Why I Don’t Give a Sh*t About the White House Egg Roll

Apparently, it is a long-standing yearly tradition for the sitting President of the United States to invite thousands of American children and their families to celebrate Easter with an “egg roll” on the White House lawns. I suspect the reason I didn’t know about this tradition until this year is because I am Canadian, most of my friends are Canadian, and it really doesn’t matter to us or to the global community at large HOW the current POTUS chooses to celebrate Easter. (As long as they aren’t, you know, dropping bombs and missiles on Middle Eastern countries with no clear sense of foreign policy or military strategy or baiting North Korea on Twitter or doing some other highly crazy thing that would spell disaster for us all).

But this year, I do know about the White House egg roll, and the reason I know about the White House egg roll is because progressive/left-leaning media articles shared by progressive/left-leaning friends on my social media feeds have gleefully devoted many words to describing the Trump White House’s failure to adequately prepare for the event. More than one outlet has quoted Melinda Bates (former egg roll planner for Bill Clinton’s administration) and her comments in the New York Times: “[The egg roll is] the single most high-profile event that takes place at the White House each year, and the White House and the first lady are judged on how well they put it on” (emphasis mine), or otherwise made a point of mentioning that the annual egg roll is a reflection on the current First Lady, and through her, on her husband’s administration.

Mmkay.

Now, there are plenty of very VERY good reasons to have a problem with the Trump administration, and, perhaps contrary to an earlier blog post of mine, there are also lots of reasons to specifically have a problem with First Lady Melania (her plagiarism of Michelle Obama’s speech at the Republican National Convention, her hypocritical support for her husband’s anti-immigrant and anti-woman policies, and her refusal to move into the White House [at a cost of millions of dollars to U.S. taxpayers, who must now pay extra to secure the Trump’s New York City penthouse], for example).

But there’s Real News, Fake News, and then there’s distracting bullshit that really shouldn’t be news at all, ESPECIALLY among so-called “progressive” media and critical media consumers. Apparently, we are having so much fun mocking the Trumps for their every misstep that we’re willing to reinforce what I had hoped was now merely an antiquated sexist notion—the idea that the success of a man’s enterprise depends on, and is reflected in, his wife’s ability to play hostess. Did we all end up in some 1960s edition of Ladies’ Home Journal without realizing it? Is it truly important that the spouse of a nation’s leader host a good Easter party? And is it really newsworthy if they don’t?

The Trumps are a family without shame, and whether their first egg roll was a disastrous f*ck up or the successful, more “traditional” affair their PR people say it was probably doesn’t really matter to them, and really shouldn’t matter to us. The best the rest of the world can hope for is to make it through the next four years without being blown to smithereens. In the meantime, there are plenty of good ways to voice our displeasure about the current state of U.S. politics without gossiping about Melania Trump’s failure to fulfill outdated stereotypes about a woman’s role in the political machine or devoting an entire New York Times article to her dress. (Okay, it was in NYT’s Style section, but still).

My newsfeeds, national public broadcasts, and issues of Maclean’s are constantly saturated with stories about Donald Trump—his policies, his people, his bloody Tweets. Whether we like it or not, President Trump is one of the most powerful people in the world right now, and what he does (or doesn’t do) is important.

But let’s not be petty, and let’s not stoop. Let’s not distract ourselves from our legitimate concerns about Trump and his family (and their various conflicts of interest, etc.) by pushing old-fashioned gender norms about party planning. In any other situation, we would be ashamed to measure a woman by such a yardstick simply because she’s somebody’s wife. If we aren’t ashamed, we should be, by both the sexism and the sheer frivolousness of this kind of criticism. In the past days, eggs have been rolling, and missiles have been flying—which do we think is more important?

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It’s just common sense: trans* women must be welcome in women’s bathrooms

Republican lawmakers south of the border (at both the federal and state levels) have been unduly concerned about the safety of cis women like me lately. Are they worried that health outcomes for women will be negatively impacted by conservatives’ proposed cuts to Planned Parenthood? Distressed about the ways in which myriad anti-abortion laws across the nation infringe upon women’s rights and may force women into seeking out unsafe, illegal abortions? Are they worried about the gun violence that turns women with abusive partners into prisoners in their own homes, or about the sexual assaults committed on college campuses nation-wide?

Nope. Dear hearts, those sweet old goats in Republican Party have decided that the biggest threat to the safety of women and girls in their great nation is to be found in public restrooms. Public restrooms that, unless these righteous men legislate a means to stop them, will soon be absolutely RIDDLED with pervy dudes dressing up as ladies so they can spy on women using the toilet and listen to them pee. Pervy dudes, who, if they are allowed to use the same washroom as cis women and girls, will almost CERTAINLY assault them. (Note: if a man dressed in men’s clothing sexually assaults a woman in any other location, Republicans are not interested because she probably just has “buyer’s remorse” or shouldn’t have had so much to drink, but don’t worry, the moment that rapist dons a frilly blouse and tries to use the ladies’ room at the food court, the good men of the GOP will HAVE WOMEN’S BACKS).

Of course, in reality, Republicans aren’t legislating against male rapists donning skirts and sneaking into bathrooms. They’re legislating against trans* women, who ARE women (even if their birth certificates might not say so). Never mind that there is virtually ZERO evidence of any sexual assault ever being committed by a trans* person in a U.S. bathroom, or that trans* people are statistically much more likely to need protection from cis people than we are from them. Republicans aren’t trying to protect women. They are trying to keep a small group of women isolated from other women, and isolated from society at large (because if you can’t use a public restroom, activities like going to school, going shopping, attending a theatre or sporting event, or using a gym or swimming pool become just about impossible). It’s not about keeping women safe, it’s about forcing an already severely marginalized group of people back into hiding (many of these laws would also force trans* men to use women’s washrooms, a completely absurd outcome if your stated desire is to keep men OUT of there).

Infographic by Hannah Johnson.

Let’s be blunt: if a man wanted to attack a woman (or girl) in a public restroom, a new law about who can use which bathroom wouldn’t stop him. The little lady silhouette on the door wouldn’t stop him. He certainly wouldn’t bother dressing in women’s clothes to do it because it wouldn’t make his criminal actions any easier for him–sexual assault is already illegal no matter what you’re wearing. So no, this is not about safety. At all.

