As Earth Day (April 22) approaches, it’s no surprise to see organizations and businesses challenging consumers to change their ways and adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.
This week’s Greenpeace Canada challenge breaks with that tradition because instead of putting all the responsibility on consumers, the onus is on the companies responsible for all the throwaway plastic packaging and products that end up in our oceans, killing marine life or polluting drinking water and getting into our food:
Have you ever looked around – at the supermarket, or coffee shop, or local mall – and noticed how much excessive plastic there is? Once you start looking for it, it’s EVERYWHERE. And it’s a huge problem. This week, we invite you to take pictures of the most excessive or ridiculous throwaway plastic products or packaging you see, and post them on your favorite social media site. Make sure you use the hashtag #BreakFreeFromPlastic and #RidiculousPackaging and tag the brand or retailer responsible.
IKEA Canada is taking a slightly different approach. Their contest, open to Canadians everywhere except Quebec (!!) and running from April 22 through April 30, involves downloading the IKEA Sustainable Living App and asks people to record their sustainable actions on their cell phones (mobile devices) as they complete them in real life. The reward? One of 40 prizes, including a $2,000 IKEA gift card.
Last year my city embraced the zero waste movement. I missed the press conference but there was no way I could miss Vaudreuil-Dorion’s position on zero waste. A 2018 city calendar for citizens proudly states Vaudreuil-Dorion is the first of 23 cities in our county of Vaudreuil-Soulanges to partner with the Circuit Zéro Déchet. The city is giving out stickers for businesses to place in their windows if they let customers bring their own clean reusable containers for bulk purchases.
Intrigued, I checked the Circuit Zéro Déchet website to see how many Vaudreuil-Dorion businesses are taking part in the initiative. There are only four among god knows how many businesses. So not a lot in a land of big box stores and shopping. We were already shopping at two of the four businesses. I’ve spent years refilling bottles and trying to reduce my environmental footprint. We’ve refilled dish and hand soap bottles at the environmental store ever since I first discovered it and we sometimes shop at our local health food store.
The only pharmacy on the list is our local pick-up point for Lufa Farms. We visited the other business on the list, Cananut, for the first time last Friday and wow, they are an amazing bulk food store, selling beans and lentils, all sorts of nuts, rice, sugar, bread yeast, raisins, coffee and tea, dried fruits and spices and more. But they appear to be struggling. The folks who shop at the Costco nearby don’t appear interested in heading to a much smaller store for bulk foods, which is strange to me because Bulk Barn, located in a mall in another part of the city, is always packed. I hadn’t realized Cananut’s West Island store was one of the businesses affected when spring flooding devastated areas around Montreal last year. Their Vaudreuil-Dorion store has only been here a year and if things don’t improve, it will soon close and merge with their recently reopened West Island store.
I find Hudson, a town in Vaudreuil-Soulanges known for its fair trade stores and environmental sensibilities, is clearly far ahead of my city but for some reason neither the town nor its businesses are participating in the Circuit Zéro Déchet. If they are, they’re not listed in the directory. I don’t see my city’s culture as being terribly environmental, in spite of its pride in joining Circuit Zéro Déchet. We had to drive to a local recreation centre to get the city calendar because the city failed to deliver it in our area and when we phoned them about it, they told us we’d have to pick one up. We still don’t have organic waste pickup in Vaudreuil-Soulanges, in spite of a Quebec government plan to have it in place by 2019. And I find that often when I shop in Vaudreuil-Dorion, I sometimes have to educate retail staff about reusable bags. I’ve had disposable plastic bags handed to me even when I had a reusable bag in hand. I’ve had to give plastic bags back to store staff and I sometimes end up with an extra bag I never asked for.
I love that Cindy Trottier, a young woman from Valleyfield, created the Circuit Zéro Déchet directory. It’s a great way to show people where they can go to purchase goods and practise a zero waste lifestyle. It promotes local small businesses and gets people thinking about their shopping habits. But while I adore this initiative, I have a few problems with the zero waste movement in general.
