Year-ender in which a humble scribe admits mistakes

Scientist and evangelical Katharine Hayhoe talks effecrively to fellow Christians about climate change
Katharine Hayhoe, scientist and evangelical. Photo courtesy of Katharine

Jeffrey Simpson, the excellent but now retired columnist for The Globe and Mail would write at year’s end about what he got right — and where he had been wrong. I intend to try something similar with this blog posting. Continue reading Year-ender in which a humble scribe admits mistakes

Federal Court rules on Edgar Schmidt’s whistleblower case

Former Justice Department lawyer and whistleblower Edgar Schmidt
Edgar Schmidt, former Justice Department lawyer and whistleblower. Dennis Gruending photo.

The Federal Court of Canada will provide a ruling on Wednesday March 2 regarding the case of Edgar Schmidt, a former Justice Department lawyer who took his employer to court for failing to do it duty. I have posted several pieces on Schmidt’s case and am providing this edited version as a backgrounder to the court’s ruling. Continue reading Federal Court rules on Edgar Schmidt’s whistleblower case

Ernie Regehr, peace cannot be won on the battlefield

Peace researcher Ernie Regher has a new book, Disarming Conflict
Peace researcher Ernie Regher has a new book, Disarming Conflict

Ernie Regehr has been studying war and promoting peace since the 1960s. A tireless researcher, he has just produced another book called Disarming Conflict: Why Peace Cannot Be Won on the Battlefield. It would make good reading for new ministers as Canada’s recently-elected government contemplates changes to our defence and foreign policy. Continue reading Ernie Regehr, peace cannot be won on the battlefield

Justin Trudeau’s ‘sunny ways’ and the challenges ahead

Justin Trudeau’s “sunny ways”. Photo by Wikimedia Commons, Alex Guibord
Justin Trudeau’s “sunny ways”. Photo by Wikimedia Commons, Alex Guibord

As Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau stood before an election night crowd in Montreal on October 19, he quoted former Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier, saying: “Sunny ways my friends, sunny ways.”  Referring to his Liberal party’s convincing upset victory in capturing 184 seats, well beyond the 99 for the Conservatives and 44 for the NDP, Trudeau said, “This is what positive politics can do.” Continue reading Justin Trudeau’s ‘sunny ways’ and the challenges ahead

Boycotting the NHL and hockey violence

Hockey in happier days
Hockey in happier days

The truncated NHL season has, mercifully, come to an end. Late in June, the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Boston Bruins to win the Stanley Cup. This year they did it without me in the television audience. I grew up playing hockey on frozen outdoor rinks in the prairies. I dreamed, like many other boys, of one day making it to the NHL and actually played a lot of hockey until I was about 25 years old. But I can no longer stomach an NHL business model that demands gratuitous violence from so many of its practitioners and boasts legions of media commentators who justify and celebrate it. That violence ruins the health and lives of many NHL players, but also seeps down to affect the legions of young people who play hockey but will never achieve their dreams of playing professionally.

Broken nose and concussion

I was planning to catch the Ottawa Senators-Montreal Canadiens series in the first round of the playoffs this year but was unable to watch game one. In that contest, Senators’ defenceman Eric Gryba, who weighs 222 pounds, made a brutal hit on Canadiens’ forward Lars Eller, which left him crumpled on the ice with blood spurting from his broken nose. Upon examination, it became clear that Eller also had a concussion. Gryba was suspended for two games. I watched the video replays on the news and decided that I would boycott the NHL, permanently. I have found it an easy thing to do.

Three deaths

At the extreme end of the spectrum were the deaths in 2011 of NHL enforcers: Rick Rypien, Wade Belak, and Derek Boogaard. Belak, 35, recently retired from hockey, took his life, as did Rypien at age 27.

Boogaard, 28, was found dead in his Minneapolis apartment in May. According to the coroner, his death was considered to be the result of an accidental drug overdose. All three were enforcers whose main role on their teams was to fight. In fact, all NHL teams have players whose job it is to fight. One might be forgiven for believing that they are soldiers and that hockey is war.

The NHL, of course, promised to look closely into this rash of deaths but hockey commentators hastened to warn against drawing any links between the brutal occupations of these young men and the manner of their demise. Yet, just such potential links have been surfacing.