As for me, I don’t think I’ve EVER noticed when I’m sharing a public restroom with a trans* woman (unless I happen to run into someone I know personally who I know is trans* while I’m washing my hands or whatever). A major reason for this is probably the fact that even in Canada, where laws don’t specifically target trans* people (to the best of my knowledge), many trans* individuals are still not comfortable in and are not made to feel welcome in multi-stall public restrooms, so I probably haven’t had much opportunity. That said, I’m also pretty sure I wouldn’t notice/haven’t noticed because, like most women, I’m not really in the bathroom to check out other people. When I’m peeing or blowing my nose or having a quick cry on a bad day, what do I care what the lady two stalls down from me has between her legs? How could I possibly know she was trans*, and even if I did, how could that possibly affect me in any way? What does her birth certificate have to do with whatever she’s doing in the bathroom (most likely using the toilet or getting something out of her teeth or just taking a quiet moment for herself like the rest of us)?

How does a trans* woman being allowed to use the women’s restroom impact me whatsoever? The answer is that it doesn’t. And so I feel foolish for even saying, “trans women are welcome to use the same restroom as me” because I shouldn’t even have the power to give that permission in the first place. But since it seems so many socially conservative politicians are concerned about my wellbeing, I want to assure the world: this is okay and nothing bad is going to happen. Women’s restrooms are for women, and since trans* women are women, it’s their restroom too.

 

P.S. I wrote this post specifically about women and women’s bathrooms, since that seems to be the focus of most of the conservative pearl-clutching about toilets and trans* people. However, I am aware that some people are non-binary, meaning they do not identify as either male or female. For this reason, I’m happy to see that many public spaces in my community are renovating/have renovated to provide private, gender-neutral (and accessible) restrooms in addition to multi-stalled gendered facilities. That said, if a public location did not have one of these gender-neutral restrooms and a non-binary individual felt more comfortable in the ladies’ room than the mens’, I’d still like to think that would be fine with me, since, as I said, most people are in the bathroom to do bathroom stuff and I can’t see how this could possibly hurt me.

I don’t vote Conservative, but if I did, I’d vote for Michael Chong

With the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) leadership race in full swing, a fairly crowded Rogues Gallery of potato-faced Bay Street-ers and lightweight racists have come out of the woodwork to diagnose our country’s ills and declare themselves the solution. Candidates range from the generally uninspiring (like Maxime Bernier, who actually has Cabinet experience but also left sensitive documents at his former girlfriend’s place, leading to his resignation in 2008), to the downright scary (Kellie Leitch, one of the faces of Harper’s disastrous “Barbaric Cultural Practices Tipline” , who finds positivity in Donald Trump’s presidency and wants to subject newcomers to Canada [read: Muslims] to some kind of “Canadian values test”,  as if the existing commitment by all immigrants and refugees to obey Canadian law isn’t enough; or Kevin O’Leary, the loud-mouthed, U.S.-dwelling reality star who hasn’t lived in Canada in years and,  as demonstrated by his offer to give Alberta’s oil industry $1 million in exchange for Rachel Notley’s resignation, has a frighteningly insufficient grasp of both fundamental democratic principles and of the problems facing our nation). Generally speaking, both hard-line right-wing conservatives and the CPC leadership candidates watched Trump’s ascendency to the U.S. Presidency, realized that his no-apologies, “alternative-facts”, bigoted and bullying strategies actually WORKED, and are wondering if those same tactics should, or could, be successfully employed here in Canada.

The answer, unfortunately, is yes. While some may say that Stephen Harper’s hard xenophobic turn in his last campaign as Prime Minister lost him the 2015 federal election, it’s important to remember that he’d been the Prime Minister for a LONG TIME (almost ten years, which tends to tire out an electorate that sometimes chooses change just for the sake of it) and even some conservatives had begun to chafe under his dictatorial leadership style and his general disdain for most Canadians. It’s also important to note that even with Harper’s misguided focus on identity politics (see his hissy-fits over niqabs and “barbaric cultural practices”), the strategic voting strategies researched and promoted by groups such as Leadnow to oust him, and his general “dangers at our shores” lack of charisma contrasted with Trudeau’s youthful “sunny ways” charm, the CPC still retained 99 seats in the House of Commons (making them the Official Opposition) and just under 32% of the popular vote. Which means that the Conservative Party of Canada, ham-fisted as its most recent campaign was, still has a lot of support. Otherwise forgettable leadership candidates like Leitch and Brad Trost know that the harder they push their bigoted rhetoric, the more media coverage they’ll get, and the more likely it is that they will be able to ride that media attention and hard-right sentiment to the top of the party and maybe, just maybe, to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Since Justin Trudeau is stupid and a liar and has abandoned his promise to reform Canada’s electoral system, the likelihood of a Trump-like CPC candidate securing a majority government in the next election is actually not that unthinkable. Canada’s alt-right movement (and there is one) has been galvanized by Trump’s election, Ezra Levant’s Breitbart-esque media outlet, Rebel Media, and by general and strongly-felt disgust with the failings (real or perceived) of the country’s “progressive” governments (like Trudeau’s federally or Kathleen Wynne’s in Ontario or Notley’s in Alberta). These voices are loud, and they get a lot of attention, and attention (whether positive or negative) can put someone in office (as we’ve seen clearly demonstrated in the U.S.). Meanwhile, left-wing voters who held their noses and cast their ballots for the Liberals in the last federal election (many people specifically FOR Trudeau’s platform on electoral reform) have been completely turned off by Trudeau’s myriad broken promises (to have a nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations communities, to secure social license before approving major resource projects like pipelines, to be more transparent, the aforementioned electoral reform, etc.). Many of these voters are not going to give Trudeau another chance. This could be a boon for the NDP and Green Party, who could potentially gain more seats in the House as opposition parties, but would ultimately split the “non-conservative” vote once again, possibly paving the way for another CPC government. Yay.

This is why all civic-minded Canadians, and not just conservative voters, need to be paying attention to the CPC leadership race. Whoever wins may very well become our next Prime Minister, shaping the nation and our lives within it. We need that person to be even-keeled, a respectable presence on the world stage. If we care at all about human rights or human dignity, we also need that person not to be a xenophobe.

Michael Chong: one of Maclean's Best Parliamentarians of the Year, 2011. Photo: Peter Bregg/Maclean's

Michael Chong: one of Maclean’s Best Parliamentarians of the Year, 2011. Photo: Peter Bregg/Maclean’s

One of the political voices I have appreciated the most in recent weeks has actually been that of Michael Chong, MP of Wellington-Halton Hills. As Canada (and the international community) reeled in the wake of the deadly Islamophobia-inspired terrorist shooting at a mosque in Quebec City, and Trump’s catastrophic “travel ban” saw thousands of innocent Muslim travelers detained or turned away from the U.S., CPC candidates like Leitch continued to peddle their Made-in-Canada brands of exclusion. Chong (himself a child of Dutch and Chinese immigrants), took the high road, issuing a statement reminding Canadians that our immigration screening system is already one of the most robust in the world, and condemning those of his opponents attempting to reap political benefits by “espousing hate”. He is also one of the few CPC leadership candidates to openly and unreservedly support motion M-103, which would commit the Canadian government to condemning Islamophobia. (Chong maintains that this motion would not single out Islam for special treatment, noting that the House has previously denounced hatred against other religious groups, including Jews and Egyptian Coptic Christians).