In our home we’re noticing it’s pretty hard to be zero waste all the time, if zero waste means you’re barely producing any landfill-bound solid waste at all. And that’s because companies are creating packaging that we cannot reuse or even recycle. For instance, we have three cats who eat a lot and needs relatively fresh dry food because they’re picky eaters. It doesn’t take long for the pet food bags to pile up. The bags are not recyclable in our municipal recycling program and the only place I could find that will take them is TerraCycle, a company that recycles all sorts of hard-to-recycle waste. To use TerraCycle, you have to pay for the Zero Waste box they send you. The smallest box for pet food bags costs $88.23.
The other problem I have with the zero waste trend is that it doesn’t address class privilege. It’s a movement that especially appeals to the affluent and educated, since they can afford to participate in it and it preaches to the converted, people who are already avoiding plastic and reducing their waste. It doesn’t address cost issues for bargain hunters or lower income people or access for people who don’t live near bulk food stores and/or find bulk food more expensive than what they usually buy and who aren’t surrounded by people with similar values.
We usually buy our coffee at Costco where a bag of their Kirkland fair trade, Starbucks-roasted coffee beans costs about $13 or $14 for 907 g and lasts quite a while in our house. If we buy coffee in bulk, we often pay about double that price since, for instance, our local health food store sells bulk coffee for $31.90 per kilogram. But there’s a drawback to refilling their brown paper coffee bags. While we’re not stuck with a coffee bag we can’t recycle or easily reuse as we are when we shop at Costco, when we buy expensive coffee, our budget gets messed up. We sometimes buy loose leaf tea at Papillon Bulk Foods in Pointe Claire but the tea doesn’t always taste good because tea can go stale over time. When we buy tea leaves elsewhere, even from supposedly “eco” vendors, they either come in tins or plastic packaging and refilling these can be complicated. We refill shampoo bottles but the other members of my household don’t like the shampoo. They also hate environmental laundry detergents. As a compromise, we’re using a commercial cold water detergent but because we can’t refill those bottles, we end up recycling them. We use far more glass jars than we’d like. It bothers me there’s no guarantee they’re being recycled but we put them in the city’s recycling bin anyway.
YouTube contributor Shelbizleee (Shelby)’s recent video on captures how I feel about the zero waste movement. Zero waste was originally all about redesigning industrial and commercial products, “a philosophy that encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused” and never head to landfill or get incinerated. Putting all responsibility on the individual consumer doesn’t solve anything and isn’t fair because it’s extraordinarily difficult to obtain many things we use in day-to-day life without packaging. Nor is it fair to hold people to a perfectionist standard because it’s hard to live a zero waste lifestyle in our society. Making people feel bad doesn’t fix anything. The focus on producing no solid waste whatsoever takes away from other environmental issues more deserving of our attention, such as climate change, the plight of honeybees and wasting water, Shelby says. When it comes to solid waste, what needs to happen is regulation to stop businesses from creating waste that cannot easily be reused or disposed of sustainably. Corporations need to step up and change their ways. Instead of idealizing bloggers who keep years of landfill trash in one Mason jar to show just how little garbage they’re accumulating, Shelby suggests instead a low impact movement proposed by Imogen Lucas of YouTube channel, Sustainably Vegan. Lucas’s message? Do your best with what you have available to you. Everything you do to help the environment should count and be seen as positive.
For now, I’ll follow advice from a book my mom gave me long ago, Sparrows Don’t Throw Candy Wrappers by Margaret Gabel, published in 1971. The book urges readers to send waste back to the companies that produced it. While I’ll probably mail our Kicking Horse coffee bags to an Etsy maker who turns such bags into wallets. I’ve decided to mail the Costco coffee bags right back to the source. I still don’t know what to do about our growing pile of pet food bags. They’re made of beautiful gold-coloured plastic. If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them.
Today, for the third day in a row, a small group of people will tell a Senate committee hearing in Ottawa their life histories.
Who are they? Most are survivors of Canada’s postwar homes for unwed mothers. Others are adoptees or representatives from organizations.
Earlier this month, Valerie Andrews of Origins Canada, a federal non-profit organization offering support and resources to people who have been separated from a family member by adoption practices, sent out this invitation on Facebook:
It is my great pleasure to finally be able to announce that Origins Canada has been successful in securing a Senate study into the postwar adoption mandate.
