Wednesday, 30 November 2011


"Every good act is charity.  A [sic] man's true wealth hereafter is the good that he does in this world to his fellows."  Moliere
The holiday season is fast approaching, so I thought I'd write a blog entry on the dos and don't of giving 'charitable' gifts.  Making a charitable donation (of money, or of time) in someone's name can be a touching and treasured gesture, and can bring as much pleasure to the gift receiver as a more traditional gift, if done correctly. Many charities and non-profits also have catalogues and 'gift shops' that one can purchase items through, with part of the profit going towards their cause.   There are a few basic rules to follow, and a few guidelines that I would like to make you aware of.

Do a bit of thinking.  Figure out what you are willing to support, and what you aren't.  This is important.  Here are a few things to consider: 

1.  What are causes and organisations that you are interested in, and that you can support?
2.  What are the causes and organisations that interest the person you would like to make a gift to?
3.  Where do these overlap?  Where do they conflict?
4.  If there is no obvious overlap, then is there a way that you can find some commonality?
5.  Do you know what organisations and causes that the person you would like to honour does NOT want to be associated with?

Thoughtfulness really is the key to making a donation-gift treasured and appreciated.  Take the time to do a bit of research, and ask the people you love some questions.  Do some thinking about your own values as well.

Here are some questions and suggestions to get you started:

What percentage of a donation are you comfortable going towards administration fees? 

I am not going to get into the incredibly complex differences between Federal and Provincial laws (a charity can be registered either through Canada, or provincially in the case of Quebec).  By all means, explore some of the details here if you are interested.  I am also not going to get into legal or accounting terms. 

You do need to at least be aware of some of the 'business' practises of charities and non-profits if you are going to give thoughtful gifts.  There's a great discussion of the issues here, and I would encourage you to read it and think about the issues. 

My personal belief, having worked with charities and non-profits for years, is that up to 35% of funds donated to charities (NOT foundations) can be ethically spent on administrative fees, which must include salaries and employee benefits.  Charities and non-profits must provide their employees with a decent living if they are to maintain ethical integrity, and if they are to maintain consistency and reduce staff turnover.  HOWEVER, I would strongly argue that "a decent living" does not mean salaries in the hundreds of thousands, nor does it include huge bonuses. 

Be cautious with regards to foundations.  Some foundations (The United Way for instance) does amazing work, and is responsible for supporting a great many wonderful charities and non-profit groups.  However, corporate foundations (yup, another upcoming blog entry) may eat away at your donation by redundant administrative fees - part of your donation supports the corporate foundation (said foundation providing not only publicity for the corporation but also a tax break), which then gives what's left of your donation to a charity, which also has administrative fees.  Each foundation you are interested in needs to be vetted, and you need to make your own choice.  If you are interested in donating to a corporate foundation, you also need to research the corporation in order to avoid green washing (yes, another upcoming blog - oh my!) and the support of shady practises.  My personal choice is to donate directly to a group I want to support.  Know how you feel about this issue, and know how your gift receiver feels.   

Charities, foundations,  and non-profits should be willing to answer basic questions regarding administrative costs, and be willing to provide you with links to, or copies of, the financial statements from their last general meeting.  I would encourage you to contact any charity/non-profit PRIOR to donation, and ask this (and other) questions, both in order to provide you with the information and (just as important) to provide tangible proof to the charity in question that donors are actively concerned about these issues.

What types of activities are you willing to support?  What types of activities are supported by the person you are honouring?

Learn a little about the charity that you are considering donating to.  What, exactly, do they do and why?  What are their policies?  Do they answer your questions? (Ethical charities and non-profits will be willing to answer your questions, and if the person you speak with is not knowledgeable enough to answer your question, s/he should either find out the answer and get back to you or refer you to someone else within the group.)  

Do they have a sustainable, long term view that attempts to deal with causal factors (for instance, groups that try to save endangered species through eradicating the poverty and environmental degradation that often threatens species)? Do they only deal with short-term relief (for instance, food banks)?  Do they have a two-pronged approach which targets short-term relief as well as long term causation?  How do you feel about these approaches (and your view may differ from cause to cause). 

Do they treat their donors with respect?  Do they accept dedicated funds?  Do they refuse to accept funds under a specified amount? If the group only accepts non-dedicated

If they are collecting money for research into a disease, where does this money go?  "Towards research" is far too general.  Do you, or the person you hope to honour, have concerns about the use of animals in medical research?  If so, then you need to ask about the policies regarding this issue.  Will research be conducted using pharmaceutical companies, or will pharmaceutical companies benefit from the resulting drugs created with research you are funding?  Who will own the patent?  These are things you should think about.

