Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Cover Up in Quebec?

Quebec seems on the verge of banning the niqab, though evidently there are only about a dozen women in the whole province who choose to veil themselves.

I find it a strange but somewhat romantic practice. If it had been at all common in the early 1970's when I was a young art student I might have taken it up myself on occasion. I love the look of the flowing robes and the mystery of the veil.

However this being 2010, I do find it disconcerting to see an Islamic family strolling down the street on a blazing hot day, the husband and children in cool western summer wear and the wife covered from head to foot in long robes. I have seen the same sort of thing in Mennonite communities, ordinary men standing beside wives dressed in traditional garb.

I may wish that the women didn't seem so subservient but I don't feel threatened by Mennonites. I feel more uncomfortable when I see a veiled woman. My mind immediately flies to the 'honour killings' that have gotten a lot of press in Canada recently even though I know that the number of women killed by their husbands or lovers is probably ten times higher in the general population. It is unfair and I've had to really think about how I feel about these things. Watching the Twin Towers fall changed a lot more than the landscape of New York City, unfortunately.

So here are my thoughts on the subject:

The main question that is troubling Quebec politicians seems to be whether veiled Muslim women should have to reveal their faces for things like Canadian driver's licences and passports. From what I have read it seems to have become a question of frightening political correctness.

I think that if it hadn't been for 9 11 we would probably see these Muslim women as just another interesting part of the Canadian mosaic and they would be expected to comply without question to Canadian laws or they would be deported. Obviously the Quran is open to interpretation because some women do not wear a head covering at all, some wear the hajib or headscarf and some the veil or niqab.

Women who choose the niqab must be prepared to show their faces for identification purposes. It is a no brainer and not worth a lot of fuss in anybody's legislature when there are so many real problems that need attention. However, the niqab should not be banned. Women should have the freedom to wear what they want and to practise their religion the way they want.

It's the almost-totally-free-to-do what-you-want Canadian way.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

It Isn't Easy Being Greenish

I'm now a member of the Federal Green Party AND the Provincial Green Party.

But I find it harder being green than being NDP orange. For me, social justice issues are much clearer than environmental issues. Oh I know social justice is part of the Green Platform, that's one of the reasons I joined, it just isn't the raison d'être, and isn't what people have had time to discuss at the meetings I've been to.

" Shift" might happen, but it doesn't happen easily for some of us.

The backlash against the global warming theory unnerved me shortly after I joined the Federal party last spring. There is a strong contingent of very vocal people out there that believes global warming is hogwash. Naturally, just because I had committed myself, every newspaper and magazine article, as well as radio and television show I happened upon, seemed to be promoting that view.

I searched for the truth. But the truth on environmental issues isn't always easily found. Research on Google was overwhelming. I couldn't just pop up to the Arctic and see for myself.

In the end I thought of Hamilton.

For me, the Burlington Skyway has always been the link between Niagara and the great outside world. I remember when there was just one bridge. Heck, I even remember when you had to pay to go over it. But mostly I remember those giant Stelco smokestacks. For decades they spewed a toxic smelling black smoke across Hamilton harbour. The sky and water were a sickly steel gray even on the sunniest of days. The paint peeled on the few houses that were strung along the beach and they looked grim and abandoned. The stench was nauseating. I pitied the few small people I would sometimes see scurrying below as my car safely sped over the span and away from the hellish scene.

I realize now that the environment had to have been affected by Stelco and I believe that global warming, or to use the new and I think more apt phrase, "global wierding" is a direct result of human activity.

So I was in a self-congratulatory mood as I headed to last week's Green Party meeting. "In like flint," I thought to myself with relief, "I've finally got it."

After signing in I made my way across the head table where the books, pamphlets, buttons etc. were spread out for the party faithful to fondle. I picked up a couple of things, more for show than anything else. The buzz in the room was loud and as I'm not one for mingling, I returned to my seat. Waiting for the meeting to start, I turned over one of the pamphlets.

