Poll – Ideas for a permanent home for the NDG Food Depot

NDG Food Depot logoNow that the NDG Food Depot has found a temporary home at River’s Edge Community Church, the search is on for more permanent digs.

Over the past few weeks, a number of people have suggested some possibilities. (I didn’t include a few more slightly crazy ideas- for instance, a petition asking the CDN-NDG borough intervene to find a new home for the Depot  suggests the city arrange an eventual move to the Benny Library’s current building,  the church building that the library will no longer use when it moves to its new site or ask Loblaws or Super C for an unused section of their parking lots to set up warehouse and office space using transportable storage sheds).

Which would you choose? Feel free to add your own ideas to this poll!


Toxic products -and what to do with a blue vinyl dog?

Adria Vasil’s Killer Beauty talk last week was a reminder. Vasil was in town for Breast Cancer Action Montreal’s 9th annual Lanie Melamed Memorial Lecture. For me her words served as a reminder that I need to be a lot more careful about the products I bring into my home.

If you don’t know Adria Vasil, she’s an environmentalist, consumer rights crusader and Ann Landers-style advice giver rolled into one. She’s an amazing communicator and yes, I do feel a tad envious of this lovely career she has carved out for herself as the Ecoholic columnist for NOW Magazine and as an author, lecturer and broadcaster (three books to date and she’s a frequent guest on TV and radio shows).

I had no idea that Toronto-based Vasil is originally from Quebec and her parents once owned a McDonald’s outlet in Shawinigan. I didn’t know she spent her teenage years opening up those free perfume samples she found in magazines and dabbing them on her skin. Or that as a teen she started questioning the ingredients in the personal care products she used after visiting a friend’s house. Her friend’s “hippie dippy” mom used licorice toothpaste and herbal shampoo with labels featuring ingredients Vasil says she could easily understand. Not so at home where reading shampoo bottles meant sounding out a long list of unpronounceable ingredients that she couldn’t make out at all.

I’ve long been interested in the environment. I’ve written articles about environmental issues and my interest in the cause led me to work as an office assistant for Breast Cancer Action Montreal. I know about toxins in personal care products. But I while I try hard to check labels, I’m lazy sometimes. Looking at the ingredients in the shampoos and toothpaste in our bathroom, there’s a lot that needs to go.

In Canada, it seems responsibility for checking what’s safe and what’s not rests with the consumer. So it’s on you to be sure that the shampoo you massage into the hair and skin on your baby’s head doesn’t send carcinogens and endocrine disruptors into your precious child’s body. That shampoo you use daily may be adding to the toxic chemical load your body has accumulated and absorbed over many years. Ditto your body wash, shaving cream, deodorant, toothpaste…

Vasil wants the Canadian government to ban these chemicals outright, something I agree with wholeheartedly. In Europe policy makers use the precautionary principle. The onus is on industry to prove to governments and citizens that the ingredients they use in consumer products are safe. In Canada Vasil likens regulation to a game of Whac-A-Mole. Just as one toxic ingredient gets banned, another pops up. Health Canada didn’t ban triclosan, it just asked companies to phase it out over time, Vasil says. “The way it works in Canada is we end up being their guinea pigs.”

Toxic chemicals aren’t limited to personal care products. Vasil says Canada has now banned Bisphenol A (BPA) from baby bottles. But it’s still found in the lids of baby food jars, linings of cans, those white dental fillings that are replacing mercury fillings, the list goes on. And now companies are shapeshifting, replacing parabens with chemicals that may pose other health risks, Vasil says. In many products companies have replaced BPA with Bisphenol S (BPS), which is widely seen as at least as toxic and possibly even more toxic than Bisphenol A.

A recent United Nations Environmental Programme/World Health Organization report calls such hormone-disrupting chemicals a “global threat.” Vasil points out the international panel of scientists who put together the report are linking the daily use of these chemicals with the possibility of all sorts of health problems, including hormone-dependent cancers and obesity. The chemicals are everywhere and they’re making it into our drinking water.

What We Can Do

“The chemicals we can control are the ones that we put on every day,” Vasil says. To make it easier to figure out what’s safe and what’s potentially dangerous for our health, Vasil has put together a free Mean 15 list of ingredients to avoid.

Avoiding toxic chemicals is all about reading labels and checking databases. Vasil says, and while the Skin Deep database isn’t perfect, it’s a good baseline. But you can’t assume that just because a product is sold in a health food store, it’s paraben-free, natural or organic. Organic Surge shampoo, for instance, has only one organic ingredient, while Organics shampoos have none.

If you’re open to it, one shampoo alternative Vasil suggested is the “No Poo” method (it has nothing to do with constipation). It involves putting baking soda on your hair and scalp and rinsing with hot (warm) water and vinegar. Other alternatives? Use oils from your kitchen and warm them to deep condition your hair. Step out of the shower and put baking soda under your arms instead of deodorant, Vasil advises.