Be prepared.

The best way of knowing what to give to whom, is to have the conversation - early if possible.  For instance, my mother-in-love has stated that she would like donations made in honour of her to go to "anything that helps children".  This makes giving a charitable gift in her honour extremely easy.   People like me, who have worked in non-profits, may have more discriminating requirements for the charities they support.  For gifts that honour people like me, you need to discuss things in more detail.  For instance, I am a vegan and have supported a number of causes that range from social justice and antipoverty issues, to environmental and endangered animal groups. 

To assume, however, that any gift given to a group that works in one of these fields would honour me would be a mistake.  The World Wildlife Fund, which I have supported over the years, has recently 'partnered' with Coca-Cola, accepting $2 million to be received over the next five years, to be used to help protect polar bear habitat.  This looks like a good thing on the surface - however, I am concerned with a number of issues surrounding this (yes, subject of a future blog).  I presently choose not to support WWF, while I research the issues and inform myself.    

Most people will be more than happy to have this type of discussion with you.  Honestly, most people have already wrestled, at least to some degree, with some of the issues I have raised and have a few charities or causes that they feel drawn to.  Don't forget to periodically revisit the discussion with people you love, to see if their 'pet' charities have changed.

Be honest if there is a conflict.

If, for instance, someone asks me to donate to The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, I would explain, politely and respectfully, that I would be unable to send them money as I had a number of ethical concerns with the group.  I would then offer to do some research into breast cancer groups and come back to them with a list of groups that I could support, and have them choose one.  I could also, if they preferred, donate to another group that they supported.  While the donation I am giving in someone's name is meant to honour him/her, it still has to be a group that I can give to without feeling ethically compromised.  If you are respectful and supportive of the giftee's right to support a group, then s/he should understand. 

The world is full of wonderful organisations that do incredible work.  I urge you to think about charitable gifts over the holiday season, and to have conversations through-out the year with those that you love.

Here are a few links to get you started (If I have any links to the group, I will tell you within the parentheses, in the spirit of full disclosure - and you still  have to ask them questions if you want to donate to them):

  The Jane Goodall Institute of Canada  (I worked for this organisation while it was located in Montreal.  Great gifts for those interested in Chimpanzees, in sustainable tourism, in animal welfare, in providing sustainable jobs for those in African communities surrounding chimp sanctuaries, for helping to support research and eco-viability in Gombe National Park, and for those interested in fostering leadership in youths in Canada.)
Fondation Senegal Sante Mobile  (Wonderful group just getting started - I have volunteered with them, and know the founding member quite well.  Great for anyone interested in maternal or neonatal health, in health care in Africa, in helping to reduce infant death and morbidity as well as increase health status of infants and mothers, as well as the whole community, in social justice and access to health care.)
Project Genesis  (I am on the Board of Directors.  While their website is not updated as often as it should be, this group does amazing work with regards to housing rights, welfare and pension rights, social justice, antipoverty, etc.)
Baobab Familial (I am in my second term on their Board, and am the Vice-President  of the Board of Directors.  Unfortunately, their website is only in French at present.  This group does amazing work with new immigrants to Quebec, providing enrichment programmes for children as well as tutoring, free babysitting for stay-at-home parents in order to reduce their isolation in a new country, translators for doctor's visits, French lessons, etc.  Great charity for anyone interested in community, social justice, isolation, children's education.)
AIDS Community Care Montreal  (I have been a volunteer and consultant for ACCM for a number of years now.)  ACCM is the only English language HIV/AIDS education/prevention/support group in Montreal.  They do incredible work with people of all ages.  This is a great group to give to for someone who is interested in HIV/AIDS prevention, patient advocacy, education, support, and fighting discrimination.
The Heifer Foundation (I have given gifts through this organisation in the past.  Great group for those interested in fighting hunger, in fighting poverty, in child education.  If you are giving a donation in honour of a vegan, then be sensitive.  You can 'give a tree', or if your vegan does not object honey, you can 'give a bee hive'.)
Breast Cancer Action Montreal (This is an example of a group that fights breast cancer, and that may be a suitable recipient for donations made in honour of someone who has problems with The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.)

