Monday, May 30, 2016

Application Denied

Friends have asked me many times over the years, how often I had to jump down from the lifeguard chair for an emergency.

Thankfully, there were very few occasions.

One of the incidents I tell them about was when a baby, barely walking, fell, face-first, into the lake near the base of my chair.

I looked around and saw no parents approaching the baby, so I jumped down, lifted the baby out of the water and waited for the parents to show themselves.

I remember telling them lifeguards were not babysitters, then, like all well-equipped, negligent parents, they offered an excuse.

Negligent parents are not big on vigilance; they are big on excuses.

During my radio news shift Sunday morning, I wrote and read the story of Harambe’s killing several times. Off the air, it infuriated me that such a magnificent animal had been shot to death because of negligent parenting.

My feelings on the value of zoos are for another blog, another time, but whenever we went to Granby Zoo, I always spent more time at Mumba’s enclosure.

He was a fascinating, impressive and magnificent creature, and I was saddened to hear, in October 2008, the 48 year old silverback gorilla had died.

His death of natural causes was nowhere near as upsetting as 17 year old Harambe’s death Saturday at the Cincinatti Zoo.

Harambe (Photo courtesy:
Did the zoo make the right decision? Is there another way zoo staff could have handled the situation? None of those questions matter because none of those questions would have come up, had the boy’s parents done what parents are supposed to do.

Is it the zoo’s fault for failing to make the enclosure child-proof? It’s the first time a spectator breaches the enclosure since 1978, and no one would be talking about the issue had the boy’s parents done what parents are supposed to do!

I wonder how long it took the boy to work his way into the enclosure; 15 seconds, 5 minutes, 10 minutes or 15 minutes?

I bet his parents don’t even know, since they weren’t doing what parents are supposed to do.

The child’s parents ought to face justice, charges of criminal negligence; they are solely responsible for Harambe’s death.
I saw this on Twitter today

An online petition is circulating, demanding the parents be held responsible. I hope it leads to some kind of justice. Too often, negligent and blameworthy parents are excused, and everyone else pays.

It’s nauseating.

I’ve always liked the idea that parents should be licensed.

Years ago, two Nova Scotia academics argued children have rights and parents have responsibilities. Brian Howe and Katharine Covell of the University College of Cape Breton declared anyone who hadn’t finished high school and a parenting course, shouldn’t be having kids. Covell pointed out there are a lot of parents having children who have no interest in raising them.

I often see those parents.

The position suggested by Howe and Covell was prompted by the same steady stream of child abuse and neglect cases still making headlines today.

Prospective parents, suggested Howe and Covell in 1999, should have to complete a certified course on early infant development, and sign a contract agreeing not to abuse or neglect their child.

If, at any point during the licensing process, a prospective parent referred to the credo of the negligent parent, “Accidents happen”, the same words used by the mother of the boy who fell in Harambe’s enclosure, it would be - application denied.

Monday, May 23, 2016

No Apology Necessary

Pierre Trudeau answered to no one. As Prime Minister and party leader, he led. Canadians followed. He led with fierce conviction, inspired vision and heaps of attitude.

Much of that made him our greatest Canadian.

There was no question of polls, pundits, or pals; Pierre Trudeau was guided by Pierre - and Pierre alone.

Like the very best and worst of us, he answered only to life, with all its impossible joy and heartache.

He burst onto the scene in 1968, flamboyantly sliding down banisters! In February 1971, there came “fuddle duddle”, and no apology.

He pirouetted behind the Queen in May 1977.

He did only what he believed, whether it was passing controversial Wage and Price Controls in 1975, or invoking the ominous War Measures Act in 1970 with the words that dripped with defiance, “Just watch me”.

Even in 1988, he said it the way he believed it, and let Canadians know Meech Lake terrified him.

No apology necessary.

Justin’s already had moments of flamboyance; one of them would have to be when he unexpectedly won the Liberal candidacy for Papineau riding on the first ballot in 2007.

(Photo courtesy Wikipedia)
In 2012, in support of cancer research, he boxed against a senator. He’s had his own “fuddle duddle” moments.

Justin’s leadership is already attracting the attention of the world.

Now everyone’s clucking about the “Justin Jab”.

Is it acceptable for politicians to belittle parliamentary process by playing games and blocking fellow politicians from getting to their seats in the Commons?

I don’t think so. There’s work to be done and the dollars of hard working Canadians to account for.

That would tick me off, too.

Ruth Ellen Brosseau was accidentally jostled and, in the half-second that followed the initial contact, she appeared to dramatically amplify the jostling.

Judging by his performance in the playoffs agains the Raptors, rest assured, the headmaster and instructors at the LeBron James Acting Academy are beaming.


If Justin feels he must apologize, just do it once.

In 1993, Pierre Trudeau yanked the fake beard off an annoying comedy reporter, gave him a light slap and aimed a kick at his groin. A year later, at the commissioning of the frigate “HMCS Montreal”, the former prime minister gave a heckler in the crowd the single-finger salute.

If you ask me, when push comes to shove, Justin’s on the right track.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Freedom of Choice

Count me among the 86 per cent of Quebecers who, according to a Leger-Le Devoir-Journal de Montreal poll released over the weekend, approve of medically-assisted death.

If, at some point, I am doomed to suffer irreversible, intolerable physical or psychological pain, and I am completely unaware of loved ones and oblivious to the beauty of life as I once cherished it, it’s pretty safe to say I would not want to go on living and I would choose to, as humanely as possible, end the game.

We recently made that decision for our beloved dog, believing in our hearts it was right. Certainly, humans are entitled to the same humane consideration, especially if the decision is, ultimately, their own. I fully realize the sanctity of human life takes the inherent issues to another level entirely, but some common principles apply.