The study will take place on March 20, 21 and 22, 2018 in Ottawa. This study is a short one, only three days, and will therefore not officially be taking submissions, but anyone who would like to make one can do so.
Any mother, adoptee, or organization that would like to make a submission about your experiences may do so by writing a letter to the clerk of the committee. Mothers may want to include information about your experiences associated with Canada’s maternity homes, hospitals, social workers, and the lifelong trauma they have endured.
Adoptees may want to include information about suffering from issues of abandonment, attachment, mirroring, secrecy of adoption records, reunion, or any other issues you feel are important for the senate to know about the adoptee perspective.
For over 10 years, Andrews fought tirelessly for a chance to tell Canada’s federal government what had happened to the girls and women sent away to homes for unwed mothers. In New South Wales, Australia, mothers who relinquished children to adoption not only succeeded in obtaining a government inquiry into adoption practices and institutional abuse, in 2013 they received a formal apology from the Australian government. That 1998 inquiry led to a complete overhaul of the adoption system in New South Wales.
Unfortunately in Canada, while the public is aware of historical human rights abuses such as the mistreatment of Japanese-Canadians in internment camps during World War Two, the abuse of indigenous children in residential schools and the neglect of the Duplessis Orphans, to name but a few, it’s unclear how many are aware of the abuse of women sent away to maternity homes or the systemic abuse unwed women suffered when they gave birth in Canadian hospitals.
Ireland had its Magdalene laundries. Postwar Canada had plenty of similar institutions that treated pregnant girls and women as inmates. Girls and women expected to hide away from society as they disappeared for a time. Far from home, those whose families couldn’t afford the cost of the stay were expected to earn their room and board by doing chores and caring for children in the nursery until their own babies were born or adopted. Their movements and contact with the outside world were monitored and controlled by the home’s staff. They had no say in keeping their babies. Relinquishing them was a fait accompli. Because they were unmarried, were low income and unsupported by their families and the fathers of their unborn children, they lost their babies. Many were drugged during childbirth and there are accounts from women who say they were not even allowed to see or hold their babies after giving birth, The homes, which include Salvation Army Homes and homes run by religious organizations, made money selling babies to wealthy adopters. The women were viewed as having committed a sin or made a mistake and told that by giving up their babies they would get a new lease on life. They were never to speak of their babies again.
This “experiment” clearly did not work because decades later, women are speaking out about lifelong trauma and loss. Today’s hearing presentations are being streamed live on the Senate’s parliamentary channel, ParlVU, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
If you miss the hearings, Ann Fessler’s powerful book, The Girls Who Went Away, shows what women in the United States endured at homes for unwed mothers. Sadly, the accounts in Fessler’s book are eerily similar and heartbreaking to the life histories of women here.
CBC’s The Current just aired Alison Motluk’s incredible but disturbing radio documentary about a Jessica Allen, woman who thought she was carrying twins as a surrogate mother and then discovered that one of the “twins” was actually her own child.
Allen only discovered one of the babies was hers after giving birth by cesarean section and not right away either, because she wasn’t allowed to see the babies after their birth. One of the twins looked different and the couple who hired her to carry their baby was from China and the Chinese government insisted on a DNA test before allowing the twins into China. It was then that the discovery was made that one of the male twins was the genetic child of Allen and her husband. Allen’s husband is black and Allen is white so the differences between their son and the Chinese couple’s son were pretty obvious.
You’d think the ethical thing to do would be to return the baby boy to his parents but no, the surrogacy agency insisted the parents pay them back for extra money Allen received for carrying twins, for a clothing allowance, for medical expenses related to her son, for the cost of child care, formula, a birth certificate, circumcision, the list goes on, before they would return her child. No money, no child.
But Allen and her husband Wardell Jasper were told that if they signed adoption papers, they wouldn’t have to pay the agency back for these costs because the agency had parents waiting to adopt their child!
The couple had to hire a lawyer and fight to get their own child back, which they did two months later. Had they not been able to afford a lawyer, they would have lost their child. Allen had turned to surrogacy to make money but also to help others. But nobody cared about her when her own child became part of the mix. She was legally contracted to only carry the child of a stranger and she says she followed every instruction given to her by the surrogacy agency.