Degenerative brain disease

Notably, Boston neurosurgeon Robert Cantu and his colleagues are studying the brains of athletes who have died. They have, for example, examined the brains of Reggie Fleming, a fighter in the 1960s, and Bob Probert, a retired enforcer who died in July 2010 of a heart attack. The CBC has reported that Cantu found both Fleming and Probert had something called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). That’s a degenerative brain disease caused by blunt impact to the head. It is a condition common among boxers but is also known to occur among hockey and football players. Dr. Cantu says that addiction, depression and anxiety may all arise from CTE.

Stars forced out

Not everyone in hockey is groomed as a fighter but violence is also taking its toll on many finesse players, the scorers and playmakers. Within the past few years, high-scoring stars Eric Lindros, Keith Primeau and Pat Lafontaine have all had to retire because of concussions. In 2011, the league’s premier player Sydney Crosby missed most of the season due to concussions and there were fears that his career might be over. He has returned.

Assault charges

The fights and big hits also occur in the NHL feeder leagues, including junior hockey, and pervade leagues featuring even younger players. In January 2013, a 17-year-old player in Woodstock, Ontario beat another player after a goalmouth scramble, throwing about 10 punches. The second player did not fight back and was later discovered to have a concussion. It was only after parents of the victim complained publicly and provided a video of the event that police laid a charge (on June 26) of assault causing bodily harm. A lawyer interviewed on CBC TV said that hockey matters such as these should be left at the rink and not be taken into the courts. Sorry, but no. Why should assault on the ice be any different than assault on the street?

Giving up on the NHL

There is no shortage of apologists who argue that fighting and heavy hitting are a sacred part of hockey. Don Cherry and even the more urbane Ron MacLean come to mind, not to mention an array of other talk jocks on radio and television. Sooner or later, however, emerging science and public opinion will force the league to emerge from its Neanderthal fog. In the meantime, I have given up on the NHL and that has posed no problem at all.


Development and Peace knee-capped by Catholic bishops

Archbishop Richard Smith, CCCB President

The Catholic aid agency Development and Peace (D and P) is in turmoil after the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) pressured the organization in  September to scuttle an educational post card campaign just as the material was about to be distributed. The postcard, which was to be sent to the Prime Minister, asked that he have a parliamentary committee undertake a national consultation on the future of Canadian development assistance. This is hardly the stuff of revolt but the CCCB said that the campaign was too political and would cause division in the church and among bishops. So the CCCB president Archbishop Richard Smith asked that the project be withdrawn and D and P’s national council decided to follow the advice.

It would appear that the CCCB’s decision that the fall campaign should be shut down may have been made without the knowledge of bishops who sit on the CCCB’s standing committee on Development and Peace. The Catholic Register newspaper quoted two of those bishops saying that they had not been contacted directly about the ultimatum to Development and Peace.

Bitter reaction

That decision has resulted in D and P staff resignations, criticism of the organization’s management team and elected National Council, and accusations from D and P supporters who accuse the CCCB of becoming too cozy with the Conservative government. Continue reading Development and Peace knee-capped by Catholic bishops

Viterra kills Sask Wheat Pool legacy

Saskatchewan Wheat Pool elevator (

Farmers fought long and hard to create the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool in 1924, but 88 years later the company, now known as Viterra, is being sold to a Swiss-based multinational called Glencore for $6.1 billion. This is a sad story, a kind of morality tale about the gradual destruction of self-help, local initiative, community control and co-operation. With a few exceptions, there has been virtually no critical media analysis of this event that looks at it from the bottom up. So, as someone who grew up in a small prairie village where the Wheat Pool elevator and the local Pool committee were fixtures, let me offer some observations. I’ll begin with an anecdote. Continue reading Viterra kills Sask Wheat Pool legacy

Pulpit and Politics on CBC Radio

Michael Enright, The Sunday Edition

I was interviewed about my book Pulpit and Politics by two CBC Radio hosts in early January 2012. Michael Enright, host of CBC Radio’s The Sunday  Edition talked with former MP Bill Blaikie and me on New Year’s Day. Then on January 7, Wojtek Gwiazda, host of the Radio Canada International’s Masala Canada, interviewed me on a program that is heard in many countries.