While it would be ideal if toxic ingredients were banned from products and food until companies prove they’re safe, that’s not how things are done in Canada. So the next best thing would be to have the Canadian government pass legislation along the lines of California’s Safe Cosmetics Act, Vasil says. In California labels on personal care products warn consumers about “hazardous and potentially hazardous ingredients” in the products.

Even better, we need to tell companies we don’t want toxic ingredients in our homes. “We all need to speak up,” Vasil says. ‘We are giving our money to companies every day,” Vasil says.

If you have toxic stuff in your house, for instance old toys like my son’ s once beloved blue vinyl dog (probably made of PVC plastic and hazardous since it’s potentially carcinogenic and mutagenic), what are you supposed to do? Vasil says whatever you do, don’t give your toxic makeup to a women’s shelter or dump toxic items at your local thrift store. Don’t put them in the garbage either.  Instead take advantage of your municipality’s hazardous household waste collections (I really wonder how employees at my local eco centre will react if I bring them the deflated blue vinyl dog). Even better, Vasil says send your unwanted toxic items right back to the companies that made them.

“Just one person is all it takes to start a movement,” she says. “Think about something that bugs you in a product and start a petition.” She recommends tackling one ingredient at a time and using change.org for setting up the petition.

After all, consumer pressure can radically change company practices. Vasil says that Johnson & Johnson, a company whose No More Tears Baby Shampoo contains a formaldehyde-releasing preservative called quaternium-15, as well as the chemical byproduct 1,4-dioxane, both known carcinogens was the target of a boycott by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Now it’s pledging to remove all toxic chemicals from its products by 2015.

“My mother taught me we can change the world just by working on our own little corner of it,” Vasil says. “Please listen to my mom.”

The question is, how many of us will change our little corners of the world?

A smattering of Montreal International Women’s Day 2013 celebrations

This International Women’s Day feels a bit odd. March 8th falls on a Friday so I suppose groups don’t necessarily want to hold events on that day. I missed an event yesterday (March 6) and one of groups you’d think would mark the day on March 8th, the Women’s Y, has decided to hold celebrations today. I find this frustrating because it sounds like an amazing event that I sadly will have to miss.

Here are just a few of the events happening around Montreal. If you know of an event happening in your Montreal hood, let me know and I’ll add it to this list.

Today, March 7th

The Y des femmes (Montreal Women’s Y) is holding an interesting and important 5 à 7 dedicated to the women of the YWCA.  Organizers say “participants, volunteers and employees, the Women of the Montreal Women’s Y,” will be the focus of this lively celebration, which will center on creativity and solidarity.” According to their press release, this evening’s event will include the screening of La cinquantaine dondaine, a documentary film by  Sophie Bissonnette. The film features the music, poetry, dance and writings of a group of women aged 50 to 75 who participated in a workshop at the Women’s Y.

The Y des femmes is marking 138 years in the community and along with the film screening, they’re holding a creative workshop where women can express their feelings and pay tribute to important women in their lives and/or brighten up the Y des femme’s walls with “poems, drawings, thoughts and symbols on coloured paper.”

The event’s closing includes a poetry slam, music, door prizes, refreshments “and other surprises.”

Claudia B., a woman I’ve written about who makes all sorts of jewellery out of e-waste, will be at the Y des femmes selling her jewellery at a discount

The Montreal YWCA’s Web site features an International Women Day e-card you can send around to women friends and loved ones who inspire you.


Friday, March 8th

Open House at the YMCAs of Quebec

It’s become an International Women’s Day tradition and once again the YMCAs of Québec are holding an open house all day for women of all ages. According to their press release, it’s a chance for women to try out a class or check out a local Y’s facilities free of charge. To take advantage of this offer, bring along a locker padlock and a photo ID.

International Women’s Day March

The theme chosen this year by Status of Women Canada for International Women’s Day is Working Together: Engaging Men to End Violence against Women.

Women of Diverse Origins is holding an annual International Women’s Day March. This year’s theme is Women Rise Up Against the Violence.

The purpose of the march? “To draw attention to the ongoing plague of violence against women and its related aspects, as well as to celebrate the courage and tenacity of women who stand up to confront and challenge it in Montreal. Women in all pats of the world demand an end to violence against women, the poor, marginalized, indigenous people, minorities (religious, ethnic and gender) and the most vulnerable; violence against the environment, economic violence of privatization and corporatization, militarized violence and occupation. Until  the violence ends there can be no justice and peace. ”

A solidarity celebration will follow this evening’s march.