A lack of money is probably, if you research it, the most common reason children end up for adoption. The general public thinks adoption is all about a girl or woman being in a position of power and freely choosing to relinquish a child, making a carefully-considered, informed decision. Look into the stories of people who relinquish children and you’ll find that they’re usually in some sort of distress.
In this instance, with the lines presumably being so clear (an accidental, unexpected pregnancy accompanying a surrogacy), it’s hard to believe that someone would even try to take the naturally-conceived baby of a woman doing another woman a favour and risking her own health by carrying a stranger’s child but at the end of the day baby brokering has nothing to do with ethics or morality. The baby becomes a commodity, the product of a legal transaction. Nothing else.
Allen and Jasper continue to fight for legal recognition that they are their own child’s parents because when their baby was born, it was assumed he was the child of the parents who contracted Allen to bear their child and those other parents are listed on the birth certificate as the legal parents.
You’ll find the CBC story about Jessica Allen’s nightmare experience and Motluk’s powerful radio documentary here. Do check it out!
For years Montreal’s Irish community has fought for a better memorial for the estimated 6,000 or more Irish immigrants who died of a typhus epidemic in 1847 and 1848 not long after arriving in the city.
In 1847 American port towns fearing an influx of Roman Catholic Irish either imposed heavy restrictions on ships or closed their ports to the Irish. Many Irish landed at the government quarantine station at Grosse Île (Grosse Isle), outside Quebec City, where they were examined. Doctors used tongue depressors to check the tongues of passengers and apparently would use the same tongue depressor for many passengers and so passed on the disease. The “seemingly well” were eventually cleared to continue their journey to Montreal.
But upon their arrival, many of the new Irish contracted typhus (not to be confused with typhoid fever) and became ill. Though the Grey Nuns, Montreal’s mayor John Easton Mills and many others cared for them at the fever sheds erected at Windmill Point in a part of Montreal known as Goose Village, between 1847 and 1848 an estimated 6,000 Irish men, women and children succumbed to typhus in Montreal. Mills died at home of the disease as did many Grey Nuns, clergy, soldiers and citizens who came into contact with it while tending to the sick. The disease was so contagious the triaging of the dying from the sick and the healthy didn’t work and as the disease spread people were hastily buried in mass graves and eventually forgotten.
Many of the workers who built the Victoria Bridge were Irish and it was they who discovered the mass graves. Moved by the story of the deaths of so many of their people, in 1859 they hauled a 10-foot granite boulder to the site to act as a grave marker monument.
The Irish community has honoured these dead ever since, holding a mass at St. Gabriel’s followed by a Walk to the Stone on the last Sunday in May.
In the 1960s Goose Village including the fever sheds was demolished as Montreal prepared for Expo ’67. The very site where the sheds were located became the Autostade and later served as a parking lot for the Montreal casino.
Today the giant Black Stone or Black Rock on Bridge Street (also called the Irish Commemorative Stone or the Immigrants Stone at Pointe St. Charles) sits on a grassy median that separates two lanes of traffic on the Victoria Bridge. Over the years, the Irish community (which is made up of at least 23 organizations) has made many efforts to get the history of these Irish dead and the story of the fever sheds acknowledged. The monument was once surrounded by a beautiful iron fence adorned with shamrocks. At the edge of a parking lot facing the Black Stone, the community erected a plaque in Irish, English, and French to explain the monument’s significance. Today the black paint on the fence around that plaque is rusty and the glass (plexiglass?) covering the plaque is damaged.
In recent years a group called the Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation has campaigned to have a commemorative park and pavilion replace the abandoned parking lot and to move the Black Stone to a beautiful new park where people could easily visit it instead of risking their lives crossing traffic. A Celtic cross would replace the Black Stone on the median. At this new and badly needed green space, the goal would be not only to honour the 6,000 Irish immigrants but also the French-speaking Quebec families who took in nearly 1,000 children who became orphaned and also pay homage to all those who contracted typhus and died after helping the Irish. The site’s history as a hunting and meeting place for indigenous peoples before the arrival of Europeans would be mentioned, as well as its location near Griffintown and on the site of Goose Village, which was destroyed for Expo 67. The plans too included a sports field for Irish sports such as hurling, “a museum, theatre, meeting place for various organizations, etc.”
