of the Bond, someone I had never heard of, had “determined in the affirmative.”

The word annulment was never used. Instead, the letter vaguely alluded to a discussion concerning my marriage. It seemed arrogant that an unidentified group of strangers would sit around discussing the relative merits of my first marriage. I contacted them to no avail. The whole process seemed false and empty, a case of hubris and hypocrisy directed at me—and, by fallout, at my children.

Divorce is a fact of life, notes a progressive Catholic activist in Ms. Bryden’s story. It is dismissive for the Catholic spokesperson in the article to characterize those of us who object as “disturbed or immature or things like that.” I envision a future in which people try to cope with reality, not circumvent it with false and cynical pretenses. The $4,000 spent by the Catholic Church for each annulment proceeding could better be used to help address the root causes of divorce, rather than pretending “defective consent” is the problem.
Christine Wilson
Colville, Washington

In the midst of his dissertation on charity and love, St. Paul is quoted as saying, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” This passage is often used in marriage ceremonies, the context of which suggests that spouses are expected to grow up and learn to accept responsibility for their decisions. Yet while some spouses later choose adulterous behaviour, which is ultimately childish, those who attempt to defend the legitimacy of marriage in annulment proceedings are labelled “contentious”—a demeaning and offensive use of the term.

The entire purpose of annulment seems to be to nullify the personal guilt associated with walking away from a sacred, valid commitment in order to selfishly pursue a new relationship. Since the reforms of Vatican II, petitioners seem to be rewarded with annulment regularly, with the endorsement and blessing of Holy Mother Church’s tribunals.
Marilyn O’Brien
Antigonish, Nova Scotia

I am a convent-educated, practising Catholic—and now, it appears, a statistic. I seem to be part of the 2 percent of Canadians who can’t get their marriages annulled. Twice I approached the Church and twice, like Martha in Bryden’s article, I was met with hostility and a total lack of compassion from the officials, who turned me away.

To this day, I don’t know why I was denied access to the canonic machinery that would have declared my marriage null and void. Was it because of gender? Most annulments seem to be graciously granted to men. Was it because, in an excess of ecumenical fervour, I married a Lutheran? In this case, as in many others, Mother Church seems to favour some at the expense of others.
Mari Carmen Capin-Hopf
Montreal, Quebec

Ethical Research?
While I accept the importance of Dr. Rupert Kaul’s search for an hiv/aids vaccine, I must question whether the research being done on the Nairobi prostitutes described by Larry Krotz (“Medical Mystery,” April) is being conducted in an ethical manner. The article implies that the women involved in the study are being used as the basis for an observational study on the natural progression of hiv/aids, and receive free medical care in return. What is not clear, however, is whether they are receiving the best possible care once a diagnosis of hiv/aids has been made, such as receipt of antiretroviral drugs, especially if they are pregnant. Nor is it clear what preventive measures the researchers have taken to ensure that more women are not infected with hiv/aids: measures such as sex education or the provision of condoms—both of which would be considered the “standard of care” and the hallmark of ethical research here in Canada and in other developed countries.

Are these researchers adhering to a lower standard of care in Kenya than they would in Canada simply because the same standard of treatment and/or care is not generally available where their study occurs? Such behaviour would perpetuate the ghettoization of medical research, where researchers set up shop in localities where the standards of care are relatively low and, therefore, research is cheaper.

A vaccine for hiv/aids is clearly one of the most pressing medical issues of our time. However, care should be taken to ensure that such a vaccine is not born out of unethical research that exploits those with few other options.
Angela M. Long
Toronto, Ontario

Urban Adventures
Bombay, Tehran, Prague. London, Paris, New York. “Time has atrophied in Tehran,” writes Randy Boyagoda (“Cities In A Raw Young Century,” April). Boyagoda might be right, but this certainly is not so in the other two cities he reviews, and my suspicion is that we shouldn’t close the book on Tehran just yet. What is remarkable for me is that, in fifteen years, my children may set out on their voyages of discovery to places that never appeared on my psychological map when I was a young traveller (which wasn’t that long ago).

One hears often that the world is getting smaller, but I’m not so sure. It strikes me, as Boyagoda illustrates, that there are more avenues, more tensions, and more unknowns now than ever before. I’m too far gone to be saddled with a forty-pound backpack marching down the harsh and teeming roads of Bombay, testing out the cuisine and the local colour, and, probably, being laid up sick with “Bangalore belly.” No doubt such places are mad and dangerous, but here’s hoping that my kids take up the challenge in this completely unpredictable new century.
Barbara Lee
Montreal, Quebec

Peace, Order, and Smugness
Ken Alexander implies that Canadians are superior because our ethos of peace, order, and good government is measurable, while the American vision of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is not (“Peace And Order Vs. Glorious And Free,” April). The American credo, we are told, is “not easy to pick up and take home with you.”

At the same time that America is actively exporting the values Mr. Alexander finds so vague, democracy is evolving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Egyptian and Palestinian elections have been held or scheduled, and freedom is emerging in Pakistan, Ukraine, and Lebanon. The reality is that measuring life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is all the rage these days, and people are indeed “picking it up and taking it home with them.”

Here in Canada, a man by the name of John Gomery is taking the measure of our much-vaunted conceit of “good government” and finding it to be a graft-ridden fraud—hardly a commodity worthy of export, and nothing whatsoever to be smug about.
Charles E. Anderson
Montreal, Quebec

Decentralized Opinions
Contrary to the points made by Joe Bezanson and Steve Papagiannis (Letters, April), decentralizing the Canadian government (“Quebec’s Final Victory,” February) does not mean more citizen participation; we have no more influence in provincial decisions than in federal decisions. Decentralizing health care, for example, would certainly create a US-style system in Alberta, whether the citizens’ voices are heard or not. Provincial health-care policies would threaten the uniformity and quality of services. We would have people traipsing across provincial borders looking for shorter surgery queues or cheaper treatments. Would we even receive coverage if we visited another province?