Admittedly, Chong’s environmental platform is a bit thin, but at least he has one. Promoting a revenue-neutral carbon tax at least assumes that Chong, unlike many conservatives, believes that climate change exists and that reducing emissions is something worth doing (baby steps). Unfortunately, his support for a carbon tax alongside his support for our current immigration system will likely hurt him in his leadership campaign. With many Canadian families hit hard by oil’s recent and ongoing downturn and Islamophobic fear-mongering splashing across the news on an almost daily basis in the past few years, few of the CPC’s increasingly hard-right voters are going to care about the nuances that differentiate Evil Rachel Notley’s Evil Carbon Tax from the revenue-neutral scheme Chong is proposing. Nor are they going to care about the difference between a law-abiding Canadian immigrant (or citizen) going about her business in a niqab and a fundamentalist jihadist bent on destruction (or about the fact that the recent jihad-based terror attacks/attempts in Canada were planned and perpetrated by home-grown Canadians, not immigrants or refugees).

Obviously, Michael Chong is not perfect and, as a life-long leftist, I could never support everything in his platform. Still, if I can’t have an NDP Prime Minister (and it seems I can’t, since there are still no viable NDP leadership candidates in sight), and if Trudeau is going to keep pissing people off on both sides of the political spectrum, and if the next Prime Minister of Canada is going to be a Conservative (which is highly possible), I’d rather it be Michael Chong than anybody else.

It may be scary, but we will have to trust Will Baker

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On July 30, 2008, 41-year-old Vince Li sat down on a Greyhound bus beside Tim McLean, a young man of 22. What happened during that horrifying trip has since gone down in infamy: west of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, Li (suffering from untreated schizophrenia) became convinced that McLean was a demon Li was commanded by God to kill. Li stabbed McLean multiple times with a hunting knife before dismembering him and eating parts of his body.

Li (who has since changed his name to Will Baker), was arrested, charged, and ultimately deemed Not Criminally Responsible for McLean’s murder due to the severity of his illness at the time and his inability to understand his actions. This means that legally, Will Baker did not commit a crime, though he did spend the following 8.5 years in psychiatric treatment, with increasing levels of freedoms and privileges as his condition improved and those in charge of his care became increasingly confident that Baker was able to manage his illness and no longer posed a threat to others. Since November, Baker has been living on his own in Winnipeg, but has been subject to several conditions, including monitoring to ensure he was taking his medication.

On February 10, Baker was granted an absolute discharge by the Criminal Code Review Board. According to the Board’s decision, “the weight of evidence does not substantiate that Mr. Baker poses a significant threat to the safety of the public.” This means that the last remaining limitations on Baker’s freedom (including the monitoring of his compliance with his medication schedule) have been removed and he is now as free as any other Canadian citizen.

Unsurprisingly, Tim McLean’s family does not support the Board’s decision. This is absolutely understandable. Whether legally culpable or not, the fact remains that if not for the actions of Vince Li in 2008, Tim McLean would most likely still be with them. In the nine years that have passed since that tragic summer, who knows what McLean (who would have been turning 31 this year) could have gone on to achieve, or what further joys and positive experiences he could have brought to the lives of his family and friends? A young man’s future has been stolen, not only from him but also from those who loved him. There is really no justice to be found for them, and no solace here. We cannot expect them to forgive.

That being said, I find myself being quite dismayed by some of the online reactions I have read regarding Baker’s full release into free society. Comments by the public range from the racist (“Why can’t he go have a mental illness in his own country?” [Baker is originally from China but was a Canadian citizen at the time of McLean’s murder]), to the ignorant (“Criminals always get a free pass in this country”, forgetting that technically, Baker is not guilty of a crime and has actually spent a not-insignificant period of time living in institutions or under restrictions since he was arrested), to the just plain extreme (“This is why we need the death penalty”). Those who oppose Baker’s release cite the feelings of McLean’s family, and/or their personal disbelief that Baker will continue to take his medication without being forced (“Sick people always think they’re getting better and then they stop taking their meds,” etc.).

With respect to concerns about McLean’s family, I’m pretty sure that 95% of those vocal internet folks probably spent an average of about zero minutes thinking about Tim McLean and his family between Baker/Li’s arrest in 2008 and news of his release last week. Their comments smack, not of real concern, but of a desire to see a “bad man” be punished.

I absolutely agree that the Canadian criminal justice system needs to be more responsive to victims of violent crime (or their families, if the victim is no longer living). But I’m not sure locking a man away for being sick and throwing away the key is the kind of response that will benefit anyone. As the Globe and Mail’s Patrick White pointed out in 2009, the Canadian mental healthcare system failed Li repeatedly before his illness spiraled into a homicidal psychosis. He had, in fact, escaped a treatment facility prior to McLean’s murder, and there was no follow-up to his disappearance despite the fact that he had been admitted specifically for being considered a danger. Had Canada had a more robust system in place to treat those with severe mental illness (including those whose illnesses prevent them from perceiving the serious reality of their own medical situation), had stigma surrounding mental illness not prevented Li from seeking help earlier, had he not been allowed to fall through several cracks prior to that fateful summer day, things could have been much different for him, and for Tim McLean. If we really cared about victims and their families, we would want to do our best to prevent these kinds of crimes from happening in the first place, and that means doing the hard work of changing our systems, rather than pinning all of the blame on a severely ill individual.

As for the argument that Baker cannot be trusted to stay on his meds, I admit this does make me uneasy. I do wish that the Criminal Code with regards to “Not Criminally Responsible” individuals (even those deemed low-risk, as Baker is considered to be) allowed for some additional nuance to address these kinds of concerns. That said, to not give a technically blameless man a second chance is hypocritical when second chances are extended to so many others who actually ARE culpable for their actions (impaired drivers, for example, who put others’ lives at risk every single time they are on the road, or rapists, whose defenders claim they shouldn’t be harshly punished for “one mistake”). Baker’s own mind had turned against him, and I cannot imagine how terrifying that would have been. He believed that if he did not kill Tim McLean as “God” commanded, he would die (remember, he did not choose to kill someone). According to his doctors, as soon as Baker gained the mental capacity to understand what he had done, he was horrified and remorseful. Baker understands that he needs to take his medication to prevent another psychotic episode and is committed to never being a danger to anyone ever again. It’s likely, given this commitment and his own infamy, that Baker will be a less dangerous member of society going forward than a lot of other totally free Canadians.