My hair stood on end. I didn't know the Green Party was against nuclear power. I thought nuclear power was 'clean' energy - dangerous maybe, but environmentally friendly unless there was a melt down and millions of people and animals suffered endless agonies and then died lingering painful deaths. But there it was in black and white and green, "We can keep the lights on without nuclear." The pamphlet went on to note that Ontario's wind power potential is more than ten times greater than our total electricity consumption. There was even a cheery little picture of a wind farm.

It shouldn't have been a problem. I should have been able to 'shift' my thinking. Right? Not exactly because lately I've been concerned and puzzled by the reports coming out about windmill farms making people sick.

Sigh. It still isn't easy being Green.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Frogs and Snails and XM8 Lightweight Assault Rifles

On Face Book this week I had a message from a young man. Well actually there was no message, just a request to become his friend. At first I was puzzled. The accompanying photo showed four laughing young men who looked to be about nineteen or twenty standing in a line, arms draped over shoulders, on the pavement in downtown Toronto. Not one of them looked familiar.

I studied the name and out of the misty depths of my teaching memories, a face began to emerge. A thin blond grade six boy with an big, loveable grin. He and his younger brother had been homeschooled but for some reason the family had decided to send the boys to public school one year and I became the oldest boy's teacher.

He was enthusiastic and genuinely glad to be in school with other kids. I liked him a lot. There was only one issue that I remember worrying about and it had to do with something he told me about himself, his grandfather and guns. For the life of me though, after all of these years and so many kids that I worried about, I can't remember what it was. I just remember that an alarm bell rang quietly in my head.

Thinking this might be who was trying to contact me, I went to his home page photo gallery to see if there was a better picture of him. I was quite taken aback by what I saw. A number of photos were of young men in camouflage uniforms holding guns. They seemed to be involved in some kind of military exercise. There were photos of young women holding rifles too but these women weren't Canadian army women, unless halter tops, lots of skin and hip huggers are allowed on the shooting range. I had no idea what I was looking at. Boy Scouts gone bad? A scary gun club? Camp Borden after hours? An Aryan paramilitary group? I found the images alien and disturbing.

Little boys grow up and change but I didn't expect this one would grow up and move to such a hostile planet in some other universe.

I suppose the warning bell that went off in my head as he described the activity he had done with his grandfather was a hint of the direction his life would take.

Jeesh. I wonder what some of the kids I really worried about are doing now.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hey, Who's the Naked Canadian Guy?

We don't have free speech in Canada and yet everybody is up in arms over this Ann Coulter thing. Somebody needs to tell the emperor he's not wearing any clothes.

If we had free speech we would be able to buy newspaper ads threatening death and dismemberment to any person or group we didn't like and we would be able to encourage others to join us.

We don't even have freedom to own certain things. I'll never be the old lady next door with the Uzi.

I think freedom is what this whole brouhaha regarding Ms Coulter is really about. A lot of people have forgotten who we are. We are the people who accepted the War Measures act in 1970 during the FLQ crisis. We had one Cabinet Minister murdered, a British diplomat had been kidnapped, bombs were going off in Montreal and our Prime Minister did away with our civil liberties. Can't imagine that happening in the U.S. The part about the civil liberties - not the murder, kidnapping and bombs.

As a nation, we prefer law and order over individual rights. One in six Canadians is descended from a United Empire Loyalist after all. They are the folks who were willing to pay the heavy taxes on tea and other commodities rather than go to war against the powerful British during the American Revolution. Sitting on the fence backfired though. People were either with the Patriots or they were against them in 1776 and thousands of refugees had to flee the U.S. for Canada where they could live peacefully under the established British law.

So maybe it's in our gene pool.

Actually, I think that how our acceptance of a modified form of freedom came about, isn't as important as the fact that we need to see ourselves as we truly are. We're not free to spread hate and despair. We aren't free to arm ourselves. Good? Bad? I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that our way is the better way.

Now cover up, you great big naughty boy!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

And About Those Baby Seals...

