Mandi Gray, Mustafa Ururyar and the Tyranny of the Weak

Scrolling through the entirety of the judgement, in the Mandi Gray rape trial, is depressing. That’s because what we see is not a Jamesian Portrait of a Lady—an Isabel Archer who learns hard lessons about love—but a troubled woman playing the role of villain, like that of Isabel’s husband, a manipulator who uses deceit to control others.

Mustafa Ururyar
Mustafa Ururyar

Citing James in this context is apt: he was a novelist who specialized in the tyranny of the weak, a theme that if one looks closely enough, links the various Toronto trials. I refer here to the trials of Gregory Alan Elliott, Jian Ghomeshi and Mustafa Ururyar. All three were accused of committing sexist crimes against women. Both Elliott and Ghomeshi won their cases; the case against Ururyar, who is accused of raping Gray, is on appeal.

From a distance, it seems there is a cadre of young Toronto feminists who, like a proverbial tail, are trying to wag the dog, the dog in this case being women in the ROC, or the rest of the country. This is an elite squad who are out to heighten our perception of male wrongdoing and are using a succession of legal challenges to do so. That they are failing is good news; it points to the truth that Canadians are eminently fair, sensible and disinclined to rule out provocation.

And it’s the provocation aspect of the Gray case that I’d like to examine.

The sheer amount of verbiage Judge Zuker included in his judgement has created a subtext clearly at odds with his decision. In it, Gray’s tale is fulsome, so much so that she betrays her true intention with Ururyar that night—to elicit affection from him–and spends much of her testimony behaving as though she is on a therapist’s couch and not in a courtroom. Her story is heavy on feeling (“He had destroyed any self-esteem I had”) and light on fact (“I don’t remember taking off my pants”). Moreover, her professed intoxication often pops up when her version of events is challenged. In the end, the judgement reads like an exhausting conversation with someone in denial, the kind where saying, “He’s just not into you,” seems the painful but necessary solution.

Read Judge Zuker’s judgement here.

Ururyar’s frustration with Gray’s behaviour is also evident. His version of events is that by the night of the alleged rape, he and Gray had been involved in a brief, casual affair: Gray had accepted the fact that Ururyar was in an open relationship and she was present, at the end of that night of drinking, when he invited yet another woman to come home with him. When the woman refused and hopped into a cab, Gray says Ururyar became abusive. She went home with him regardless, stating that she had little choice, given that the transit service had stopped and taking a cab was out of the question for two reasons: she had spent all her money and she felt too “vulnerable.”

In response, Ururyar says that earlier in the evening Gray had been inappropriately sexual with him in public–he’d asked her, twice, to stop massaging his inner thigh. Interestingly, Ururyar’s request was confirmed by Gray. However, her argument is that it came out of the blue and was apropos of nothing she’d said or done. She couldn’t remember massaging him, for example, and asserts she had no plans to have sex with him that evening. This contradicts a text she’d sent him earlier, one inviting him out and mentioning “hot sex” afterwards.

Perhaps it’s my literary background, but as I read through the judgement, a clear theme emerged: Ururyar’s anger towards Gray is comprehensible and knowable, even if the actual events of the evening are not.

I feel sympathy for him because I too had a casual partner while in university, one who was good at manipulating events in his favour. Our relationship started unravelling one night after I returned from an evening out with friends. He called and asked to come over. Given the lateness of the hour, I said no, but a half hour later he showed up anyway. When I told him to leave, he pleaded and started cuddling with me in the foyer of the house I shared with other students.

Although I was insistent, it soon became clear a prolonged discussion was in the offing—one that might wake up my roommates—and so I relented, a choice I felt manipulated into making. Of course his persistence continued in my bedroom. The next morning, a Sunday, I shooed him out early, lying by telling him I was spending the day with my parents. After all but pushing him out the front door, I went back to bed fuming.