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine  (This organisation is not a good choice for everyone.  Focusing on the healing and preventative role that a balanced vegan diet can play in good health, and in treating and preventing a number of diseases, this group not only conducts research, but also promotes veganism and responsible medical practises.  A great choice for vegans, vegetarians, those interested in animal rights, those who feel that medicine and medical research is frequently controlled by big business and lobbyists.)

Save Our Coastal Fishery (This non-profit should be familiar, from my last blog entry - Nov. 27, 2011.  This group is fighting open-pen salmon farming in Atlantic Canada, and fights to protect the coastline and lobster fishers from toxic chemicals and pollution caused by this practise.)

Food Banks Canada  (While this group attempts to provide short-term relief to hunger in Canada rather than a long-term solution/s or a two-pronged approach, I can tell you from personal experience that food banks offer a critical service in this country.  For more information, you can scroll down to the blog archives and look at the second blog entry I made, entitled "Hunger".)

The Slave Lake Library Fund  (For more information, please scroll down to my blog archives and see the third blog entry, entitled "For the Love of Books".)

Thinking Forward (I have had only limited contact with this group which involved some base and preliminary suggestions regarding their volunteer programme.  I have, however, agreed to serve as a consultant when they are large enough to need me.  This is a great group for those interested in youth development, in leadership training, and in fostering civic involvement.)


I hope that the above has given you something to think about, and provides you with information regarding the how-tos of giving gifts that continue to give.  Let me know of any other groups/organisations that you feel are deserving, and I will be happy to list them in a follow-up blog entry.

Happy Giving! 

Sunday, 27 November 2011


(Note:  This blog entry has been modified from the original at the request of the volunteer it originally highlighted.  I only do so as the volunteer was unaware of my policy with regards to editorial control - my fault.  Future sources and celebrated volunteers will be fully informed.   The issues presented reflect my own beliefs, as do all my blog entriesFuture blog entries will be updated and corrected with regards to facts if errors occur, but editorial control will remain with me.)

Global production of fish from aquaculture has grown substantially in the past decade, reaching 52.5 million tonnes in 2008, compared with 32.4 million tonnes in 2000. Aquaculture continues to be the fastest-growing animal food producing sector and currently accounts for nearly half (45.6 percent) of the world’s food fish consumption, compared with 33.8 percent in 2000. With stagnating global capture fishery production and an increasing population, aquaculture is perceived as having the greatest potential to produce more fish in the future to meet the growing demand for safe and quality aquatic food.  According to FAO [Fisheries and Oceans], it is estimated that by 2012 more than 50 percent of global food fish consumption will originate from aquaculture. (From

(Note:  As always, if you are short of time, you can scroll down to the HOW YOU CAN HELP section, but please do so soon, as some of these actions must take place before Dec. 4, 2011.)

How much do you know about the associated problems of pollution, pesticide use, and the resulting die-off of lobsters caused by open-pen salmon aquaculture? 
One concerned citizen, after hearing a radio broadcast on this issue,  called the Department of Aquaculture and spoke with a government official, who specified that no pesticides were used in open-pen aquaculture – only “medications” (Note:  You may be unaware of the term "linguistic detoxification".   This may be one example.)  She also called an aquaculture industry representative who stated that no pesticides were necessary in Nova Scotia open-pens as the water temperature repels sea lice. (The picture to your left is of Atlantic Salmon infested with sea lice.)  

Save Our Coastal Fishery is one group that is fighting to save the coastal waters in Atlantic Canada.      This is no small issue.  Cooke Aquaculture, Nova Scotia's largest aquaculture company  has been charged with illegally poisoning the coastal waters near its pens (you can link to several sources: newspaper article, or video). They appear in court Dec. 13th, 2011.

This fight is at a critical phase. The Federal Conservative Government has announced that it is "considering" the changes it intends to make regarding the laws of pesticide use in open-pen salmon aquaculture.  You can read this notice of intent here (scroll down to the section labeled "Department of Fisheries", fourth notice down). To make your lives a little easier, here are portions of the notice:

The federal government is committed to reducing or avoiding duplicative administrative requirements, while ensuring that legislative environmental protection objectives are met.
In determining the design of the regulations under consideration, DFO [Department of Fisheries and Oceans] will be examining the scope of legislation governing fish pathogen and pest treatment, and the environmental aspects of regulations, regulatory mechanisms and programs administered by Health Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Environment Canada, and DFO as well as provincial and territorial authorities. The proposed regulations under the FA [Fisheries Act] are expected to complement current federal regulatory instruments, ensuring that fish and fish habitat are protected and healthy aquatic ecosystems maintained in the carrying out of fish pathogen and pest treatments. ...