Can we 100% trust that Will Baker will never have another psychotic break? No. But can we ever 100% trust that no one else will ever do anything to harm us? Of course not. We exist in a country of free citizens, who can board buses and drive on roads and be in public places and walk down streets and own things that can be dangerous and choose whether to be a good person or a shitty person. Unless we are going to curtail EVERYONE’S freedoms, there is no way to guarantee that one of our fellow citizens won’t take advantage of these liberties and hurt someone. We hope this won’t happen, and usually our trust is rewarded—incidents like the murder on the Greyhound bus are already very very rare. Hopefully, Canada will use the concerns Baker’s release has raised to improve mental health care across the country, and the kind of gruesome tragedy that befell Tim McLean will be rarer still.

Fellow White Feminists: Don’t Get Defensive, Get Motivated!

Women’s March on Washington demonstrations were held worldwide on January 21, and in some ways they were very successful (there were more people in DC for the March than for Donald Trump’s inauguration as President the day before, for starters). The event was a rallying cry, a way of saying NO, we are not okay with a pussy-grabbing, reproductive rights-denying, healthcare-repealing, walking ad for rape culture running the show, we do NOT support him, and we will fight him and everything his administration stands for. It was, I believe, only the beginning of a series of demonstrations against the threats to democracy, human rights, and the planet that Trump’s administration represents, demonstrations that I hope will translate into the kinds of concrete actions that right-wing conservative grassroots movements have already shown to be effective: attending “town hall” meetings on important issues. Telephoning (not e-mailing) representatives and lawmakers frequently and continuously and making sure they know what we want. Voting in congressional, provincial, state, and municipal elections. Organizing. Getting shit done and making life difficult for those who do not protect the rights and interests of the people they represent/work for. Onward!

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As we do move forward, however, we, as feminists (and now I’m specifically talking to white, cis feminists) need to take into account the criticisms made by multiple groups of marginalized** women (including women of colour, Indigenous women, trans* women, women with disabilities, homeless women, and sex workers) who, in large or small ways, experienced exclusion and oppression at the Marches. Examples of this kind of exclusion/oppression include white women telling women of colour that they were being too “divisive” when they pointed out that 53% of white women in America voted for Donald Trump, or when white women did not recognize that Indigenous women drumming, dancing, or wearing traditional dress at the Marches were enacting important and sacred parts of a living culture, not a quaint museum piece, or when the organizers of the Vancouver March excluded representatives from Black Lives Matter Vancouver from participating on the organizing committee or speaking at the event (and then removing a thread discussing this exclusion from their Facebook page), or when a white woman on the way to the march in DC tried to block a black woman from entering a crowded train by physically putting her hands on her (and then loudly complaining about the black woman, who needed to go to work and managed to squeeze into the train that obviously DID have room for her after all, throughout the whole ride and making her cry [I read about this incident in a social media thread but am unable to locate the original thread so cannot give the woman credit for her story]).

My point is that white, cis-hetero feminists don’t have a great track record when it comes to the marginalized women whose support we have historically depended on. Though the feminist movements of yore have improved the lives of women in North America through the years, it has often made these gains at the expense of, or to the exclusion of, non-white women (for example, the suffragettes did not demand the vote for ALL women, just WHITE women). Conditions improved for white women long before they began to improve for our marginalized sisters, and the gaps that still exist between my privileges and their positions in society are actually downright embarrassing in a political culture that prides itself on equality.

It’s not really surprising to me that many women from traditionally marginalized communities have decided that enough is enough. They have declared their intent to participate only in feminist movements that are truly intersectional, that recognize the complex webs of privileges and oppressions that are experienced by different women in DIFFERENT ways, rather than support a white feminism that continues to pretend that the interests and experiences of white, cis-hetero women are the norm from which all other needs and experiences deviate. These women are angry, and rightfully so, and it seems we white women can’t take it.

I’ve heard it said that women of colour, for example, are being “divisive” by demanding their rights be addressed, when what we need right now is “unity”. Bullshit. If women of colour have to ignore their legitimate grievances, but white women don’t have to change anything about OUR behaviour or goals, that’s not “unity”, that’s erasure and oppression.

I’ve heard it said that we are facing an unprecedented evil, and that the movement to defeat sexist, fascist Trump-ism in the U.S. and abroad is too important to be derailed by infighting. Damn rights. That’s why white women need to suck it up, confront our issues, and stand in solidarity with our sisters. WE’RE the ones being the problem, not them. Our cause is vital. We cannot allow it to fail because our feelings were hurt when it was pointed out to us that we are not the perfect saviors we thought we were.

I’ve heard it said that the anger being expressed by some marginalized women will “scare away” people getting involved in activism for the first time. I don’t necessarily agree with first-timers being chastised for “not being there before”, because everyone has to start somewhere, but generally speaking, white women are just going to have to grow a thicker skin. Bottom line: if you can’t handle righteous anger, you are not ready for the revolution. Besides, if inequality doesn’t make YOU angry too, what the hell are you marching for?

I get it. The Women’s March on Washington felt good (I wasn’t able to go, but still, it felt good). It felt hopeful. It felt like we were on the right side of history. No one likes to feel uncomfortable or, *gasp!*, guilty about something that may not have been their actual, personal, individual fault (after all, YOU didn’t vote for Trump or harass an African American woman the train, right?). Why did these Other women need to come along and kill your buzz? It’s not fair!

Now, before you cry “Not all white women!”, remember that it doesn’t f*cking matter if not ALL white women. Any feminist movement that allows ANY white woman to treat a woman of colour as less-than, any movement that excludes non-white, non-cis women from its organizing committees and speakers lists, is not part of the solution, it’s just another part of the problem (a more subtle, insidious part).

If you don’t want to feel guilty about something YOU personally didn’t do, don’t. I don’t feel guilty and I don’t feel the need to be defensive. I do feel a bit sheepish about my ignorance, and I do feel a new sense of responsibility to see and listen to and, if necessary, speak up for my sisters. I do feel unsure about how to do this, and I’m worried that I will make mistakes, and I know for a fact there are going to be times when I will fail. But I’m not going to let that stop me from trying, and I’m not going to let that stop me from being hopeful that I have the capacity to make a difference. I want equality. I am being shown the way by women who have never had the privileges I enjoy. If anything, I feel humbled and motivated.

