What to Watch; What to Read…

If anyone reading this is a fan of horror, Canadian Andrew Pyper’s novel, The Damned, is just for you.  Well written, fast paced — but long– the book is about what seems to be an average upper middle class family in Detroit which boasts 16-year-old twins, a boy, Danny, and a girl, Ashleigh.  As an adult, due to several death, or near-death- experiences, damnedDanny writes a book called The Afterlife, which becomes a book club favourite, and receives good reviews.  Danny, aged 36, goes on the talk show circuit and speaks across the US.  However, odd and deadly events happen — including the deaths of his mother, father,  and Ash (his twin).  The part I liked best is when Danny — through some near-death adventures — jumps into the ‘afterlife’.  The scenes of the hell he lives through are withering.  Yet the book carries on, a mystery, an adventure, a family saga all arranged in a way to terrify.

Something about the book reminded me of another horror/mystery I must have read years ago.  The Bad Seed is a 1954 novel about a mother who discovers Rhoda, her  precocious and polite 8 year old daughter, has murdered someone — for no reason other than because she wanted to. It seems author William MarchBadseeddied barely a month after the book was first published (Rhoda’s fault?). The book was a best-seller in the US, and was nominated for a prestigious award.  I remember it as chilling, and clever  horror story.

Casey Plett’s novel Little Fish, won the 2019 Amazon First Novel Prize.   Wendy Reimer, aged 30, is a trans woman in Winnipeg.  She works in a gift shop and also is a sex worker … The death of her grandfather sparks her interest  in  her family’s history as a way of examining her own gender identity.  Two parts of the story stood out for me.  First, Wendy visits a friend of the family who holds the key to their Mennonite background; the 84 year old Anna demands that Wendy start believing and reading her bible and “fit in” to the Mennonite community.  There is also a brief scene when the police stop Wendy and treat her in a nasty and discriminatory way.  little-fish

We just signed up for CBC Gem.  It’s free, but if you want to watch programs such as the Nature of Things, or the Fifth Estate or anything else — be prepared for lots of ads spliced throughout the shows.  To avoid all ads, you need to pay $4.99 per month.  There is an excellent Swedish-Danish series called Grey Zone.  The dialogue sizzles, the plot moves relentlessly ahead.   The acting is great.  The thriller’s plot involves cops and the “intelligence” services which are desperate to stop a terrorist attack in Sweden, but of course they are willing to sacrifice a number of civilians along the way.  I think the series is 7 episodes, and each one is excellent.  Looking back, I now see the ‘bad guys’ include a Lebanese man (probably a Palestinian)  and a  Syrian — though we are quick to learn he was very hard done by.  When Scandinavian intelligence caves into whatever the US or Britain wants — the plot seems pretty realistic. greyThe best actor is a 6 year old boy — who makes friends with the Syrian man.

Whither the NDP?

 

Just 4 months before the 2019 federal election, the NDP is has effectively blocked two women of colour from running under its banner.

In the last two weeks, we have seen the federal NDP pull the plug on Rana Zaman  in Dartmouth-Cole Harbour.  Zaman, is a tireless party worker who previously ran for the NDP in Nova Scotia’s 2017 provincial election.  This time, Zaman recruited hundreds of new members and won the federal nomination. rana1Rana Zaman

The trouble began when online trolls leaked Zaman’s August 2018 tweets critical of Israel’s shooting of Gaza protesters.  Zaman, who came as a child to Canada from Pakistan, used strong language to castigate Israel.  When Zaman posted the tweets, it was five months into the Palestinians’ Great March of Return.  By then, according to Amnesty International, Israeli forces had killed almost 150 Palestinians, and injured 10,000– including Canadian emergency room physician Tarek Loubani.  Zaman’s tweets compared the Israeli killings to Nazi Germany and likened Gaza to Auschwitz.  The tweets were over the top and she quickly issued a heartfelt and genuine public apology. Despite the apology, the NDP revoked her nomination.

Some have suggested that Rana Zaman, as a racialized person, was treated more harshly than a white person would have been.  There is some evidence to support this.  Her situation is somewhat analogous to that of Matthew Rowlinson, a university professor in London, Ont. In 2015, Rowlinson received the NDP nomination for the federal riding of London West.  Previously, he had signed a letter which asserted that “ethnic cleaning” of Palestine was ongoing and that Israel wanted a Jerusalem free of Palestinians.  Rowlinson issued an apology and the NDP permitted him to stand as a candidate.  The party did not extend the same consideration to Zaman.