In Canada, a number of pieces of legislation and regulations administered by a number of federal agencies govern aspects related to fish pathogen and pest treatment, including requirements related to environmental risk assessment and mitigation. Treatment products may be regulated under one or more of the following acts: the Food and Drugs Act (FDA), the Pest Control Products Act (PCPA) and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999). As well, the HAA provides for control measures to prevent the spread and introduction of aquatic animal diseases of concern to Canada and the Fisheries Act has, as a purpose, the protection of fish and fish habitat. 

I encourage you to read the original document. However, in the meantime, there are a few things I would like to highlight. In theory, I actually agree that reducing redundant administration is a good thing - however, having worked in hospitals for years, I can tell you that the 'redundancy' of having medications and dosages checked by nurses as well as doctors has saved thousands of lives. Administrative staff may be highly competent, and yet are still human. Mistakes are made. Safety issues may not be picked up on. A certain amount of redundancy when it comes to safety, toxicity, and environmental protection is actually a necessity. 

One source stated"...even though [the] DFO has regulations, they have never been enforced - resulting in significant pollution in Shelburne Harbour [seen left], Port Mouton Bay, and St. Mary's Bay, NS."

There are a number of excellent sources that provide insight into the destructive aspects of open-pen aquaculture.  One of the best ways of informing yourself is to go to the Save Our Coastal Fishery website (link above).

As a vegan, I already have a number of issues with 'factory farming'.  However, this particular issue speaks to all of us.  The abuse and poisoning of public resources (like coastal waters) is an issue that effects us all.  Elected representatives need to know what we think about these issues.  If the only voices they hear are those of corporate representatives, then we are partially to blame for the degradation of our environment.  If we support these industries through our silence, as well as our dollars, then we are responsible, in part, for their choices. 

If this is an issue that speaks to you, please get involved.  Here are just a few ways that you can help her help save our coastal waters:


1Inform yourself. In addition to the above links, you can visit the following sites:  Friends of Port Mouton Bay, Friends of Shelbourne Harbour.  Additionally, St. Mary's Bay, where the Minister of Fisheries has approved 2 x 100 care open-pen farms in spite of opposition from 80% of the community, has a facebook page.  If you are really interested in this issue, begin to think about water use in general.  While the Council of Canadians tends to focus on water rights with regards to fresh water (see here, and here), use of public water for private gains is clearly a growing issue.

2PEOPLE HAVE UNTIL DEC. 4, 2011 TO SUBMIT THEIR COMMENTS TO THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT REGARDING THE PROPOSED CHANGES TO PESTICIDE LEGISLATION!  Please make your voice heard.  You can send your comments (make sure to include the reference number CLEAR ref.: 11-01-61095).  The addresses to send your views can be viewed on the Notice of Intent, at the government site linked above.  
3.   If you buy salmon, ask your retailers (and go to managers, and send letters and emails to head offices) about the specifics of the salmon you are buying.  (Note that only 0.5% of salmon sold now is wild, as the fishery industry for wild Atlantic salmon has collapsed - see here).  If you are told that what you are buying is wild Atlantic Salmon, chances are you are being mislead. 

Do not settle for "eco-friendly" or "eco-farmed" labels thrown out without specifics, as there is no third-party certification or government standards for these terms. 

If the stores cannot answer your questions, choose to boycott Atlantic salmon, and make your decision known to these stores. 
5Send the link for this blog, or some of the links provided (I suggest Save our Coastal Fishery) and try to get others to get involved.  You can also contact Save Our Coastal Fishery and ask them how you can help.

6.  Become aware of, and use, the complete list of Seafood Eco-Ratings.  If you choose to eat seafood, help support sustainable harvesting.

Sunday, 20 November 2011


"Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter which fork you use." ~Emily Post

I was having a conversation with a friend last week, and realized that it was the same general conversation that I have had several times over the last few months. We were talking about a particularly rude question that each of us had experienced. Many of our acquaintances had also been asked this question.

Having to deal with rude, nosey people who won't mind their business is not a new phenomenon, but it is an increasingly common one. I'm not sure if it is because good manners aren't quite emphasized as much these days, or because the advent of the internet, facebook, and twitter give the illusion that we don't have or need privacy. Probably a combination, with a few extra factors thrown in. No matter what the cause, I think it's time to become more educated about what not to ask and why, how to leave a door open for those who wish to share.