In this climate of hypersensitivity, many people would consider this rape. It wasn’t, but I did experience it as an annoying and off-putting level of persistence. However, my response wasn’t about having unwanted sex–that was a detail–I was angry over the man’s controlling behaviour. It made me realize two things: that I didn’t really care for him and that he often contrived to get his way, this despite an outwardly breezy temperament. That memory surfaced as I was reading, probably because I recognized what Ururyar’s reticence toward Gray actually meant, her jungle of rationalizing language notwithstanding.

So here’s my argument: if feminists can understand my anger at Mr. Persistent, they should understand Ururyar’s anger at Gray too. That’s because Gray acted in a way that led her, inexorably, to Ururyar’s bedroom that night. She invited him to meet her, mentioned sex and asked to sleep over. During the evening, she was inappropriately sexual with him twice and agreed to share a bed with him even after his apparent interest in another woman was made clear. She was also free to leave the bar at any time and she’d had, at one point, enough money for a taxi. When asked about her “vulnerability” with regard to using one, an undisclosed story about an incident Gray had had with a taxi was offered as an explanation. However, since many women consider taxis a final line of defence for dates that go badly, I do wonder what happened and why Gray felt she couldn’t call one. I ask because her reluctance fits in with a pattern of recurring rationalizations, rationalizations that rule out the possibility of another, safer course of events happening that night.

Let’s turn the tables. You are a young woman deeply involved in your university’s student union. You’ve had a couple of intimate nights with a man for whom you do not have strong feelings. Even though you’ve made your intentions clear, he sends you a sexy text, inviting you to meet at a bar where several other union people are drinking. You go, thinking that since others are there, you won’t be in for an intimate evening with your erstwhile lover.

Then he tries some surreptitious fondling and you ask him to stop. He tries again and again you ask him to stop. At the end of the night you leave with the group, including him and a new man you are more interested in. You ask the new man back for a drink. He senses an atmosphere and says no. After he leaves, your lover wants to talk about what’s going on. You don’t because you’re nettled over the other man’s rejection. Your lover insists on coming home with you anyway, even though your mood is stormy. (“But I don’t have cab fare and the buses have stopped running!”) It’s no surprise when things go badly in the bedroom, but you’re relieved the pretense is over and you’re off the hook when it comes to seeing him again.

There’s no doubt that this erstwhile lover, were Gray to describe him to her friends, would be labelled a creep who doesn’t understand the word no. It’s a perception endemic to the kind of feminism touted by many academic women and yet it’s never held up to the mirror. That women are equally capable of harassing men in the same manner simply doesn’t figure into this world view; that men can feel equally and deeply provoked by it doesn’t either.

Judge Zuker’s judgement has come under fire, even from other judges. That’s because in an ill-advised show of partisanship, he included many references to controversial feminist theories, theories that many of his colleagues at OISE, where he teaches part-time, embrace fully and disseminate freely. But if there’s one reality feminist theorists often avoid, it’s that today, women in the western world are free to choose most things. Gray was free to leave a bad situation at any time, unlike previous generations of women, and James’ heroines, who, when they made bad choices and bad marriages, were forced to stay and suffer.

When Ururyar’s lawyer asked Gray why she didn’t walk away, especially once Ururyar became abusive, she replied that she would be asking herself that question for the rest of her life. It’s a non-answer in terms of her testimony, but a good start in terms of her mental health. In fact it’s the kind of questioning we should all do on occasion, if only to remind ourselves how unpleasant disrespecting ourselves can be.

Support Ann Brocklehurst’s Project on Kickstarter

The verdict was guilty, but now high powered lawyer Marie Henein is fighting to have it overturned.

When I wrote On Trial for Rape last year, I took readers inside the courtroom to see what a regular, non-headline-making sexual assault trial looks like. Now, I want to take you back to court for another very different trial, which raises still more questions about how our legal system deals with sexual assault. This is a very hot topic nowadays, and I want to give you facts and reporting so that you can be the judge.


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Why Does the CBC Hate my Mom?

My mom with official visiting dog, Cassidy. Photo courtesy of Cassidy's mistress.
My mom with official visiting dog, Cassidy. Photo courtesy of Cassidy’s mistress, Diane.