Readers may recall that, in the lead up to the 2015 federal election, two NDP hopefuls were prevented from seeking nomination, and two democratically nominated candidates had their nominations revoked by the party because of their criticism of Israel.   We have to remember that many Canadians supported Palestinians in the wake of Israel’s horrendous 51-day bombing of Gaza.  In the 2014 “Operation Protective Edge,” Israel killed more than 2,200 Palestinians — mainly civilians.  Five hundred of the dead were children. In addition, more than 10,000 Gazans were seriously injured by Israel’s bombs.

  • Syed Hyder of Edmonton disallowed because he dared to say that Israel was guilty of war crimes against Palestinians.
  • The mayor of Clyde River, Nunavut, Jerry Natanine, was rejected from being a federal NDP candidate because he wrote “I often side with the Palestinians because of all the hardship they are facing….”
  • The NDP revoked the nomination of Morgan Wheeldon, in Nova Scotia’s riding of Kings-Hants because he called Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza a war crime, and suggested that Israel wanted to ethnically cleanse the region.
  • NDP nominee Paul Manly, was prohibited from running in Nanaimo-Ladysmith in BC because in 2012 he had criticized the party for its refusal to support his father, former NDP MP Jim Manly who was imprisoned by Israel as he tried to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. In a strong instance of irony, Paul Manly went on to win a seat for the Greens in the recent federal by-election.

Some in the NDP say the fact that the party dismissed these candidates in 2015 was because then-leader Tom Mulcair personally opposed any criticism of Israel. NDP supporters claim that under the new leadership of Jagmeet Singh, things are changing.   But at the February 2018 federal NDP convention, the party brass organized frantically to ensure a resolution to support a boycott of Israeli settlement goods did notcome to the floor.  This tells us that the NDP power-brokers hold tight to the pro-Israel narrative.

Somehow we have come to live in an alternate universe: Israel’s actual slaughter and wounding of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza are considered less blameworthy than the words of those, like Zaman, who condemn it.

Another point:  Throwing NDP female candidates of colour under the bus seems to be trending this season.

Just ten days ago, we had the case of Saron Gebresellassi — a lawyer, community activist and recent Toronto mayoralty candidate of Eritrean background.  She had recruited nearly 400 people to join the NDP. Working in the poor and immigrant areas of the Parkdale riding, Gebresellassi used paper forms to sign up members, and collected their $5 membership fees in cash –as many of her supporters had no credit cards. Gebresellassi presented the forms and the cash to NDP officials.    However, the officials never told her at the time that the party had declined to process the names of people on the forms and the cash—because they were not electronically submitted.    gebresellassi2Saron Gebresellassi in Toronto

At the nomination meeting on 23 June, the NDP decided to manually register the scores of immigrant, poor and disabled who had already filled in the paper forms and given their $5.  This resulted in Gebresellassi’s supporters waiting in long lines at the meeting for. Many with young children or those who couldn’t stand in a queue left.  The more traditional NDP members who joined online and paid with their credit cards were seated immediately.  It seems the  NDP could not register all of Gebresellassi’s members in time for the vote.

The NDP should think long and hard about the optics of these, and also what this says about justice in the Party.  To paraphrase Oscar Wilde,

To lose one candidate who is a woman of colour may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.oscar

 

What to Watch, and What to Read…

A trifle more calming that the previous post, you might like this set of DVDs, Fog and Crimes.  Situated in Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna (northern Italy) it is a city of fog, and also snow in winter.

 

This murder mystery is delightful, especially the two main characters, an unhappy police inspector and a beautiful female lawyer from Etkaterinaburg, Russia.  Get it from the Library. It’s free. fogI can’t recommend the thrillers by Swedish writer Karin Alvtegen highly enough.  I think Sacrifice is her best.  It’s about two women whose lives overlap in a way you would never expect…  you can get this as an E-book from Libby sacrificeat the library.

Of course everyone is talking about When They See Us, a four part series on Netflix about the 5 young black men — some mere children — who were wrongly convicted of rape and assault causing bodily harm.  In 1989, the five from Harlem were rounded up for the rape of a 28 year old blonde female  jogger in Central Park in New York city. With absolutely no forensic evidence at all, all were convicted and served from 5 – 14 years in prison — one in the most notorious adult prisons such as Rikers, and Attica.  Many of us “know” of this miscarriage of justice.  But the filmmaker,  Ava DuVernay is brilliant at getting to the heart of the matter.