At a time when members of the EU are centralizing with positive results, why are provincial leaders so interested in grabbing more power for their little fiefdoms? And why do they assume it’s better to have our tax money in provincial, rather than federal, treasuries? Giving more power to the premiers would change the configuration of Canada, and its vow to pursue peace, order, and good government. As the saying goes, “divided we fall.” If we strip the federal government of its power, Canada would be sucked into the United States, one province at a time.
Cecilia Tanner
Victoria, BC

Some of the April letters to the editor embrace further decentralization of power in this country without critically examining the results. As one reader correctly notes, however, Canada is already one of the world’s most decentralized states or, rather, a loose federation of provinces and territories. Imagine foreign policy run by provinces with little or no international credibility or a different set of military or environmental policies for each province. Already, provincial regulations quite often make inter-provincial trade more complex than international trade. Ordinary Canadians need supplemental health insurance for travel outside their province, and provincial squabbling undermines the credibility of our foreign policy—to name just two examples that render our country less competitive and less influential in international affairs.

Canada’s willingness to embrace dangerous experiments in federal-provincial power-sharing seems rooted in the underlying frustration of the federal government’s failure to stand up to petty provincial power plays. Your April issue uses a perfect example: oil reserves, a powerful bargaining chip with the United States, may well be squandered as a result of the current state of federal-provincial politics, to the detriment of all Canadians.

What we need is a strengthened federal government that works closely with the provinces to shape national policies, both internal and external, so Canada can again speak with one voice, and be taken seriously on the international stage. This strategy would benefit the provinces, and Canada as a whole.
Eckart Scheuing
Wasaga Beach, Ontario

Continental Unions
Jeremy Rifkin’s reflection on the current symbiosis between Canada and blue-state usa (“Continentalism Of A Different Stripe,” March) brought to mind a letter written 150 years ago from American politician Horace Greeley to William Lyon Mackenzie, leader of the ill-fated 1837 Rebellion in Upper Canada. Mackenzie met Greeley while in exile in the United States; and after Mackenzie returned to Canada, the two kept in touch.

In August 1855, as the pressures leading to the American Civil War grew, Greeley wrote to Mackenzie, “the time is coming when those states that persist in deifying slavery will secede from the Union and I am for letting them go peacefully . . . . Then I would like to form a union with Canada and have a Great Free Republic, the strongest and truest in the world. You and I will not live to see this . . . but it is the right thing and so certain to come about.”

Horace Greeley proved an unreliable prophet. By the time the Civil War came in 1861, Greeley had abandoned the idea of letting the South go peacefully. Nonetheless, while a union between Canada and the northern United States seems as unlikely today as in 1855, talk of a Canada-blue-state symbiosis does have a few roots of its own in the deeper North American past.
Chris Raible
Creemore, Ontario
Randall White
Toronto, Ontario

Since George W. Bush’s re-election in November, the American liberal media have been fascinated with similarities between Canada and the blue states. The result is a romanticization of Canada by a group of enthusiasts largely ignorant of our diverse customs, cultures, and history. There is massive opposition to the gun registry, for example, and gun control in general. There are passionate and vehement opponents to gay marriage, to abortion, and other “liberal” issues. A large swath of British Columbia and most of Alberta hold fundamental beliefs very different from those in Quebec and Ontario. These Canadian right-wingers don’t seem to fit into Rifkin’s vision, and so they’re left out of the equation.

Canada is far more complex, with a wider range of political discourse than Rifkin would like to believe. I’m tired of liberal Americans looking to Canada as a shining beacon—not because I believe this country is unworthy of such praise, but because it amounts to the American fetishization of their northern neighbour. It’s not the real Canada they want, but rather an idealized version of it.
Matthew Barlow
Montreal, Quebec

Hush Money
Canada is doing its international reputation great harm, while undermining its own foreign-policy objectives, by allowing companies to operate under a corporate veil (“Open For Business,” March). Madelaine Drohan notes that disclosure of non-financial issues is all but absent in reports that companies are required to file with securities regulators. Canadian regulators are missing a trick here. From April 1 this year, all UK publicly traded companies will be required to disclose some non-financial information to shareholders, including environmental impacts, labour standards, and issues of human rights.

While the UK regulation is by no means perfect, we are moving towards a world in which simple financial reporting is no longer adequate. Canada would do well to follow the UK’s lead or, better yet, to build on it by enabling investors to hold companies to account when businesses act irresponsibly or cause harm.

Though Canada continues to view itself as socially and environmentally responsible, the reality may be a country willing to rest on its reputation alone. Instead, Canada should be a global leader, driving socially responsible business, not hiding behind a friendly veneer—one that is being rapidly eroded by some in the corporate sector.
Deborah Doane
London, United Kingdom

Tusk, Tusk
The lead photo in “Shifting Sands” (April) was of a Suncor plant in Fort McMurray, Alberta, not Syncrude as the caption indicated. Also, the photo on page 61 of “Israel On The Brink” (May) was incorrectly identified as Yitzhak Elya, a vice-municipal chief in Gaza. It was in fact Amram Mitzna, a Labour Party member of the Israeli Knesset. The Walrus regrets the errors.

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