Beginning June 7th, patients with a “grievous and irremediable condition” will be able to request a doctor’s help to end their lives. I believe the legislation, as it is, though a valiant first step, falls grievously and irremediably short.

Bill C14 states a person must be a consenting adult of at least 18 years of age and “suffering intolerably” to be eligible for medically-assisted death. Furthermore, natural death must be “reasonably forseeable” and individuals must be in an “advanced state of irreversible decline” to be eligible.

Supreme Court of Canada (photo courtesy Flickr)
What constitutes "intolerable suffering", a "grievous and irremediable condition", "reasonably foreseeable", or an "advanced state of irreversible decline"? Many precedents will be set, broken and tested before allowable limits are legally defined.

There are no provisions for those who seek to die due to mental illness, or dementia. At the very least, the proposed legislation must be amended to include those competent individuals who choose to establish advanced directives for assisted suicide, or euthanasia, in the event they become no longer mentally competent.

The Netherlands was the first country to formally legalize medically-assisted death. There, as I understand it, the patient must be conscious and in either unbearable physical, or psychological pain. More than one person must be involved in the decision and the death request must be voluntary. The patient must be given alternatives to consider and there must be no other reasonable solutions to the problem. The patient’s death cannot inflict unnecessary suffering on others.

The Dutch decision to allow medically-assisted death is mostly about respecting an individual’s inalienable right to autonomy. That principle grants a competent individual the sole right to control their destiny and to choose to commit suicide if, in their considered judgment, they ought to do so.

The principle of human worth does not reconcile suicide except perhaps to argue that if, because of suffering or loss of coherent thought, a person is unable to live life to their fullest capacity, with a quality of living reasonable humans would value, then, as a morally worthy society, we ought to respect the voluntary choice of the individual to end their life.

The principle of utility takes into consideration the interests of all parties involved - the person seeking medically-assisted death, their caretakers, loved ones, relatives, dependents and others. If everyone concerned believes death would be a merciful release, then individuals should be free to determine their fate in the moment, or, in advance of the moment.

On the show I host, “Montreal Billboard”, I recently interviewed the Executive Director of the West Island Palliative Care Residence and, last month, accepted an invitation to visit the facility. I was impressed by the facility itself and the unwavering dedication of the staff, but it was explained to me that medically-assisted death is not an option there. Palliative care, by definition, does not hasten death.

I am unshakably pro-choice. In the name of dignity and respect, competent, but suffering Canadians, ought to be given the right and power to choose their end.

What gives government the right to control the final fate of a responsible and reasonable individual? People are dying to know.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Goldfinch Gold Mine

What’s with the Goldfinches?

There are so many at our feeders this year, it’s nuts!

I’m not complaining; it’s actually exciting. We rarely have yellow-colored birds in the yard. The American Goldfinches typically make an appearance for one or two weeks and then we don’t see them again until the next year.

This photo, taken in early March, shows moulting goldfinches
This year, it’s been at least two months that we’ve had clusters of Goldfinches crowded around the feeder all day!

Not being a super serious bird guy, I’m going to go out on a limb here by saying this is unusual.

I remember the Great Grey Owl invasion of 2005. I was working as the feature reporter on the Global television show, “This Morning Live”. Great Grey Owls had invaded the Greater Montreal area because of skimpy food sources in the boreal forests of the north. I arranged to have noted and popular ornithologist Dr David Bird take my cameraman, Gilbert Laporte, and I, out to see some of the owls.

Dr Bird took us to Ile-Bizard and sure enough, we found these amazing birds perched in the trees. It was a great morning because I had never before seen an owl in the wild! We taped the segments the morning of January 26th 2005 and I aired them on the show a few days later on January 31st.

Apart from the magnificent owls themselves, what I remember most about that morning is that Dr Bird’s student, Marcel Gahbauer, now a senior wildlife ecologist with an environmental consulting company, was wearing dress shoes!

It must have been -25 Celsius and there he was, in dress shoes in the snow! Gilbert, who always filmed bare-handed, was freezing, and I was also in pain because of the cold. I kept exclaiming all morning about how Marcel's feet must be frozen!

I went on the internet a few minutes ago to see if there was some sort of documented Goldfinch invasion underway, but found nothing.

It’s super busy at the bird feeder lately. I’m refilling the light-colored seed every two days! I’m refilling the sunflower seeds every three or four days. Sparrows, wrens, juncos, goldfinches, purple finches, cardinals, blue jays, hey, the more the merrier!

We've also had robins, downy woodpeckers and pileated woodpeckers in our backyard. Mallards have been under our feeder and, this spring, I found myself staring at a wild turkey in our yard for the first time ever!

I’ve explained in this space ("Feeder Fodder" November 30, 2010) how I was reluctant to hang a bird feeder in our yard because I knew I’d get stuck with buying the seed and filling it. I also explained in this space how nice it has been to observe such a variety of birds in our backyard!

Thanks again to Brome Bird Care for the squirrel-proof feeders.

My wife, Susan, has been snapping great photos and I’ve been using them here in my blog and on my Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Susan snapped this picture this morning

Goldfinches are the state bird of Iowa and New Jersey, where they are referred to as "eastern goldfinch". They're also the state bird of Washington, where they're called the "willow goldfinch". 

In response to this blog, Marcel agrees the goldfinch situation is unusual. He says in his e-mail, numbers were "through the roof" this winter, as researchers at the McGill Bird Observatory banded 434, compared to a previous winter record of 228. He suggests researchers can't really explain why numbers are up.

I actually remember banding birds with Marcel one morning for a "This Morning Live" segment and the research team allowed me to release one of the birds after it was banded.

Amazing stuff!