Equality begins at home. Equality begins inside the movement. Let’s do better.

Let’s do this.

 

** I use the term “marginalized” as a shorthand blanket term to refer to various groups of women because these women have traditionally been silenced and pushed to the margins of both feminist movements and society at large. I do NOT mean to infer that any of these women represent a “niche” issue or “special interest” (or that their concerns are in any way less “legitimate”), only that they have not enjoyed the visibility and amplification of white feminists.

Should Canada adopt an “opt-out” system for organ donation?

On January 1 of this year, France adopted a new “opt-out” organ donation policy, whereby all deceased French citizens are considered to have given “presumed consent” to the harvesting of their organs and tissues for organ donation unless they entered their names on an “opt-out” registry or have left specific instructions regarding their wishes with family members or next-of-kin. “Opt-out” organ donation policies (unlike “opt-in” policies, which, in countries like Canada, require potential organ donors to sign up on their provincial donor registries) are estimated by a World Health Organization study to raise the rate of organ donation by between 25-30%.

BC residents can opt-in to donate at transplant.bc.ca.

BC residents can opt-in to donate at transplant.bc.ca.

C’est magnifique, non? Why not adopt this system in Canada right now, and save thousands of lives? Isn’t this a no-brainer? Well, not necessarily.

I would like to state that I myself am an organ donor. I do not believe that any part of “me” will be left in my body once I am dead, and if any of my organs or tissues can be of use once I no longer need them, great. But (and this is, I believe, a very important “but”), I signed up for this. When I die, neither the provincial nor federal government will “presume” my consent for organ donation; they will actively search for it in their registries. In an “opt-out” system like the one France has instituted, my body (once deceased) would belong to the state medical system, unless I had made a concerted effort, during life, to declare otherwise.

I find conversations about “opt-out” organ donation policies troubling, for three reasons:

  1. The idea of “presumed consent” is highly problematic.

As a feminist, it should not be hard to understand why the very notion of “presumed consent” when it comes to bodily autonomy is alarming to me. When it is still so very hard to achieve a conviction for sexual assault in Canada, do we really want any branch of our Canadian or provincial governments enshrining the concept of “presumed consent” in law? Do we want promote the idea that, actually, there ARE times (such as after death) when a person’s body can be used in ways to which they did not SPECIFICALLY and FREELY consent, unless they have made some kind of pre-emptive statement to the contrary? When Canadian judges are still asking rape victims why they couldn’t just “keep their knees together”, I think we have a long way to go before any arm of the Canadian government can be trusted with our bodily autonomy.

  1. The needs of hopeful organ recipients (and the convenience of transplant surgeons and medical staff) are often already put ahead of the rights of donors (and their families).

While I cannot imagine the physical and emotional suffering experienced by Canadians waiting on the transplant list (or their loved ones), the fact of the matter is that no donor organ recipient or patient on the transplant list is “owed” an organ. The organs of deceased Canadians do not “belong” to the living, they belong, completely and only, to the deceased person whose body they are in. If that same deceased Canadian wishes to give another person a second chance at life through organ donation,that is a wonderful thing (and I do believe voluntary organ donation is something to be encouraged by all levels of government and by society at large). But this gift, of someone else’s flesh and bone, cannot, and should never be, assumed.

Even in opt-in systems like ours, there is already reason for concern that the needs of those on the transplant list are put before the rights of organ donors. In 2012, Dick Teresi (former editor of Science Digest) released a book entitled The Undead: Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating-Heart Cadavers—How Medicine is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death. In an interview with Maclean’s Magazine’s Brian Bethune, Teresi expressed concerns about the troubling practices he observed around organ donation in the United States (practices which he considers to be identical in Canada), for example, that the criteria for pronouncing you dead may have more to do with ensuring your body remains in a good condition for organ harvesting than with whether or not your body is, in actual fact, 100% biologically “dead”. Here are a couple of disturbing excerpts from that interview:

Q: Some of what you report is disturbing, especially the way doctors rushed to embrace the concept of brain death, even ignoring the brain-wave evidence of EEGs when they proved inconvenient. Why was that?

A: It’s all about the organs. The brain-dead are legally, but not biologically, dead. Their brain stems aren’t working, but vital organs still function—you’ll pee, maintain your body temperature, and your wounds will continue to heal. You may—it’s not certain, but you might—feel pain during surgery. You’re in this weird undead zone. It’s during that time your organs are taken. Why not wait until you’re dead-dead? Because the transplant people want your heart to continue beating, to keep the organs supplied with oxygen and nutrients, to make the organs more usable for their customers.

[…]

Q: You don’t have to throw money into the equation to see the compelling drive for organs, which links tightly to what you call doctors’ secular religion. They don’t believe the brain-dead have “personhood,” that they are alive in any real sense, not in the way the dying patients who need the organs are alive.

A: Not so fast. One study showed that 35 per cent of the doctors and nurses who worked directly with donors in the hospital believed they were alive, but didn’t care, they thought the organs were more important. And they also believe and frequently state—you’ll see it in every pamphlet from an organ bank—that when you’re brain-dead you’re never coming back. Well, of course you’re not coming back, although in the past some have. Now, though, your liver’s off in Mickey Mantle and your kidneys are being flown to some Kuwaiti oil sheik. You’re not coming back.

[I want to note that Teresi’s comments are obviously very provocative and you will need to decide for yourself what to make of them. A cursory Google search does not bring up any loud opposition from the medical community denying the practices he has observed. Nevertheless, and despite my own unease, I have chosen to remain an organ donor.]

I also sense, in discussions about organ donation, a certain amount of moral judgment. We can see this at play in a recent Slate article, Self-Driving Cars Will Make Organ Shortages Even Worse, by Ian Adams and Anne Hobson, in which concern is expressed over the effect the predicted reduction of vehicular deaths (a significant contributor to the U.S. transplant system) caused by safer, driver-less roads will have on those waiting for donated organs. Because most vehicular deaths can be attributed in some way to human error, these vehicular deaths are labeled by the article’s authors as “preventable.”  This label isn’t necessarily erroneous, however, the appearance of a word like “preventable” in a discussion about organ donation sets up a false moral dichotomy: on one side, you have the victims of vehicular accidents, killed by “preventable” incidents (which may therefore conceivably be their own fault), and on the other, the “innocent” patients on transplant lists, who are desperately ill through no fault of their own. You have on the first side, a dead person, who has already “lived a good life”, and on the other, a person who is still alive and wants the chance to do the same. There is a sense, in these discussions, that the transplant hopefuls have a right to the organs (especially when people use language like “organ shortage”, as if “supply” could, or ever should be, controlled for), and that the deceased, because they were driving dangerously, or because THEY haven’t suffered the way ill patients have suffered, or simply because they are dead, have forfeited this right, even though the organs in question come from their bodies.