I rarely comment on how other families deal with aging parents in nursing homes. I know, from personal experience, even good visits to these places can have grim moments.

So it’s with some misgiving that I’m criticizing Katherine Hammond, the daughter of Margot Bentley, the 83 year-old former nurse currently living in a facility run by Fraser Health in B.C. Hammond petitioned the courts to allow Bentley, who suffers from dementia, to be released into her care or into the care of a facility willing to stop feeding her.

The term ‘forced feeding’ has been used to describe how Bentley is currently fed—she is prompted with food on a spoon—and according to at least one newspaper, Hammond feels that “someone in the care home with religious or moral objections” reported her to the Fraser Health authorities. Her plan was to stop feeding her mother in order to hasten her death.

Given McCue’s status as a minority (McCue is aboriginal), it’s unlikely he will be censured or even questioned about the convenience of his choices. However, in the patchwork quilt that is the CBC’s fierce support of identity politics, where do vulnerable women like my mother stand? She was, once upon a time, a devastated post-war immigrant too, so why is her plight, and the plight of so many others like her, of no interest to the CBC? Whose Canadian experience are they really trying to reflect?
Given McCue’s minority status, it’s unlikely he will be censured or even questioned about the convenience of loading his documentary series, Last Right, with experts who also happen to be friends and acquaintances. However, in the Swiss cheese that is the CBC’s fierce support of identity politics, where do vulnerable women like my mother stand? She was, once upon a time, a devastated post-war immigrant, so why is her safety, and the safety of so many others like her, of no interest to the CBC?

When it comes to assisted suicide (or what in Bentley’s case would be euthanasia), frequent references to religious opposition are something of a red herring: one does not need to be religious or moralistic to understand why Fraser Health refused Hammond and got the police involved. Bentley’s condition may be heartbreaking, but her advance directive only stipulated that “no heroic steps” be taken to prolong her life and that she wanted “no nourishment.”

Given the vagueness of these requests, and the fact that advance directives have been more specific for quite some time, the fault lies with Bentley and her family. After her diagnosis, why did no one in her family ensure she saw a capable legal expert? One who could have, at the very least, given her legal advice based on the differences between terminal and chronic illnesses?

The family’s unpreparedness is puzzling. Both Bentley and Hammond are nurses so it’s hard to believe they didn’t know better.

However, in response to the court’s refusal, Hammond has resorted to allowing images of her ailing mother to be posted online, a move not necessary to her fight. These are intended to evoke pathos, but also antipathy, the underlying message being, “Look at the pathetic thing my mother has become.”

The photos have been effective. Here is a brief selection of comments Bentley’s photographs have elicited.

From Andre Picard of the Globe and Mail:

Margot Bentley was a long-time nurse, working mostly with patients with dementia. She was determined not to die a slow, lonely, frightful death like so many of her patients.

Bentley may be dying slowly, but feeling lonely and afraid may not even be possible for her given her late stage dementia. But if she can feel those things, surely it’s a problem her family can remedy by visiting her more often?

… a care worker puts a spoonful of puréed food to her lips and she eventually opens her mouth and the food is pushed in; then she swallows, often with difficulty.

Did Picard actually witness this? Or is he just believing what Hammond claims, making this another case of #believeallsurvivors? More importantly, did he, or Karin Wells of the CBC, look into Hammond’s background? Were they able to rule out financial motives on her part?

From the CBC:

The unresolved question–would a son or a daughter– any legally appointed Representative under a modern Representation Agreement be permitted to refuse food or water on a patient’s behalf? 

I'm repelled by the cold-bloodedness it must have taken for Katherine Hammond to have agreed to publish to photograph publicly. The provincial government and Fraser Health should be questioning the violation of Margot Bentley's privacy rights.
I’m repelled by the cold-bloodedness it must have taken Katherine Hammond to publish this photograph on the Internet. Is it empathy or antipathy she’s trying to evoke? The provincial government and Fraser Health should be questioning the violation of Margot Bentley’s privacy rights.