But in spite of promises from politicians and efforts by the members of the Irish community to buy the land to create a commemorative park and pavilion, the community recently found out Canada Lands Corporation Company (I think of it as a corporation), a federal government Crown corporation and owner of the land containing the parking lot, sold it to Hydro-Québec. It’s apparently now designated as the site of a substation for the electric train project, the light rail project everyone is talking about. Hydro-Québec has apparently shown goodwill and reached out to the Irish community but it’s unclear how a hydro substation can co-exist with a memorial to Irish typhus victims and history.
You’d think with the Irish shamrock on Montreal’s flag and all the fanfare about Canada’s 150th anniversary and Montreal’s 375th, there would be more respect for the Irish community. Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre is on record as supporting plans for an Irish memorial park but it’s getting harder to believe he’s going to keep his promises to the community. With a Hydro-Québec substation in the mix, it’s hard to tell how this is possible. My son Patrick Quinn is working in Winnipeg this summer but is so upset about this latest development he’s spent lunch hours calling politicians from all levels of government and urging them to get involved and attend tomorrow’s walk.
This week a group of people gathered at St. Gabriel’s Church in Point St. Charles and spent two evenings working on 6,000 tiny wooden crosses they plan to bring to the 153rd annual Walk to the Stone tomorrow (Sunday, May 28, 2017). Addendum: May 28, 2017:Last year organizers said they were holding the 152nd Walk to the Stone but today’s walk was called the 152nd and it was mentioned that the Ancient Order of Hibernians has organized it for 150 years but sources differ on the exact date it started.
Several Canadian cities with similar horrible stories about Irish emigrants who died of typhus have worked with the Irish community to acknowledge this history and the important contributions the Irish have made to their cities. Along with Parks Canada’s Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site, there are memorials in Toronto, Kingston and Quebec City, which has a giant Celtic cross acknowledging the famine Irish.
But Montreal? You could say Montreal doesn’t always seem to care about its past. With the demolition of Goose Village and St. Ann’s Church and the ruin of Griffintown among other affronts, the Irish here certainly have grievances.
I wonder if Montreal will finally listen to its Irish community. Or will politicians pay the price for ruining this long-anticipated project? I don’t think any politician can afford to offend the Irish.
In 1996 I wrote a news story about the Black Stone for the Montreal Gazette. It’s hard to believe so little has changed.
I remember being eight years old and excitedly entering one of my stories in a writing contest for OWL, my favourite magazine at the time.
While my story didn’t get published, I received a really nice handwritten postcard in the mail, encouraging me to keep writing.
I write because I feel compelled to write. It’s almost as though I didn’t choose to be a writer. Writing chose me.
I don’t see myself as a literary writer. In high school I did very well in a Grade 10 English literature class, finishing in the 93rd percentile, But in Grade 11, I didn’t get great marks on short story assignments and I wasn’t my teacher’s favourite student. I didn’t impress her. My stories weren’t considered as interesting as those of my classmates.’ At graduation she gave me an award for being “most improved in English” or something like that. She said she issued that award to help me because I was planning to be a writer but I felt pitied and I doubted my writing abilities.
I had originally planned to become an environmentalist. But I was terrible at math and didn’t do well in science classes. I figured since I failed Grade 11 math and I didn’t understand it at all, my chances of ever realizing that dream were low.
So writing seemed realistic. I figured journalism would work since I didn’t need to be literary, I could just present the facts and I could play with words without worry and be creative in a way that suited me. After reading about freelance writing I decided that when I had children I could work from home and have more chances to spend time with them. I had no idea what that would actually be like but when I was 16 that sounded great.
Over the years I’ve had a few editors (five out of 20, something like that) who’ve hated my writing style. I’ve been told I lack a voice and personality and that I should join a writing group.
I’m not sure what to make of such criticism. I’m not a ‘hey look at me’ kind of person. Because of my news journalism background and leanings I’m not always comfortable putting myself in the articles I write. I was taught that stories weren’t about me but about the people I was covering or profiling.
I write because I enjoy sharing people’s stories, exposing injustice, informing people. I write because writing helps me get my thoughts and daydreams out of my head.