Generally speaking, I tend to believe that the rights of the living should trump the rights of the dead, however, in this case, we are talking about a person’s body, the only thing they have left behind that we can say truly belongs to them. As harsh, and unfeeling, and as horrible as it sounds, if one of your own organs is failing, you have no right to expect to receive someone else’s (especially without their explicit consent), and the medical system has no right to promise it to you.

To put it another way, I hope that if you need an organ, you will receive one. But I am not comfortable with a society that massages its laws to try to guarantee you one. Once dead, human beings do not become used cars to be stripped for parts. They are still deserving of human dignity, and whatever human rights remain to them.

  1. These conversations assume continued reliance on human organ donation without looking to the future.

Since the first successful kidney transplant in 1954, the field of medicine has come a long way, including in the area of synthetic organ development (relatively new techniques, like 3D printing, present huge amounts of promise). Arguably, once the science is worked out, manufactured organs will be much better than their donated counterparts (they can be custom-fit, won’t have been “used”, they will be genetically neutral and adapted to the recipient and therefore the risks of rejection will be much lower, and they do not depend on the deaths of others). Instead of crunching the numbers on “organ shortages” as if we are not actually talking about REAL PEOPLE who have to die so that ”supply” can meet demand, we should be looking into how we can support other fields related to organ transplant, and to a future where no one needs an organ “donation”, and anyone whose organs are failing can have reasonable expectations of synthetic transplant.

However, until that day, the fact remains that we do have far more Canadians waiting in need of organ donation than we have suitable donated organs available. Incredible anguish is endured and lives are lost in the waiting. So what to do?

My humble suggestion is that before either our provincial or federal governments take any steps to adopt “opt-out” organ donation policies, that they first undertake comprehensive consultation with the public to find out exactly WHY so few Canadians are opting-in to organ donation in the first place. The reasons may be as varied as simply not getting around to signing up (a problem that, yes, opt-out policies would solve), to a lack of transparency and information about organ donation** and the rights of the donor, to serious concerns like those voiced in Teresi’s book.

Once these consultations have taken place, I would suggest that governments take meaningful steps to address any concerns brought forth, including making signing up (and making changes to your registration) for organ donation simple and easy, nationalizing organ donation registration systems to allow organ donations from Canadians who happen to die while travelling in other provinces, and by introducing a bill of rights for organ donors that allows the donor (or their family), rather than the medical establishment, the right to choose their preferred biological criteria for pronouncement of death and subsequent organ harvesting. Unless and until the provincial and federal governments of Canada can satisfactorily tackle these difficult life-and-death questions, I see no reason to entrust them with any kind of “presumed consent” over any part of my body, alive or dead.

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**During a dental surgery a year ago, a part of my gums was grafted with “Alloderm”, a product made from the skin tissue of (presumably American) cadavers. Since skin is technically an organ, the tissue in my gums actually came from organ donors. I assume these donors thought their tissue would be going to burn victims (much of it does) as opposed to being commercially sold to dentists’ offices and cosmetic surgeons for people who get boob jobs or brush their teeth too hard. This is just one of the many areas of non-transparency that concern me and I must confess I am ethically uneasy whenever I remember that part of my gums actually once belonged to someone else who may not have understood that their tissue could be sold.

It’s time to support the White Helmets (Syrian Civil Defense)

When the bombs rain down, the Syrian Civil Defence rushes in. In a place where public services no longer function these unarmed volunteers risk their lives to help anyone in need – regardless of their religion or politics. Known as the White Helmets these volunteer rescue workers operate in the most dangerous place on earth.

https://www.whitehelmets.org/en

Once again, in the spirit of giving (and in the spirit of trying to be a human being), I write about an organization that most definitely deserves our support. As the most recently negotiated ceasefire in Syria has failed, and the international community has failed, and we have failed utterly in our responsibility to our fellow human and have watched, from a distance, once again, as innocent people die in Aleppo, we are, I hope, ashamed. We are also, very likely, feeling impotent.

The time to have helped, of course, was years ago, as we watched Assad cross one line (using military force against civilians), then another (using chemical weapons against civilians), with hardly a peep from our western world leaders because, hey, we didn’t want to piss off Russia. Or perhaps long before that, before the West began its ceaseless meddling that seems only to pile up the bodies in the Middle East and leaves us tut-tutting and wondering why people in hot countries can’t seem to solve “their” problems.

But anyhow, here we are, in the undesirable present. And now people are sending their good-bye messages from Aleppo**. They asked for help, they didn’t get it, and for most of them, there is nothing we can do now except remember them and feel ashamed.

img-saving-lives-under-fire

But there are some people who aren’t “on the other side of the world” from it all. They don’t care about the politics, they don’t care about religion. They are willing to put their lives on the line to help human beings, any human beings. They walk with their eyes wide open into nightmares. They risk being killed, and sometimes are killed, or injured. They have saved over 73 500 lives. They are neutral; they are unarmed; they are volunteers. They are the Syrian Civil Defense (the “White Helmets”, http://www.whitehelmets.org/en), and they deserve everything.

Please give whatever you can, knowing there is no amount of money that should make us feel better for what we have been complicit in. But give anyway. Give generously, even if you can only spare a little. Help someone else be braver than we have been, and to do good where we did not.

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**I’m including one of these messages  (taken from a longer message by Abdulkafi Alhamdo and shared by Al Jazeera) because it moved me. There are many many more. [Please note this video has nothing to do with the White Helmets, who are politically neutral, but Mr. Alhamdo’s words helped me to see the urgency of the situation so I thought it may be important here.]

Nifty’s 2016 Winter Giving Round-Up

As we head into the holiday season, as the days (in the northern hemisphere) get shorter and colder and the planet (due to recent current events perhaps) starts to look a little darker and a little scarier than it did before, many of us may find ourselves wondering how we can possibly make a little difference, do a little good, and put a little light back into the world.

And so, based on some of the news stories and issues that have captivated me this fall (and in general), I give you a small winter 2016 list of charities and other good places to give:

Refugees (UN Refugee Agency)

While I am very happy that some 25 000 or so Syrian refugees have been settled in Canada over the past year, the fact remains that there are still tens of millions of refugees, displaced persons, and stateless persons around the world. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), refugees remain uprooted for an average of 17 years. They don’t go away once we stop thinking about them. And they do need help.