No. It’s clear from the outcome of the trial that this issue has been resolved. The law states that an adult may in an advance directive “give or refuse consent to any health care described in the advance directive.” However, caregivers cannot “do anything that is prohibited by law” or “omit to do anything that is required by law.”

Any ambiguity perceived by the CBC is as imaginary as the purported objectivity of their four part series, Last Right. According to a source within the CBC, producer Duncan McCue stacked the deck by lining up friends (and friends of friends) to be his experts. Although McCue was more activist than journalist in the series, some attempt at disclosure should have been made.

From Sarah Chapple, a blogger at comes a surprisingly even-handed, distinctly un-Rabble-like observation:

A lesser-known piece of this situation is that a second, less clear advance directive was found after Margot was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. This second document stated she would “accept basic care” but no “artificial means.” This has been interpreted to mean that Margot would not want to be fed with a tube feed, but leaves the situation of receiving nourishment by spoon relatively unclear.

Of the many articles written about Bentley, Chapple’s is the only one that addresses the second advance directive. Her perspective is important because she has isolated the precise point of ambiguity in Bentley’s choice of words. This is where Bentley states she would accept “basic care,” a clear concession to being spoon-fed.

What’s been most perplexing about the media support assisted suicide has received in Canada is the hysteria with which it has been ushered in. If its trending on social media is any indication, I’m not sure that thoughtful conversations about it have ever taken place, this despite the frantic assertions of the pro side. What has happened instead is a bombardment of positive messages about the procedure, a bombardment that has silenced (or shamed into silence) much of the opposition. Bringing up anecdote after anecdote about sick and dying people has made the usual give and take of debate virtually impossible.

When it comes to Hammond, I’m repelled by her decision to use her mother’s images. Were I to ask my own mother about having similar photos of herself posted, I’m not sure she’d be able to answer: she’d be too busy crying. However, apparently the CBC has no qualms about crossing into elder abuse territory. It’s a place they’re quite happy to go if it means maintaining ratings and driving more readers to their sites.



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The CBC’s Obsession with Euthanasia Porn

This is a #longread at 2,400 words. Included are images of the Board of Directors for the CBC. I’d like to know what they each think of institutional elder abuse. In using the photographs of Margot Bentley, above, is the CBC guilty of it?

These before and after shots of Margot Bentley are intended to be provocative. My issue with this is that Bentley clearly couldn't consent to the picture on the right, a picture that is clearly meant to evoke pathos. It's this manipulation that is making the lives of people like me--caregivers for sick and elderly parents--difficult. In this sense, the exploitation of Bentley's image is deeply disturbing.
These before and after shots of Margot Bentley are intended to be provocative. (Notice the spoon looks like a feeding tube.) Bentley couldn’t consent to the picture on the right, a picture that is clearly meant to evoke pathos. It’s this manipulation of facts and images that is making the lives of people like me–caregivers for sick and elderly parents–difficult. In this sense, the exploitation of Bentley’s image is deeply disturbing. Why did the CBC approve its use?

About three years ago, my mother started having trouble sleeping. She was 82 and had been living in a nursing home since 2010. In 2008, a stroke had left her paralyzed and a subsequent amputation meant she would never walk again.

Her problem was worry and her focus was money. She was constantly asking me about it. All my reassurances failed–it seemed nothing could quell her fears.

Because I had recently purchased property, I wanted to give her joint ownership in the event I predeceased her and my will went into a long process of probate. Although I knew her stroke had caused some brain damage, she was still lucid and observant. So I called a notary and asked him to come to the nursing home first and to draw up the papers later.

Hubert T. Lacroix: supports euthanasia and making caregivers lives difficult?
Hubert T. Lacroix: President and CEO of CBC/Radio Canada. Does he support euthanasia and making caregivers’ lives difficult?

The notary was a young man and he listened to both my mother and I, then asked her questions about where she was born, where she had lived and what property she had owned.

The questions were gentle, but I knew he was testing her mental capacity. She answered correctly if slowly, and because she comes from the old country, was shy about discussing money with a stranger. Nevertheless, he reassured her and we got through the interview. At the end of it, he asked me to stay behind as one of my mother’s companions wheeled her back to her room.