Since my last post, I've spent a sleepless night worrying that anyone who happens to read my blog about polar bears will come to the conclusion that I support the seal hunt.

I don't. I don't I don't. The seal hunt is something far beyond what a human being with a soul would do to a defenceless animal. Unfortunately, up until now I have been burying my head in the sand about the seal hunt because it is too upsetting. I have been leaving the room when there was a television story, glancing away from pictures, and trying generally to avoid thinking about it.

But I crossed a line somewhere in my psyche with my polar bear blog and here I am, finally giving my opinion on sealing.

I was pleased to learn that even PETA, (the international paint and pie throwing group), is not against the Inuit people hunting seal for the traditional reasons. Having spent 12 years in the north I know that food is shockingly expensive and artificial fur will not protect you at 40 or 50 degrees below zero. Seal meat and seal fur are a necessity of life for many Inuit. Inuit use all parts of the animal, not much is wasted, whereas the sealers take only the fur of young seals in the most cruel manner possible.

Sealing started in 1720 or thereabouts. It is not a traditional hunt done by indigenous people in a humane, spiritual manner. It is a merciless slaughter done on an icy abattoir.

So who buys seal pelts? The largest market by far is Norway. The most important seal pelt processing plant in Newfoundland, Carino, (according to the most recent info I could find), is actually owned by a Norwegian company. But don't think they need the pelts, because although Norway is a northern country, it has a fairly temperate climate due to the warm Gulf Stream. Finland and Germany are the second and third largest markets but there are many other countries who import thousands of pelts each year.

PETA and likeminded groups need to go after these markets with a renewed vengeance. If there was no money in sealing the industry would die. Our politicians need to wok to find alternate employment for the workers.

The seal hunt must stop.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Inuit Need Support, Not Critcism

I was quite interested to read the recent reports that Canadian and Inuit leaders were instrumental in the defeat of the proposal to classify polar bears as a species threatened with extinction at the UN wildlife observation meeting. The great white bears can still be hunted. I'm sure that many Canadians are upset at this turn of events and I must say the killing of animals is abhorrent to me as well. However, having had a firsthand glimpse of what our southern values have done to some of our northern indigenous people, I have to say that I think we need to butt out on this one.

Many years ago I learned that you can't teach a child who spent the previous night sitting outside a bar so that he can make sure his parents don't pass out in a snowdrift and freeze to death on the way home. Nor can you teach a child who comes to school dirty, cold and hungry because there is no heat or food at her house.

These things happen to some children in Canada. They happen because a spirit, a culture and a way of life were destroyed.

I don't know if there is a way back for our native people or even if they should go back, but whatever the future holds, we shouldn't try to do it for them. They will find their own way. As Canadians we need to support them.

I think the government did the right thing.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Take the Gun, Leave the Asparagus

The hunt for wild asparagus in southern Ontario brings out the Alaskan frontierswoman in me

Many years ago when I was teaching in Dawson City, Yukon, I would on occasion cross the border into Alaska. I went by river a few times. My friends and I could leave Dawson on Friday night and arrive in the village of Eagle, Alaska on Sunday. I have some fine memories of paddling down the Yukon River, eating fresh salmon and camping out under the midnight sun.

Sometimes we would fly into Juneau, other times we would take the 'Top of the World Highway' and drive to Skagway or Chicken.

Chicken, Alaska, in those days was about the size of Eagle but as the name implies, it didn't have the same fierce charm. What it did have was an old lady named Anne Purdy.

Anne Purdy had a big gun and a super-sized Alaskan personality to go with it.

When I first moved to Dawson I came across, " Tisha", a book written about her life. She had been a young New England girl who had gone north to teach school in the 1920s. She had fallen in love with a young man who was part native and the prejudice they faced kept them apart for years. Sarah Palin wasn't the first Alaskan to take advantage of Canadian health care, the climax of Mrs. Purdy's story involved a harrowing, life and death dog sled race to Dawson City for medical treatment at fifty degrees below zero.

When I found out that she was still alive I decided to go and meet her.