Something else to read and look at is the excellent short Graphic Novel called Betty.  It is the Helen Betty Osborne case of 1971 — an Indigenous woman college student was brutally raped and murdered in The Pas, MB by 4 white young men.  It took nearly 20 yrs for anyone to be charged.  I’m writing more on this case.  However this graphic novel is very good, and well drawn.  It is aimed at a young adult audience… Again I got it at the Halifax Public Library …

betty

 

Jen Powley, author and activist, receives 2019 James McGregor Stewart Award

First  published in NS Advocate,  28 June 2019

by Judy Haiven

On June 27, Gus Reed presented author and activist Jen Powley with the 2019 James McGregor Stewart Award, handed out by the James McGregor Stewart Society, a disability rights group based in Halifax.

Powley is a tireless advocate for disability rights and housing for people with disabilities. Jen, a quadriplegic as a result of a cruel case of Multiple Sclerosis, has spent years fighting for the right of persons with severe physical disabilities to  live independently, rather than in nursing homes. In Nova Scotia, small option homes are reserved for persons labelled as intellectually or mentally disabled – so persons with severe physical handicaps have no option but to live in a nursing home with people often three times their age. This is a tragedy, especially young people and those under 60 who wish to live an independent and stimulating  life.

Powley’s book, Just Jen: Thriving Through Multiple Sclerosis won the 2017 Margaret and John Savage First Book award for non-fiction.  Just Jen is an autobiography that is truly amazing.  Her openness and thoughtfulness about herself and her body is refreshing. She blames no one; she does not castigate the medical profession or others for her situation.  At age 39, she used her voice to create a positive and eloquent account of disability and frequent health setbacks. Yet her book is insightful and resonates with people with and without physical disabilities.

Nova Scotia’s Speaker of the House of Assembly, Kevin Murphy, presented Jen with the $1000 cheque.  Murphy, who is a quadriplegic and uses a wheelchair, explained that many other countries don’t value or respect people with disabilities the way Canada does.  He said Nova Scotia was helping persons with disabilities and increasing awareness through the province’s Disability Act and the Accessibility Directorate.

Just who was James McGregor Stewart,  for whom the prize is named? Born in Pictou county in 1889, Stewart became a well-known Halifax lawyer.  He graduated as the top student at the Dalhousie Law School. However in 1910, though shortlisted for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, he was refused it because he had had polio as a child and walked with crutches. The law school’s dean, Richard Chapman Weldon in refusing the Rhodes to Stewart, wrote: “Serious physical defects should be considered as rendering a candidate ineligible for the Rhodes Scholarship.” 

Though 109 years has passed since Stewart faced discrimination based on his disability, we see it all too often today—we need to understand and pave the way for people with severe physical disabilities as well as others with disabilities – to be able to live as independently as possible as members of our community.  There are a number of activist groups including No More Warehousing, that could use your support.

On June 27, Gus Reed presented author and activist Jen Powley with the 2019 James McGregor Stewart Award, handed out by the James McGregor Stewart Society, a disability rights group based in Halifax.

Powley is a tireless advocate for disability rights and housing for people with disabilities. Jen, a quadriplegic as a result of a cruel case of Multiple Sclerosis, has spent years fighting for the right of persons with severe physical disabilities to  live independently, rather than in nursing homes. In Nova Scotia, small option homes are reserved for persons labelled as intellectually or mentally disabled – so persons with severe physical handicaps have no option but to live in a nursing home with people often three times their age. This is a tragedy, especially young people and those under 60 who wish to live an independent and stimulating  life.

Powley’s book, Just Jen: Thriving Through Multiple Sclerosis won the 2017 Margaret and John Savage First Book award for non-fiction. jen2 Just Jen is an autobiography that is truly amazing.  Her openness and thoughtfulness about herself and her body is refreshing. She blames no one; she does not castigate the medical profession or others for her situation.  At age 39, she used her voice to create a positive and eloquent account of disability and frequent health setbacks. Yet her book is insightful and resonates with people with and without physical disabilities.

Nova Scotia’s Speaker of the House of Assembly, Kevin Murphy, presented Jen with the $1000 cheque.  Murphy, who is a quadriplegic and uses a wheelchair, explained that many other countries don’t value or respect people with disabilities the way Canada does.  He said Nova Scotia was helping persons with disabilities and increasing awareness through the province’s Disability Act and the Accessibility Directorate.