He got straight to the point. “What are you doing?” he asked. From there followed a barrage of rapid-fire questions, all of which were designed to elicit my intentions. It was clear he was taking a suspicious approach.

It took me by surprise. However, I soon realized he was acting on my mother’s behalf, making sure I wasn’t trying to pressure her in any way. So I relaxed, explained my rationale and, to prove I had my mother’s trust, showed him my power of attorney papers. He asked why I had bothered asking him to come; simply bequeathing her the property, he said, would have been just as effective.

Remi Racine; one of the CBC's board of directors. Has he taken care of an ailing parent?
Remi Racine, CEO and Executive Producer at Behaviour Interactive. Has he taken care of an ailing parent?

So I told him about the lengthy probate that had frozen my father’s assets and the panic it had caused my mother. I also told him about her background as a post-war immigrant and her financial worries, which were ingrained, habitual and generally unfounded. I described her current anxieties and her sleeplessness. Allowing her to take part in the discussion, I argued, even when it wasn’t necessary, gave her a voice in matters. I especially wanted someone official to tell her her finances were in order.

“And if something happens to me, I want her to know she’ll be looked after. People with children do this all the time, don’t they? Plan for a sudden, unexpected death?” He nodded and said he would waive the fee he usually charged for home visits.

I’m telling this story because I’m concerned that the CBC is delving into the world of euthanasia porn yet again and telling another horror story, this time of the-parent-who-just-won’t-die variety. There are shades of institutional elder abuse implicit in the CBC’s coverage, the kind that is so subtle it rarely gets put in the spotlight. This time the story is about Margot Bentley, the one-time nurse whose advanced dementia is apparently causing a legal furor, particularly over an advance directive she wrote in 1991.

Ted Boyd, on the Board of Directors of the CBC. Has he spent much time visiting nursing homes?
Ted Boyd, CEO of Sandbox Advertising. Has he spent much time visiting nursing homes?

It stated she wanted no food or water should she reach the stage where she could no longer recognize her family. According to the CBC, onlookers are horrified by Bentley’s loss of control over her life, fearful it could happen to them. It’s surprising since at least one problem with Bentley’s advance directive is obvious. Saying that she wished “not to be nourished” in any way meant Bentley was demanding that personal support workers (PSWs) starve her to death, an ethical quagmire so daunting, and a proposal so illegal, that even asking them to manage its refusal was onerous and unfair. If there are lessons to be learned here, it’s about Bentley and her daughter’s profound ignorance of end-of-life law, a bizarre state of affairs given that they are both nurses. 

But the CBC will not be critical of them. Instead they will be critical of a legal system that does not bow to personal wishes, however outlandish those wishes may be. And just to make this clear, Bentley’s wishes really were ill-conceived and poorly articulated. She may as well have said: “When I no longer recognize my family, please take me to the river and dump me in it.”

Sonja Chong, a member of the board of directors for the CBC. Would she have to place an ailing, elderly relative in a publicly funded nursing home?
Sonja Chong,  Partner, Income Taxation, Harris and Chong, LLP. Would she have to place an ailing, elderly relative in a publicly funded nursing home?

If I am cynical about the CBC, Karin Wells’ radio documentary and Katherine Hammond, Bentley’s daughter, it’s a cynicism borne of experience. My mother became disabled eight years ago, and since then I’ve spent time in and around hospitals and nursing homes. I’m a member of that fraternity of familial caregivers, the ones who almost to a man or woman end up taking care of an ailing parent single-handedly. We’re the tired-looking ones who, when we meet our fellow travellers, compare calamities and ask, “Are you an only child?” The most common answer is some version of “No, but I may as well be.”