Around that time Mrs. Purdy was in the middle of a political brawl with the Alaska Bureau of Land Management. I heard her threaten to shoot every last one of the s.o.b.s if they took one step on her (disputed) property. Imagine a proud old lady, tall, with long gray hair, a floor length gingham skirt over rubber boots and a rifle she was prepared to use. The image stayed with me.

Now years later, back in Ontario, I'm the old(ish) lady with the gray(ish) hair. But my land dispute isn't with a faceless bureaucracy, my dispute is with sneaky city people who steal my wild asparagus. We're talking important issues here, folks.

You see, asparagus often grows on the edge of the road in Niagara, the part that is owned, (on paper), by the region. But psychologically, emotionally and spiritually, that little strip of land on the other side of the ditch belongs to the home owner.

I believe that people have no business picking the home owner's asparagus from the home owner's land!

So be warned, if you are on the trail of the wild asparagus in North Pelham this spring, the crazy old lady standing in the ditch will be me. Being Canadian I don't have a gun, but I have a broom, and by golly this year I intend to use the bristly end of it.

So be afraid, you asparagus thieves, be very afraid...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Sky is Falling

re: the national anthem

I’ve always been able to vote. I can’t imagine what it was like for the Suffragettes who struggled for the right to be a part of the democratic process. I wasn’t refused entry to university because I was female. Those battles were long over by the time I became active in the women’s movement in the early seventies.

Was I grateful? Did I feel that we were picking up where they had left off? I’d like to think that we felt a connection but truthfully, winning the vote might as well have happened in the 13th century. We didn’t identify with those long gone women in their big, feathered hats, corsets and ankle length skirts. They were the past, we were the future. We were young and caught up in the excitement of the social change that was steam rolling across the land.

I can’t imagine what it is like to be young in 2010 any more than I was able to imagine what it was like to be young in 1910. But I’m proud that girls today have opportunities that were unheard of in my time. We had a lot to do with that. Because of us, most sexual stereotypes and sexist language are things of the past.

Are they grateful? No more than we were to the Suffragettes. They’ve never known life any other way. Thank heavens.

So I suppose I can understand the lack of interest in changing the lyrics to ‘Oh Canada'.

But geez Louise, it’s the national anthem we’re talking about, the most important song in the country. This one matters - oh, and for those who worry that changing one line will open the door to the atheists, etc., women aren’t a special interest group. We “hold up half the sky”.

The anthem should reflect this.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

God Has Great Hair

Hair dressers somehow sense that they hold my self esteem between the blades of their scissors. I walk into a hair salon every six weeks glad to finally get something done with my mop of odd cowlicks and inevitably walk out an hour later looking like a shellacked, semi-plucked chicken. It’s a vicious cycle of hope and despair and it has been going on my whole life.

Now, anybody who has taken Art History 101 or has picked up a magazine that features an archaeology dig in Europe, knows that not only was God exclusively female in prehistoric times, She also had great hair. Braided, beaded, coiled, wrapped around the head, the dos were really something. So much effort went into the carving of the hair styles on the ancient Goddess figurines; it seems obvious to me that great hair had as much importance to those women as it does to women of the 21st century.

But who were the early stylists? Without mirrors, the women couldn’t have managed such elaborate coifs by themselves. I can only surmise it must have been a mother/daughter/sister, you-do-mine, I’ll-do yours, sort of thing. Pity the poor cave woman without female relatives. She must have been the schmuck of her clan, forever whining about her hair, avoided at the drinking stream and in the berry patch, passed over by the best hunters.

The conclusion is undeniable. I am channeling some poor cave woman who was an orphan and without sisters or daughters.

Now that I understand this, I can relax. Maybe I’ll let my hair grow. Revisit Woodstock, (not that I was actually there). Get in touch with my inner prehistoric woman. Because one thing is for sure, if the Goddess is reemerging and if you’ve ever seen those small sculptures of Her, you’ll understand, my fellow female persons, we’re going to have other things to worry about.

See you at the gym.