You may have seen images of Aleppo, or Yemen—the little orphans covered in concrete dust, the starving civilians (literally starving to death) caught in a nightmare that has nothing to do with them. While ultimately we hope that each and every one of these people will find a save haven and a place to call home, in the meantime they desperately need food, shelter, water, and medical care.

The UNHCR assisted 49.8 million people last year, and if you want to help support refugees, I recommend visiting www.unhcr.ca to learn more and/or to donate.

wrd-facebook-unhcrlogo

First Nations Rights and the Environment (Standing Rock)

You may have heard that water protectors in North Dakota (led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe whose land and rights are being violated) have been protesting peacefully against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which threatens not only Native American land, sacred spaces, and drinking water, but the also drinking water of some 18 million people who depend on the Missouri River being potable and oil-free. The police response to this peaceful activism has been brutal: attack dogs, concussion grenades, rubber bullets, water cannons in below-freezing temperatures, asking local hardware stores to refuse to sell supplies to the water protectors—it’s pretty f*cking low. As winter sets in the fight is still far from over.

To learn more about what is happening in Standing Rock or to make a donation to support the efforts of the water protectors, please visit standwithstandingrock.net.

[If you’d like to have this issue explained quickly and satirically by a yuppie spiritual guru/comedian, you may enjoy the video below.]

People Who Are Sick (Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières [MSF])

Though the Ebola Crisis has since faded from the headlines, the fact is that MSF were the heavy lifters in saving lives and combating the spread of the disease. While the western world mostly hoped that the virus “wouldn’t make it over here,” the healthcare practitioners at MSF risked their own health and lives to help others. MSF’s resources were severely depleted by this major crisis, and yet they are continuing to respond to other medical crises around the world. A thousand thousand thanks (and maybe some donations, if you feel so inclined) go out to this incredible organization: www.msf.ca.

msf

Children Living in Poverty (Lumos Foundation)

I must admit, I first discovered this foundation while watching YouTube videos about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. J.K. Rowling (author of Fantastic Beasts and the Harry Potter series) sits down with actor Eddie Redmayne (star of Fantastic Beasts) for an illuminating discussion about the foundation that is dear to her heart:

In a nutshell, Lumos supports community-based care for children in developing countries, helping families raise their children at home rather than feeling forced to give their children up to institutions in order to ensure they will have the food, education, or medical care they require. Research has shown many institutions and orphanages to be corrupt—forcing families to give up otherwise wanted children, subjecting children to cruel and inhumane conditions, trafficking children into the sex trade, or pocketing the “per-child” money received from aid organizations or the government (the saddest thing is this money often comes from well-meaning donors in the “developed” world). Even when these institutions are carefully managed and well run, studies have shown that children who grow up in institutions instead of in families are severely disadvantaged—children need the love and care of their families (or family-type settings) in order to develop into healthy adults.

If you wish to learn more about Lumos or donate to initiatives that keep needy children with their families, please visit wearelumos.org. If nothing else, if you want to help children please make sure to choose the organizations you donate to carefully, and never donate money to (or volunteer at) orphanages or other institutions that take otherwise wanted children away from the families that love them.

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Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. Any giving you do thoughtfully and with generosity (whether you give a little or give a lot, whether you give money, time, or anything else you have to give) is a wonderful thing. But if you did want some ideas, I hope I have inspired you. Happy December, and happy giving!

 

 

 

Time to Stop Ragging on Melania Trump

In the wake of Donald Trump’s rather upsetting electoral victory, those Americans (and global citizens) who are not happy with this result have been urged by many in the political left and centre to “give Trump a chance.”

Being Canadian, and having watched in horror as Trump’s racism, bigotry, and misogyny has inspired verbal and physical violence (which has only increased since his election), I say that Donald Trump has had his chance. He doesn’t deserve another one. What he does deserve is vigilance and increasingly organized and effected opposition to the politically backward policies his administration promises to advance. (This opposition will need to exist both in and outside of the conventional political structures and be very well-organized indeed—with a Republican House and Senate, Trump doesn’t really need “a chance” from anyone; he already has a blank cheque).

But do you know who does deserve a chance? Trump’s wife Melania (née Knauss), a Slovenian immigrant, Donald’s third wife, and mother of their ten-year-old son, Barron. Since her husband’s election, several folks on social media (mostly women, in my experience) have compared Mrs. Trump unfavourably to the “classy” Michelle Obama and have poked fun at her for being airheaded, or an immigrant, or for her “racy” photos from her modeling past. (I agree, the fact that Michelle Obama will no longer be the First Lady of the United States is certainly lamentable, but that was going to be the case no matter who won).

Melania has certainly had her own share of snafus during the Trump campaign. Parts of her speech at the Republican National Convention, for example, certainly did sound an awful lot like the speech given by Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention eight years earlier. But since it is unlikely that Melania wrote the speech herself, and since it is highly possible she’d never heard Michelle’s 2008 speech (I hadn’t), without knowing which staff members on her husband’s campaign worked on and vetted her RNC remarks, it’s hard to hold Melania Trump specifically responsible. Melania Trump was not the aspiring politician; that was her husband. And yes, it seems she and the Trump campaign did lie about her having a university degree from Slovenia (note that this lie doesn’t really do any harm except make Mrs. Trump herself look foolish, possibly insecure). She certainly wouldn’t be the first person to fib about their level of education (not that it’s right, but it’s really more pitiful than it is sinister). In short, it wasn’t Donald Trump’s wife’s job to hit all the right notes while he swashbuckled across the country calling women fat and Mexicans rapists. His campaign should have known better.