It’s an admission that usually takes the conversation in the direction of other siblings, who, for one reason or another, are not involved in their parent’s care. However, it’s also triggered darker conversations about avaricious family members, the ones who start angling for inheritances before their benefactors actually die. These stories would be hard to believe if they weren’t so common: about three-quarters of the people I’ve spoken to have at least one relative who qualifies as mercenary, and at least two have parents they deliberately placed in nursing homes for their own safety. These sons and daughters weren’t worried about falls or strokes–they were worried about greedy relatives.*

I don’t know Katherine Hammond, but I do know that her mother has had dementia for 16 years and that according to the CBC, she still “lingers on.” (Cue the sad piano music.) As someone with experience, I am qualified to make some observations.

  1. The CBC emphasizes that Hammond is herself a nurse. While to outsiders this may suggest she has professional as well as familial authority, to those of us in the know, it actually raises more questions. Surely she knows her mother’s wishes were not stated clearly enough (“no feeding tubes” would have been better) and that Fraser Health owes its duty of care to her mother and no one else. Even with the recent changes in law regarding assisted suicide, Bentley’s directive was written in 1991, decades before the decision was made.
  2. Hammond states her mother is being fed against her will, while Fraser Health says Bentley voluntarily opens her mouth when prompted with food on a spoon. Hammond’s assertions, taken together, are contradictory: if her mother is unable to consent to being fed, how can she consent to having her images (especially before and after) used to further a political agenda? This is important because Canadian hospitals and nursing homes expressly forbid the taking of unauthorized photographs of patients as it violates their privacy. Fraser Health has been criticized for involving the police and refusing to release Bentley to Hammond’s care. In my opinion, this is the right decision: Hammond’s use of her mother’s images, clearly done without consent, casts significant doubt on her competence and her ethics.
  3. Marnie Larkin, a member of the Board of Directors at the CBC? Does she support the negative image of aging disseminated by the CBC? If so, why?
    Marnie Larkin, Owner and CEO of Boom, Done, Next. Does she support the image of ageing disseminated by the CBC?

    The support for Hammond reflects a larger, biased attitude toward the elderly in Canada. A huge frustration for myself and other familial caregivers is the condescension we experience at the hands of some healthcare workers. Let me state for the record that I’ve met plenty of great nurses and PSWs, but given dire staff shortages, individuals not entirely suited to eldercare can find a new job within an hour of being fired from an old one. In some regions, all they have to do is pass a phone interview. Their numbers are significant, meaning their poor attitudes can affect staff morale, even in good institutions.

  4. Here’s what I’ve experienced: I’ve been encouraged to lie to my mother so as not to upset her; I’ve been told my mother was “just sleeping”, when it was clear she’d been drugged; I’ve been in doctor’s offices where the doctor has directed his words at me and ignored my mother completely; I’ve walked into her room, only to find a nurse shouting at her as if she’s deaf, when her hearing is fine; I’ve been lied to myself and spoken to like a five-year-old who needs to have the ABC’s of eldercare spelled out, this despite the fact that I always state, upfront, that I took care of my mother at home for two years. For those of us who don’t want to lie to our parents and who strive to treat them with unconditional respect, these behaviours are demoralizing, especially given their constancy.
  5. Terrance Anthony Lieir
    Terrance Anthony Leier, Legal Counsel. What does he think of the CBC’s use of Margot Bentley’s image?

    Hammond is lucky to have found good staff at her mother’s nursing home. However, she has said: “When caregivers, well-meaning people, say ‘But we have to feed your mom.’ I say, ‘This isn’t about what you want  this is about what my mother wanted.'” The problem is that what her mother actually wanted in 1991 isn’t clear; if it were, her advance directive would have been written in a more legally binding way. If I were a judge, I would have to take into account Bentley’s work with dementia patients and her ability to find a lawyer who could have helped her state her wishes succinctly. Erring on the side of caution, I too would reject Hammond’s claims. 