Just who was James McGregor Stewart,  for whom the prize is named? Born in Pictou county in 1889, Stewart became a well-known Halifax lawyer.  He graduated as the top student at the Dalhousie Law School. However in 1910, though shortlisted for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, he was refused it because he had had polio as a child and walked with crutches. The law school’s dean, Richard Chapman Weldon in refusing the Rhodes to Stewart, wrote: “Serious physical defects should be considered as rendering a candidate ineligible for the Rhodes Scholarship.” jenSpeaker Kevin Murphy, and Jen Powley

Though 109 years has passed since Stewart faced discrimination based on his disability, we see it all too often today—we need to understand and pave the way for people with severe physical disabilities as well as others with disabilities – to be able to live as independently as possible as members of our community.  There are a number of activist groups including No More Warehousing, that could use your support.

Image

Street Checks in Halifax – a prominent social worker and activist speaks out!

ew-wright

What to read, what to watch

Shadow is both a mystery and a thriller.  It’s by Swedish author, Karin Alvtegen.  Her attention to detail about a marriage gone wrong, about a wayward son, and a depressed daughter seem right on.  The spurned wife gathers strength as the relationships flounder.  Shadow is a masterpiece.

The novel centres on a writer who has won the Nobel prize, and is successful and wealthy.  It’s also about the family’s housekeeper who listens and notes everything that goes on — and says nothing — even if when what she knows would save a life.  Two other less successful writers are trying to push the Nobel winner off his pedestal.  The plot is fascinating and believable.  It’s a murder mystery with many victims.  It’s a thriller with no smoking gun.  Worth reading! shadowGet it at the library as an e-book!

I like the German filmmaker Doris Dorrie.  Her 2007 film Cherry Blossoms is a delight. A 65 year old man who lives with his wonderful wife decides to visit each of his three grown children.  They are not so interested in his visit, because their lives are quite separate from his and they are no longer trying to please him.  The first half of the film is familiar territory, but done in a way that catches the viewer off-guard.  His third child lives in Tokyo, so the dad decides to visit.  The son is a stock broker (or a guy in finance) and is impatient and slightly mean.  The film’s focus turns from the family squabbling to the father discovering the arts, and  street performers.  It’s a clever and masterful film.

cherryGet it from the library

A Swedish murder mystery series, Maria Wern, is a bit tame, but you get a good look at a small city on the island of Gotland off the east coast of Sweden. A bit of running around, some driving, not much  shooting — and the criminals are always bad guys.  There are a few seasons of  Maria Wern, at the library on DVD.maria

 

Human Rights vs. Human Resources: will corporate Newspeak win?

 

Almost a year after Equity Watch’s interventions, the NS Human Rights Commission convened a Board of Inquiry (a tribunal) to hear Kathy Symington’s complaint of discrimination on the basis of sex and of disability.  Symington is a former Halifax firefighter.

SymingtonKathy Symington in 2018.

In some ways Symington’s case is similar to the ground-breaking case of Liane Tessier, also a former Halifax firefighter.  In December 2017, Tessier won her sex discrimination case after a 12 year battle.  Ken Steubing, Chief of Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency, had to publicly apologize to Tessier for “systemic gender discrimination” in the fire service.

Since the chief admitted to systemic gender discrimination, you’d think that Symington’s complaints, which began shortly after she joined the fire service in 1997,  would be accepted and a settlement offered.  But no, Symington has had to fight for more than 14 years for her complaint to get before a human rights Board of Inquiry. She first filed a complaint in 2004, but in 2006 the NS Human Rights Commission dismissed it.  A decade later, in 2016, Symington again filed a complaint.

Enter Equity Watch.  Equity Watch  is a Halifax-based organization which supports people who are harassed, bullied and face discrimination at work.  Last June, Equity Watch mounted a demonstration on Spring Garden Road in front of the NS Human Rights Commission’s headquarters.  Our placards read:  “Human Rights Commission:  do your job.”  The Commission should have pursued Symington’s first complaint, back in 2004, which they dropped.  In 2018, they rejected her second complaint (filed in 2016). There are hundreds of other human rights complainants in NS whose complaints have also been summarily dismissed by the Commission[1]. EQUITYRALLY1Rally on Spring Garden Rd., June 2018. Photo courtesy of NSAdvocate.org

Equity Watch helped Symington appeal the dismissal of her second complaint. In the summer of 2018, the Human Rights Commission finally agreed to take her case to a Board of Inquiry.

At the hearing, which has taken place over the last 10 days,  I was taken aback by the evidence given by one witness whose use of jargon was almost humorous – if the circumstances had not been so serious.  The witness works in the Human Resources department of Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM).  Her job was to find Symington another job either in the fire service or anywhere in HRM, as she could no longer do her the job of  a firefighter.