My 21-year-old nephew is ill, his kidneys failing. We’ve known for years this would happen eventually. Alport Syndrome, the kidney disease in our family, is relatively rare. But it progressively damages the tiny blood vessels in the glomeruli of the kidneys (the kidney’s filtering system in the basement membrane of the kidney) to the point that eventually they can no longer filter wastes and extra fluid from the body. It’s caused by a mutation in a gene for a protein in the connective tissue, called collagen that progressively affects the kidneys and may affect the eyes and ears. In my family, we don’t know of anyone whose hearing was directly affected by Alport Syndrome and while a number of us wear glasses, it’s unclear whether this is because of Alport’s.
My nephew’s situation hits close to home because my 19-year-old son has the same disease. Besides worrying about my nephew, his situation has me thinking that we could be in the same position in only a few years.
When our sons were born, neither my sister nor I knew we were “carriers” for Alport Syndrome, which in our family is the “X-linked” transmission type, passed down by mothers to sons. We discovered our connection to Alport’s when my nephew was three years old. He’d contracted an illness and doctors were checking his urine to see if the infection had cleared. They noticed hematuria, microscopic amounts of blood in his urine. A doctor asked, is there kidney disease in the family?
Of course there was. It wasn’t in my mother’s immediate family but two of my great aunt’s three sons died of the disease. Other relatives had it. We didn’t know much about it but what we’d heard was scary.
My sister and mother had their urine checked for hematuria. I was urged to do the same. It was shocking for my mother to discover her daughters are carriers. She feels terrible about it.
Over the years I’ve felt sad that I brought two sons into this world with this disease, not because of their existence but because chronic kidney disease is no fun. Yet I don’t think I should feel guilty about being a carrier or not knowing that one of my X chromosomes had a “defect.”
I hate the disease and what it does to the affected male members of our family but I don’t hate my genes if that makes any sense. The disease is just one small part of my DNA and my family’s DNA and it doesn’t define who we are.
The men in our family affected by Alport’s who died in their 40s didn’t have access to the incredible medical care available today. As I understand it, my relatives received kidneys from cadaver donors. I don’t know what kind of screening was done to make sure the transplanted kidneys were a match for their bodies but as I understand it, they underwent more than one kidney transplant throughout their lives. Undergoing dialysis, experiencing their bodies rejecting transplanted organs, taking powerful medication and having many kidney transplants was hard on their bodies.
Today a young person experiencing kidney failure may receive a kidney from a living donor. Doctors do blood tests to see if a donor’s blood type is compatible with the recipient’s and if it is, further blood tests (tissue typing and cross-matching) are done to ensure a match. A living donation means better donor organ survival rates, there’s less waiting and the recipient may even avoid dialysis.
Until now it’s been a waiting game for my son and nephew. We knew they had the disease but their kidneys were healthy enough. Besides visiting nephrologists and receiving prescriptions for blood pressure medication to take pressure off the kidneys, there’s been nothing to discuss.
Now my sister is caring for my nephew and it’s a crash course in hemoglobin, potassium, phosphate and creatinine levels. She knows all about the renal diet, different types of dialysis, the location of the MUHC’s three dialysis centres and which one to take my nephew to and when, that blood transfusions are a bad idea for a person who needs a kidney transplant, the list goes on.
I’m sorry I don’t have any relatives to talk to about this disease. I’m sure the cousins who died would have wanted to live a lot longer than they did. I only met them briefly but from what I remember they were intelligent, interesting folks, hard workers who made the most of their lives.
Right now a kidney transplant from a living donor is my nephew’s best bet. Thankfully his odds are excellent. A number of people have offered to donate a kidney and when his body is stronger and a match is found, he’ll receive a transplant.
My sons and nephew are blessed with amazing medical care and there are all sorts of potential cures on the horizon for Alport Syndrome and other kidney diseases.
I don’t know what else to do but learn more about Alport Syndrome, talk to people living with it or whose loved ones have it and prepare for when my son’s kidneys fail. I’ll raise funds and give to groups such as the Kidney Foundation of Canada, whose staff and volunteers have already helped me tremendously with information and support, and the Alport Syndrome Foundation, an incredible organization that not only helps people living with this devastating disease realize they’re not alone, it advocates for people and funds research to find a cure to end Alport Syndrome forever.