  6. Patients like Bentley, who live for a long time after a poor diagnosis, can start running out of the resources to pay for institutional care. For example, my mother’s nursing home is a government sponsored one and costs her roughly $1,500 a month. Although she planned well and has the money to pay for it indefinitely, not all families are so fortunate. This raises the question, how many adult children are willing to forego their inheritances and sell their parents’ homes in order to pay for long term care?
  7. Even the most diligent caregivers are often pressured, by their siblings, to change a parent’s DNR status based on finances. For example, in Quebec there are four levels of intervention, one which would most definitely hasten death should a secondary health crisis, for an already compromised senior, occur. While I agree with everyone’s right to refuse life-extending treatment, I am less comfortable when saving a future inheritance is the goal. I’ve had conversations with other familial caregivers who have faced exactly that kind of pressure from their siblings. This raises the question: Did Karin Wells look into Hammond’s finances? Did she investigate the possibility that finances or inheritances might be factors in the public relations battle Hammond and other interested parties are waging? Or did she, as is the current vogue, #believeallsurvivors and dispense with the footwork required for a fair investigative documentary?
Marlie Oden
Marlie Oden, Bridge Communications. Does she agree with how the CBC is communicating images of ageing in Canada?

Since it does seem there is no such thing as bad publicity, I am loathe to give the CBC any more, even if it’s to complain about their obsession with euthanasia. However, there are dots that need to be connected here. As Garry Marr of the National Post wrote in 2013, “according to an HSBC Bank report released in September, 2013…39% of working people are banking on some type of inheritance with the median value expected to be $77,213.”

This is where the term “waiters” comes from. It describes those Canadians waiting for an inheritance and the largest population of them live in B.C., where the housing market has turned many middle-class Canadians into millionaires. Is it a coincidence that that is where support for assisted suicide is the strongest?**

Ms. McCaw is Chair of the CBC Pension Board of Trustees
Ms. McCaw is Chair of the CBC Pension Board of Trustees. What does she think about elder abuse, especially of the institutional variety?

No doubt I will be excoriated for suggesting Hammond may have financial motives, but the tell here is her choice to publish photos that, if her other statements are to be believed, her mother would not have wanted published.

Since 2008 I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of familial caregivers. There are those of us who could be accused of an over-seriousness, a tendency to see everything from our parents’ perspectives. We are also the reliable ones, the ones who show up regularly. On the other hand, there are those who talk about their mothers or fathers as if they were recalcitrant children, silly and capable of mischief, and, of course, not worth taking seriously.

Brian Mitchell
Brian Mitchell, Managing Partner, Mitchell Gattuso, Montreal. What’s his position on assisted suicide? Does he support the CBC’s initiatives to promote it?

It takes substance to build a life without becoming a waiter, or to trudge through the process of caregiving, staying fully committed to decency. Hammond says this is about her mother’s wishes, but I really don’t think so. I suspect it’s all about her.


  • * Although the PC Brigade won’t like this, many paid caregivers, especially those who come to Canada through the Live-in Caregiver Program, are surprisingly adept at creating their own golden handshakes. There is a robust industry in nuisance suits filed by foreign caregivers when their employment contracts terminate. False accusations of abuse–including labour, sexual and otherwise–can be settled for payouts of $10,000 or less. Counsellors and lawyers who volunteer at ethnic organizations coach these caregivers how to launch these suits in return for a share of the proceeds.
  • ** Depending on which poll you read, B.C. and Quebec take turns scoring highest on support for assisted suicide.
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Ghomeshi, Assange, and Self-Generated Drama

Lucy Decoutere told the Guardian, "After everything I've been through, Jian is free." Well, yes, lying in court might be why...
Lucy Decoutere told the Guardian, “After everything I’ve been through, Jian is free.” Well, yes, lying in court might be why.

A Montreal journalist started an I-can’t-believe-Ghomeshi-got-off thread on Facebook. It triggered a lengthy debate, one he kept punctuating with comments about how our legal system is biased against women when it comes to sexual assault. Although I disagreed with much of what he said, I suspect it was the father in him speaking: he argued passionately and his despair seemed very real.

There are many responses to this: that the legal system is equally unfair to male victims, that sexual assault isn’t the only crime that’s difficult to prove, that our desire for privacy, when balanced against the need for safety, can make convictions difficult to secure. Altering the way we prosecute is often what is called for in the aftermath of cases like Ghomeshi’s, but these cries for justice, coming from those unfamiliar with the law, obscure much simpler solutions.