I confess to having taught Human Resource Management at the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University for 18 years.  But I have never heard anyone use corporate jargon as the witness did when she talked about personnel issues.   The witness’ testimony was nothing short of “newspeak”[2].

First, the woman witness from Human Resources called herself a “senior consultant in HR.”  She said her title was changed to “Business Partner to Fire and Emergency Services.” 

The “Business Partner” explained that the goal for the accommodation process [to place Symington in another role] was based on a “functional match”for the worker, rather than considering her emotional and mental concerns.  I think this means the employer would only accommodate for physical problems of the job, not mental or emotional stressors which Symington had.  Bear in mind, Symington’s case hinges on two grounds:  physical and mental disability as well as sex discrimination.

'That's not what I thought you meant when you said you expect to obtain a small settlement today.'

The Business Partner witness referred to the “vacancy management process”– in plain language that means finding an unfilled job vacancy for Symington. However, prior to filling a vacancy, there had to be a decision about  “whether it could be bundled.”  What does that mean?  I think it means finding out if one job could be added on to another to save a staff position.  The witness said that the CAO (HRM’s Chief Administrative Officer) had decreed that there was to be no budget increase.  That meant the  Business Partnerhad to take “a look at every job and prove you need the role – that there are no other modifications needed to fill or bundle the role.” What?

At one stage the Business Partner talked about the “concentration of vacancy savings through vacancy management.”   Newspeak if I ever heard it.

The witness, or Business Partner, noted that Symington was “skeptical” about the entire process, though the Business Partner  claimed she “listened” to [Symington] and even “empathized”– twice! — with Symington’s concerns.  Still the Business Partnerblamed Symington  for being “un-cooperative” in the process.

Despite the fact that Symington had worked for HRM for 18 years, the Business Partnertestified that no job could be found for Symington because she had not submitted a new resume! HRM, and Human Resources and even the Business Partner — knew all about Symington’s condition.  Back in 2005, Symington’s car had been vandalized 3 times in one yearwhile it was parked outside the fire station where she worked.  No one admitted to being the vandal, and there was no investigation by Halifax Fire or anyone else.  Terrified by these incidents, Symington was accommodated in a new role:  she went to work temporarily in the Stores area of the Fire Service – far from her home fire station.  So it was perfectly clear that she could do the job in Stores.

However, despite Symington having done the job in Stores, the Business Partnerclaimed there was the problem of the “Job Site Analysis”or JSA.  The higher-ups in HRM management seemed to have gone into a tizzy because they thought they would have to modify the Stores job for Symington, “based on her functional capacity, the new location, new duties and new structure.”  Really— is that a big deal?

At the hearing I also found out that despite there being a job open in Stores, it took nearly three years to clear it with the top management and the union and then to offer it to Symington.  Before that job, the Business Partner– considered placing Symington as a bus driver.  However Symington’s “functional capacity”showed “that she wasn’t a “functional match.”

Symington herself gave evidence at the hearing.  She said she was told by the union as well as by key people in management that “there was no job for [me] in Fire,”

The  Business Partner’s  evidence seemed like much ado about nothing.  The truth is that

  • it took HRM more than two years to find a job that would accommodate Symington.
  • Management never told her, or even suggested there was any other job she could do
  • Meanwhile Symington had no income, and was desperate for money.
  • By May 15, 2015, HRM had solidified the job in Stores for Symington. HRM met with the union, but the union forgot to tell Symington.
  • Shortly after that, Symington applied for long-term disability – which meant she was no longer available for a work.

The Business Partner’stestimony was almost laughable. What is clear is that Symington had been left high and dry.  After a career in firefighting, she had no job and no future.  Symington had dared to complain about sexual harassment and bullying, and she was out of a job.

And she still is.

You can read other stories about the hearing, here and here.

But you can only read about human resources corporate Newspeak here.

[1]In fact the Commission’s own 2016-17 Annual Report notes that the Commission received 2567 inquiries, and accepted just 110 complaints.  Of the 110 complaints, just over 50% were found to be without merit, or not followed up.

[2]Newspeak is a term used in George Orwell’s classic novel, 1984. Newspeak was the language in Oceania, where 1984 took place.  Newspeak did not allow negative thoughts, or challenges to the government or to authority.  Rather than say something was ‘bad’ it was considered ‘ungood’. For more see https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/1984/section11/Human