Here's my (rather incomplete) list of rude questions that have become common:

1. "How old are you?"  Unless you are a medical professional treating the person you are asking, and need to know this information for diagnostic or prognostic reasons, this is none of your business. Ageism is real, both in the work place and within social settings. Many, myself included, do not like to be placed in a box with assumptions attached, simply based on my age.

2. "How much money do you make?"  Unless you are an accountant doing someone's taxes, or an investment consultant, etc., this is none of your business. Whether or not you agree with assumptions, money is often linked to social status, to perceptions of success or failure, and to social class. Especially in these days, when so many are unemployed or forcibly retired early, this question is insensitive. On the other hand, one who has a very large salary may feel uncomfortable with the discrepancy s/he has with others, or may be wary of those who will try to to take advantage of him/her.

3. "Are you pregnant?" or "How many months along are you?"Unless you are a health professional who needs this information, this is none of your business. There are many women who look pregnant but who are not. One woman I know had to sit in OB/GYN office waiting rooms, for multiple appointments over the course of years, listening to other women chattering on about their pregnancies. Inevitablly, she would have to try to politely answer probing questions when they got tired of talking amongst themselves. After the first year, she would say in a very loud voice "I'm not pregnant - I have very big tumours!" She says that this shut people up quickly, and she hoped, made them less likely to ask the question again. Uterine tumours is only one example of many conditions that result in an extended belly.

4. "Why don't you have children?"  Unless you are a health professional who needs this information, this is none of your business. Many people struggle with infertility. Some people choose to remain childless, and often feel that they have to defend this choice. There are people who have had children, but have lost them (death, kidnapping, child custody). This question can be particularly painful.

5. "How did ________die?"  Death is almost never a happy topic. I have known two murder victims, and two suicide victims in my life. Their families are not eager to discuss painful family histories for the sake of someone's curiosity. Even if a loved one has died from a 'natural' cause, like a disease of some sort, it is likely that this subject will be painful. Unless you are a police officer investigating questionable circumstances, or a health professional taking a family history, this is none of your business.

6. "Why don't you drink?"  There are many reasons why someone may choose not to drink. A family history of alcoholism, religious reasons, medication which contraindicates alcohol consumption, alcoholism. None of these reasons are any of your business. On a personal note, I also find it rather disturbing that someone is placed in a position where the assumption is that s/he has to explain the choice not to use a drug. How often is one asked "Why don't you use heroine?" Dramatic comparison, I know, but that is often how someone who chooses not to drink feels.

7. "Why are you here to see a doctor?"  I have actually seen a family member sit down in a doctor's office, spend fifteen minutes telling a stranger sitting next to her all about her breast cancer, and then turn to the poor person (who looked like a cornered mouse) and say "why are you here?" Unless you are a medical professional, this is none of your business.

8. "Why are you getting a divorce?" or "Why did you break up?"  Unless you are involved with the person and suspect a pattern of behaviour that may affect your present relationship (eg. cheating, financial irresponsibility), or non-disclosure of a contagious disease, then this is none of your business.

9.  "Did you give blood?" or "Why didn't you give blood?".  I was guilty of asking this just last week, I' afraid.  There are many reasons why people don't donate blood (or organs) - religious conviction, health status (everything from HIV and Hepatitis to anaemia), recent tattoos (and unless someone wishes to share this, tattoos are personal), sexual history or a partner's sexual history.  Unless you are a health care professional directly involved in collecting blood for the Red Cross (or Red Crescent), this is none of your business.

At the end of the day, people who want to share with you will. Family and close friends will tell you without prompting, or if they need prompting to feel that you are interested, there are ways of leaving doors open for expansion of a topic without putting someone on the spot. 

For instance, "I'm really sorry to hear about your divorce. That must have been really difficult" provides someone with the opportunity to expand on the subject, or simply say "yes, it was." "I'm sorry to hear that your Dad died" provides an opportunity for someone to cry on your shoulder, but also provides a graceful way for someone to close the door to the subject by simply saying "Thank you."