Where: Place Émilie-Gamelin (Berri-UQAM metro, gather at 6 p.m.). To be followed by solidarity celebration at the Comitê Social Centre-Sud, 1710 Beaudry (Beaudry metro)

When: 6-9 p.m.

Info: Available here

International Women’s Day Vernissage

NDP MP Isablle Morin, who represents NDG-Lachine, is holding a vernissage to feature women artists from the communities within her riding. The wide range of artists includes writers, painters, sculptors whose art focuses on “the celebration of respect, appreciation and love toward women, as well as the celebration of women’s economic, political and social achievements.”

When: 5:30 pm – 8:00 pm

Where: 735 Notre-Dame Street, Suite 104 (in Lachine)

NFB Film: Status Quo? The Unfinished Business of Feminism in Canada

This feature documentary film by Karen Cho is currently available free for download. The National Film Board of Canada also encourages people to post comments online and discuss the film.

The NFB is also honouring women by promoting all sorts of film in its collection that were made by or about women.

Oxfam International Behind the Brands, The Truth About Women and Chocolate campaign

An online campaign that Montreal-based Oxfam-Québec is promoting for International Women’s Day (in their Twitter feed, at least).

Coinciding with International Women’s Day…

Local Montreal band Motel Raphaël is playing a show tomorrow at Le Divan Orange. I don’t know if they planned to perform on International Women’s Day but they are a very cool band headed up by three women.

They also just happen to be participating in a CBC Searchlight: Homerun contest for best local Montreal band. The deadline to vote is today, March 7th, at midnight.

 Motel Raphaël Le Divan Orange Show:

Also slated: Lakes of Canada, Inlet Sound, Dj JP

Where: 4234 St. Laurent Blvd

When: from 9:15 p.m. on

Tickets: $10 online; $12 at the door (if the show is not sold out)

Still an idealist but…

Last week I had no Internet access for days.

I also experienced a few setbacks that chipped away at my idealist heart.

In a nutshell:

  • Visited Montreal’s recycling sorting centre seven years after my first visit. But unlike that last visit when I was invited to walk around inside the recycling sorting centre, this time our group wasn’t allowed to see anything unless you count looking through a window to see sorted recycling materials being moved by forklifts into square bales. We weren’t allowed to take any photos. We did spend some time in a room where we were shown products recycled from materials collected at the centre but we could not enter the warehouse floor and see the workers, see the magnet, the scanners or the vacuum-type technology used to make sorting quicker. I understand the concerns about not wanting to expose citizens to moulds or bother the workers but a few more windows letting you see something of the sorting process would be nice. I would even settle for a video of the whole thing though I think that would be pathetic. Apparently the private company running the sorting centre for the City of Montreal is concerned about corporate espionage if we see the technology. Even the Royal Canadian Mint in Ottawa shows you more. To be fair, the guide for the recycling centre, who does double duty giving tours of the TOHU, did tell us quite a bit. On the eco side the highlight for me was an interactive screen showing the Miron Quarry’s past and the site’s (contested) future as a park. It wasn’t the greatest tour  for me because I wanted to see inside that sorting centre. But at least the interactive screen had documentary footage of citizens taking on city hall to get the Miron Quarry and landfill site closed down. Our guide was very open about controversy surrounding the site, known today as the Complexe Environnemental de Saint-Michel.
  • I have been trying for months to find a family doctor. One clinic posted on their Facebook page that they were taking new patients and they had a walk-in clinic. When I got there I was told one of the doctors was taking new patients for gynecology only and since I need a gynecologist I could go with her but if I wanted a family doctor I would have to choose this other doctor except he wasn’t in that day. So I chose the walk-in clinic doctor/gynecologist. They did an exam and test but told me I would have to pay $20 to have the sample delivered to a lab. I didn’t have $20 on me and I was shocked. I’ve never been billed at a walk-in clinic for anything. I called the Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec and apparently these “administrative” fees are legal. I’m puzzled as to why it costs $20 per person to deliver groups of samples to a lab but anyway…
  • My Internet provider is known as an underdog company that fiercely advocates for the consumer when the bigger players aim to hike Internet rates. It has a great reputation. But last week after I asked the phone company in charge of my landline to remove a feature from our phone line, our DSL Internet went down. And my underdog Internet company did not initially believe me. We spent days last week on the phone with different tech support staff telling us how to test our equipment when all along it was the phone company that switched off our Internet connection.

Update on that “brief” protest

My last post mentioned a protest that was initially postponed.

It was never rescheduled. But organizers urge NDG residents and anyone who cares about the neighbourhood around the soon-to-be built MUHC English superhospital to write a brief for the upcoming Office de consultation publique de Montréal consultations that begin on March 11th.

The registration deadline for oral or written consultations is March 7th, only days away.

Details on how to submit a brief, and the whys and hows of the process are available here.