In light of these cock-ups, perhaps the future First Lady comes across as a bit foolish, certainly a bit lacking in comparison to the dignified and highly educated woman who came before her. Given her relatively powerless but still highly visible new position, it is tempting to vent some of our post-election outrage by ripping Mrs. Trump apart. But before we do, let’s please remember a few things:

  • Melania Trump is NOT to blame for the actions of her husband, his campaign, or his administration. Just as it was sexist to judge Hillary Clinton by her husband’s political track record (instead of her own) and his alleged assaults, it is equally sexist to hold Melania Trump responsible for what her husband Donald thinks, says, and does. Sure, she married him, but a lot of women marry narcissistic, egomaniacal misogynists. If anything, these women deserve our compassion.
  • Melania Trump did not campaign for, and was NOT elected to, public office. She was and is expected, like many politician’s wives before her, to appear at her husband’s side and call him a good man, to parrot scripted lines in media encounters, and if possible, to engage in some sort of non-partisan do-gooding (like adopting stray puppies or supporting food banks). Melania is part of the Trump machine, but she does not push any of the buttons. Judging her as somehow “unqualified” and unfit for a position that is not an official part of government and is based solely on which man she is married to is ridiculous.
  • Melania Trump did not marry then divorce the two women who were married to Donald Trump before her. That she is Trump’s third wife says more about him than it does about her. So enough with these “She’s going to be the THIRD Lady of the United States, ha ha” jokes. They’re stupid.
  • There is nothing inherently shameful about having posed nude for a photograph. Maybe Melania Knauss felt really good about her body, wanted to show it off, and enjoyed being sexualized. That is her choice, and her right. Or maybe she wanted to advance her modeling career and thought, “a job’s a job.” There are worse (and certainly far less honest) jobs you can do. Or maybe she was pressured, tricked, needed the money, or otherwise exploited. In which case none of the shame should lie with her. Whatever Melania’s reasons for baring her (objectively gorgeous) body for the cameras, North Americans need to stop being so damn prudish. Carla Bruni (former model and wife of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy) has nude shots too. Big damn deal.
It was certainly ridiculous for Republicans to criticize Michelle Obama's arms, when it's obvious they were REALLY just criticizing her blackness. But does it really matter what the president's wife used to to wear in her career as a model?

It was certainly ridiculous for Republicans to criticize Michelle Obama’s arms, when it’s obvious they were REALLY just criticizing her blackness. But is using Melania’s body the best way to combat this problem?

I really don’t know all that much about Melania Trump. She could be a horrible person. She might be an idiot. She could be an asshole. She could be, as the kids say, The Worst. And if her words and actions demonstrate this, it is fair for us to criticize her (for those things specifically).

But attacking Mrs. Trump just because you don’t like her husband is petty. It is not legitimate to protest a misogynist by slut-shaming his wife. Furthermore, it is a completely misguided use of your anger and energy. Donald Trump is supremely ignorant, unqualified, and on track to green-light some pretty disastrously regressive policies. He’s also a short-tempered, thin-skinned, toddler in a man’s body who will be given the U.S. nuclear codes. His WIFE is absolutely the least of your problems.

Tankers and Spills: When Your “Best” Isn’t Even Possible

Back in the summer, I wrote a blog post entitled Pipelines and Spills: When Your “Best” Isn’t Good Enough. The post was about a leak in a Husky Oil pipeline that had spilled into the North Saskatchewan river and contaminated the drinking water for approximately 70 000 Saskatchewanians (and poisoned the habitat of countless wild creatures that called the river home). My concern was that the regulatory environment around fossil fuel transportation has bowed to pressures from the fossil fuel industry to focus on “responsible outcomes” (i.e. leak and spill clean-up) rather than preventing environmental disasters from happening in the first place. (You can read a letter, signed by representatives from the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, and the Canadian Gas Association and sent to the federal government in 2011, here. Many of the industry’s requests later appeared in legislation tabled and passed by the Harper Government).  My point was that, even giving Husky Oil the benefit of the doubt and assuming that pipeline maintenance, observation, and spill response was a top priority for the company and that Husky did the best they could, they were still unable to prevent disaster. Not quite the kind of “responsible outcome” fossil fuel industry representatives had championed.

But what about when, as happens far too often, the “best” isn’t even available? What if, for example, a tugboat pulling a (thankfully empty) fuel barge were to run aground off the coast of the (supposedly protected) Great Bear Rainforest? And right near the clam beaches at Bella Bella, threatening the food security and economic well-being of the Heiltsuk Nation (not to mention fouling their traditional lands and waters)? What if, though the barge itself was empty, the tug, pierced by the sharp rocks of this precarious stretch of coast, began to leak its over 200 000 litres of diesel fuel (and thousands more litres of hydraulic oil, lubricants, and other contaminants) into these precious waters? What if the initial response team had to travel from over 300 km away, and took 20 hours to even arrive at the scene? What if the booms placed around the tug to contain the spill couldn’t withstand the severe weather conditions common on B.C.’s northern coast? Could we say, in that instance, that the industry had done its “best”? Could we say, in that instance, that the government and industry were demonstrating a commitment to “responsible outcomes”? How could the public trust that industry and government will be able respond to a large tanker or barge spill when they couldn’t even contain the fuel tank contents of a tug?

webwcmrcmapofequipmentcachescopyUnfortunately, these questions are not hypotheticals. The tugboat Nathan E. Stewart, which was pulling an empty barge, really did run aground on October 13, just off the coast of Bella Bella, B.C., and it really did leak diesel fuel into the sea,  polluting the clam beaches of the Heiltsuk people and devastating their livelihood. Spill response, which had to come from the nearest Western Canada Marine Response Corp. station in Prince Rupert, over 300 km away, really did take 20 hours to arrive on scene (WCMRC is an industry-funded organization that responds to fossil-fuel spills). The provincial and federal governments, meanwhile, were (to say the least), somewhat unsatisfactory in their responses (the premier’s response was to blame the federal government for their lack of response, and the federal government’s response was to, I’m not sure, chew some gum for about three days?).

It is unknown at this time what the real extent of the damage to Bella Bella has been. It may be a long time before we know the extent of the environmental and economic damage done to the Heiltsuk Nation. In the meantime, the federal government is set to decide whether it will approve further pipeline projects to carry Alberta bitumen to B.C.’s tidewater. Any increase in the volume of fossil fuels reaching the coast, of course, means an increase in tanker traffic, meaning all coastal B.C. residents, not just those in Bella Bella (or those B.C. residents living in the pipeline’s path), are significantly impacted by these decisions.

This is why both government AND the fossil fuel industry have been throwing around phrases like “world class spill response” for the past few years in order to assuage fears about proposed fossil fuel projects. But whatever this “world class” spill response might be, it hasn’t proven it can overcome B.C. geography or its weather (a fact totally ignored by the National Energy Board, which ruled that Kinder Morgan’s spill response plan for the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline is feasible and adequate, despite the fact that experts have warned that the outcomes promised by Kinder Morgan simply will not be possible).

Of course, containing a spill is difficult work. Of course, the B.C. coastline is dangerous and its weather, especially in the winter months, is unpredictable and extreme. Indeed, the technology for overcoming these challenges may not even exist (and the technology for recovering bitumen after it spills into water certainly does not). Even with the best of intentions, a “responsible outcome” may not be possible if another fuel spill were to occur on B.C.’s coast. Which is why maybe, just maybe, the most responsible course of action is not to take that risk at all.