1. Do not ask rude questions.

2. If you must ask a personal question, phrase it in such a way that a person can expand on a subject, or gracefully close the door without having to actually say "that's none of your business". I can't tell you how many conversations I've had that go as follows:

Her: How old are you?
Me: Oh, I never tell anyone how old I am. 
Her: Oh, come on. I won't tell anyone.
Me: Why do you ask?
Her: I'm just curious. After all, "age is just a number."
Me: Well, if it's just a number, why is it so important to you?Her: It isn't, but you really seem to have a hang-up about it. You should just loosen up.
Me: I don't have a 'hang-up'. I just consider it personal information.
Her: Well, with the Internet these days, there really isn't such a thing as 'personal information'.

By the time I get to "none of your business" I am frustrated and angry.

3. Pay attention to body language, and to avoidance techniques. Many people are reluctant to just come out and say "none of your business". In a world where many are trained to be polite, nosey people actively prey on others' reluctance to be confrontational and appear rude. 

Nosey people usually get answered because others cannot figure out how to get out of answering once they run out of social clues. Social clues that you are being too nosey would be physically withdrawing from the space, and from you (if possible). Avoidance techniques would include answering your questions with "why do you ask?" or "Nothing, really", or "It's a long story", etc. Be kind, and polite, and pay attention to these clues.

4. Ask yourself what your motive for asking is. If it's just to satisfy your curiosity, then you don't really need to know. If it's just to have something to talk about, or open up a dialogue, then you don't really need to know. By all means, let someone know (subtly) that you are willing to be supportive listener if they need one (if you are ready to listen that is, not if you are just collecting gossip), but do it in a sensitive and respectful manner.

5. If you are the person being asked, then send out clues. Many people ask out of caring. If they care, they'll 'listen' to your clues. If they are totally clueless in terms of social signals, then you may (if you like) educate them as to why this question can be hurtful to someone (and include all the reasons - and know that your privacy may be compromised if this is the option you choose). 

You may also use shock tactics if they continue. "I'm not pregnant, I'm just really fat" would be an example. If they continue to push, then by all means, tell them in no uncertain terms that what they are asking is NONE OF THEIR BUSINESS. If more people did this (and most people are shocked when they are told this), then fewer nosey people would continue to push. You would, in many ways, be helping the next person down the line.

Monday, 7 November 2011


In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. (Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961)

My grandmother's family was wiped out in WWII.  My grandmother and her sister managed to survive The Holocaust, as did a few cousins.  I am actually rather close to a second cousin, who spent a number of his formative years growing up in TheresienstadtI take the sacrifices made by men and women in WWII very seriously.  I also take the responsibilities I inherited with the freedoms that they helped buy for me, and my generation, very seriously.

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.  We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream.  It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.  - Ronald Reagan.

In fact, it was my disgust at the apathy I was observing all around me, and the increasing encroachment of our freedoms that initiated my commitment to starting and maintaining this blog.

This Remembrance Day, spend a few minutes in silent thanks to those who sacrificed for your freedoms, and in respect for them and future generations, think about how you can fight to maintain these freedoms.  Here's a few suggestions:


1.  Vote, every chance you get.  People literally died to provide you with the right to elect a representative government.  Our system isn't perfect.  There are lots of flaws.  The first step to improving it is to do a little research on the issues, and vote.

2.  Consider getting involved in government on some level.  You don't have to run for Prime Minister (although that is an option). Local governments and municipal elections can greatly effect the lives of constituents.

3.  Speak up!  When you hear racist, sexist, etc. remarks, DO NOT REMAIN SILENT.  This is one of the first and basic steps to safeguarding everyone's freedom.

4.  Understand that freedom of speech has to be extended to all.  The price of freedom, and the first missed step in 'the slippery slope', is often neglecting to accord rights to those who have different ideas or lifestyles than you do. 

5.  Learn about history.  Learn about warning signs.  Think critically.  Be a good citizen and watchful for abuse.  (A great starting point is Eisenhower's speech, linked with the first quote in this blog.)

6.  If you have kids, teach them to stand up for the right thing (which is ever-more-frequently the most difficult choice these days).  Teach them that one does the right thing not for reward or fame, but simply because it is the right thing.

7.  If you have kids, teach them about history.

8.  Find a good charity that you feel good about supporting, one that either fights for freedom or educates others (one of mine is The Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre).  Support it with time or money (or both).

9.  Spend some time on November 9 remembering Kristallnacht.  If you don't know what Kristallnacht refers to, then click on the link and take a few minutes.  If you have kids, this is an excellent opportunity to teach them about how freedom is taken in small increments, about how standing up for others benefits all of society.  

10.  ...and for something a little more fun, click here for one of the best songs about freedom that I know. 

Sunday, 6 November 2011


Robert Goulet: "I'm a prostate cancer survivor. When you or the person you love is diagnosed with cancer, the first thought is of the end, and that is our destiny, but I'm here to talk about the value of living with cancer. It's not an easy battle, but we need to believe life goes on even in the face of cancer, and life can become more full because of cancer."
The answer to the question in the title is, obviously: types of moustaches.  November, otherwise known as Movember , provides us all with an opportunity to raise awareness, to educate oneself, and (if you can find an organisation related to prostate cancer that you can support), donate to a good cause.

Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in men (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer).  Seventy Canadian men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer every day.  Eleven men - brothers, fathers, friends, lovers, sons -  will die every day this year from prostate cancer (2011 statistics). 

Here are a few basic things you can do to lower risk factors, and to raise awareness.


1.  Have a healthy attitude about sex, and transmit this attitude to your kids.  They will be more likely to demand good screening (breast; cervical; uterine; ovarian; prostate; and if uncircumcised, penile) related to reproductive organs.   And teach your children that masturbation is a normal and healthy (although private, etc.) part of growing up.  Your sons will benefit from a lower risk of prostate cancer (citation here).

2.  Wear a light blue ribbon (colour of ribbon signifying prostate cancer awareness) in the month of November - or any month for that matter.

3.  If you are a man, insist on having a rectal exam with every yearly check-up.  (Of all the men I know, NONE of them have ever had a doctor who routinely does this.  It's not pleasant for patient or doctor, but it's over in a few seconds, and not exactly painful.)  If you are a woman, ask the men in your life if their doctors routinely do rectal exams, and if not, encourage them to demand it.

4.  If you are a man, discuss the pros and cons of testing for prostate cancer with your doctor.  Have this discussion before you are 45 if you have a brother or father who has been diagnosed with it, or if you are Black.  If not, have this discussion before you are 65.  (Citation here)

5.  Be aware of the recent links being shown between some forms of breast cancer and prostate cancer, and if biological relatives have had breast cancer, have an appropriate conversation with your doctor (Citation here).

6.  Grow a moustache, in support of prostate cancer awareness.  If you can't grow a moustache, support someone who can.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011


"I don't know what truth is. Truth is something unattainable. We can't think we're creating truth with a camera. But what we can do, is reveal something to viewers that allows them to discover their own truth." —Michel Brault

This blog entry will be very short, but hopefully, one that will prove to help educate you.  My theory is that in order to be a good citizen, you have to be informed.  In order to be informed, you have to seek out information, and to think critically.

Documentaries can be an extremely useful tool in gaining information, in comparing view points, and in helping to shape a wealth of information that can help inform you, and help you make more informed choices.

Three of my favourite documentaries are:  Manufacturing Consent, The Corporation, and Why We Fight.  (In later blogs, I'll probably expand my list.)

Documentaries are entertaining as well as informative.  Needless to say, though, they must be viewed with a critical eye.  Documentaries, if for no other reason than the editing choices that are made when post-production occurs, are always biased.  They present information within a framed context.  This does not make them inaccurate, or untruthful - daily news uses the same process.  It does mean, however, that you need to think beyond the borders of the interpretation of the events presented by the film makers. 

The more documentaries you watch, the more capable you will be of comparing interpretations of facts, and of rooting out unstated biases.  These skills will serve you well as you watch news broadcasts, read news papers, and chat at cocktail parties.

Here's a great website to help you with your documentary viewing:

I challenge you to watch three documentaries over the next month.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011


"One of the signs of passing youth is the birth of a sense of fellowship with other human beings as we take our place among them. "
Virginia Woolf
(Unlike my usual blog entries, if you are pressed for time, read the main blog entry, as the WHAT YOU CAN DO section is the longest section this time.)

I've been a science fiction buff for most of my life, and for well before it was considered 'cool' and part of pop-culture.  I've read  historical and foreign SF, like  We.  I've read more classical SF, like Brave New World.  I've read 19th century SF, like Frankenstein.  I have freely explored other genres, but I always seem to come back to Science Fiction.  Not just in books, either. I have a love of TV and movies that focus on SF as well.

For years I savoured my SF in solitude, operating under the myth that very few of us existed, and that we certainly were not among main-stream fiction consumers.  (Needless to say, I'm older than I look!)  Then, magically it seems, there was an explosion of Science Fiction lovers.  We slowly began to come out of the shadows, to collect in small groups which ventured out in public.  Star Trek conventions began, and after that, Comic-cons.  For over a decade I have wanted to attend,  to enjoy the fellowship of other Science Fiction lovers, and to relax in a big room where I am actually part of the 'in' crowd.  This year, I was finally able to do it.

Attending Comiccon may not seem like a natural fit to a blog about political and civic involvement, but I do think it's relevant.  Being engaged and involved doesn't always have to be a huge political statement, or entail great organizational effort.  Sometimes being involved can mean taking part in something fun for no other reason than fun.  Your participation adds to the collective (a very 'Borg' statement, if you'll excuse the pun).  Your attendance provides others with a chance to meet you and enjoy your views and excitement - as their attendance enhances your experience.  Sometimes fellowship itself is a goal worthy of effort. 

Science Fiction may not be 'your thing', but you can certainly find something that you are interested in, and that can be enhanced by the fellowship of other like-minded people.  I encourage you to find that something, or if you already know what it is, to continue to engage with others who are share your interest.  You can significantly add to their enjoyment and engagement, just by being you. 

For those of you who have never been to a Comiccon, or Science Fiction/Comic Book convention, below are some of the things I wish someone had told be before I went.  Hopefully, they will make your 'virginal voyage' more pleasant.


1.  If at all possible, buy the gold ticket.  The line-ups are insane. I had considerable stress because there were panel sessions(really a glorified Q & A session with 'stars' from the comic book, SF world) that I desperately wanted to attend, and I didn't know if there would be space left by the time I got there.  For instance, like most Buffy fans, I was dying (yes, Queen of the bad puns again!) to see James Marsters.  Below is a picture of the line-up to see him when I arrived, two-and-a-half hours before his panel discussion.(The goofy looking guy with a black t-shirt on, waving, marks my spot in line.)

 Gold ticket holders are guaranteed a seat in every panel they want, and don't have to wait in line.

2.  Lines were, generally, insane, as you can see by this picture.  This is the line is for those of us who bought our tickets the day before.  We got there two hours before Comiccon was to open the doors, and the line is actually much longer than it looks here (and yes, this is one line that wraps around.)  So....come prepared to be social, to talk to others in the line, and to learn.  We learned more than we thought was possible from one line-neighbour who was a comic book fan.  His discussion on DC vs. Marvel comics, and character changes under new management was fascinating.

Also, be prepared to bring something to keep yourself occupied during the waits.  There will be many many lines, and while you will meet incredibly interesting people, and learn amazing things, there will be some time for you to just stand, too.

3.  Look at the schedule of panelists, and do some research.  On the first day, I asked Michael Dorn a question I thought was pretty good.  I could tell from his answer that although he was incredibly polite (and gorgeous - my God, that man is beautiful!), he had been asked that question 1200 times before.  I went home and researched the panelists I wanted to see the next day.  I knew I was going to ask Adam West about Lookwell (if you haven't seen it, it's worth the effort to find it).  I thought it would be really rude not to ask  Burt Ward  a question.  Because I did my research, I was able to ask him about Gentle Giants Rescue and Adoptions, the non-profit he started with his fourth wife.  From his reaction, I gather it was a relatively new question, and it made the experience more fun for him, and for us.

4.  Don't overlook the older panelists.  Stan Lee was very popular, but Gil Gerard and Erin Gray

5.  Bring money.  You are bound to find something that you want to take home as a souvenir, whether it be a t-shirt (like the one I bought, shown on the left), or a book, or a sword, etc...

Some of the t-shirt companies have brilliant sayings, printed out on cards that you can take home and put on the fridge, or frame.  "Philosophy Majors - Blurring the line between 'artistic' and 'homeless' since 385 B.C." and "I was never actually a zombie.  Just a lonely cannibal trying to fit in." are two of my favourites, by Rock Paper Cynic (  Good, smart t-shirt makers deserve support.

There are also many comic/graphic novel artists there to gain a bit of publicity for their work. Take the time to browse a bit, and to ask questions. Many have on-line sites (, and 

6.  If you're on a budget, be imaginative.  Pack a lunch and snacks, and water.  Keep an eye open for what can make a good souvenir.  for instance, a ticket stub for a movie can be laminated.  Used as a bookmark, it will not only be unique, but will bring you pleasure for years to come.

A business card card can also be laminated.

7.  Most of all, just have fun, and enjoy the fellowship of others.