There are temporal points at which sexual abuse or assault can be minimized or even halted, but what this requires is a willingness, on the part of those who are able, to be more proactive on their own behalf. Prevention of any sort is rarely on the feminist radar, however. It’s become tainted by its close association with victim-blaming, an association we would be wise to undo.

There is also the misconception that older women like myself have it out for younger women caught up in the fight for better legal protection. Several journalists, and Christie Blatchford in particular, have been incorrectly labelled anti-feminist. I think they are just anti-suffering, as I am, and are using their voices (and in Blatchford’s case, her wildly pithy observations) to illustrate that much of the drama around Jian Ghomeshi is needlessly self-generated.

A topless demonstrator outside the Toronto courthouse after the verdict was read.
A topless demonstrator outside the Toronto courthouse after the verdict was read.

An anecdote might be helpful here. I once shared an apartment with a woman who was a few years my junior. She and I were both single, but our dating patterns were very different. She seemed drawn to pain while I tended, for the most part, to avoid it. When men did things I didn’t like, I made use of that lovely 50s concept, mad money. My escapades in dating made for a lot of laughs among my friends, but my intent was serious. I was determined to be an active player in my own happiness.

So it was frustrating when my roommate started dating a man I’ll call Pierre. I looked on as she fell into a painful and prolonged bout of self-destructive behaviour.

Pierre travelled a lot. He had a job that took him to Asia for three months at a time. When he returned to Montreal, he was typically off for three months, but even so, he only made time for my roommate once every couple of weeks. A pattern emerged: she would see him in this intermittent way while he was in town, and once he left, she would spent the next few weeks slamming cupboard doors and treating me with contempt. After a couple of cycles, I figured out how to gauge her mood and braced myself accordingly. By the fourth or fifth cycle, I asked her to move out.

But not before I tried talking to her. I was gentle in the beginning, but by the time a couple of years had passed, and she went out of her way to spoil a dinner party I was hosting, I lost patience and confronted her. I made the connection between her behaviour and her relationship and dared her, none too kindly, to let Pierre’s phone calls go to voice-mail the next time he was in town, just to see if he would make any real effort to see her. I told her that continuing to see a man who wasn’t committed to her was a choice she was making, that she needed to take responsibility for it and stop taking her frustrations out on others.

Marie Henein. Click here to read the verdict handed down by Judge William B. Horkins
Marie Henein. Click here to read the verdict handed down by Judge William B. Horkins

The point of the anecdote is this: watching people choose suffering can be difficult. Putting up with their unhappiness is tough too. It gets even tougher when the solution to their problems is clear: that they need to leave a bad relationship. But just as drug addicts need their drugs, these women need the drama of what is going to happen next? They are usually not willing to listen; the idea that they may be responsible for their own happiness is anathema to them.

What they do think is that women who try to talk sense to them are either jealous or prudish or both. And once they do let go of a relationship, they often swamp friends and family with their neediness.

These are also women who, like Lucy DeCoutere, arrogantly announce a “paradigm shift” by starting a hashtag like #Ibelievesurvivors, when slacktivism of that sort achieves nothing except to garner them more attention.

The fact is that seriously misguided people are not easy to be around. It’s hard enough being around people who are mourning the death of meaningful relationship or the death of a real person. Most of us have limited capacities for sympathy and extend ourselves to those whose problems feel worthy.

And that’s why some of us are taking a tough love approach to Ghomeshi’s accusers: we’re having a hard time whipping up sympathy because their problems don’t feel worthy. Yes, being hit is unpleasant and of course physical abuse is never okay. But the fact is these appear to be isolated incidents in these women’s lives and on the larger scale of grim experiences to be had in this world, they are certainly not the worst.

In short, these are bad dates, not bad lives. They didn’t marry their abuser. They weren’t forced to marry their abuser. Apparently their abuser warned them he liked rough sex.  Given these facts, a lot of us are watching the Ghomeshi carnival unfold and asking, “What gives?”

If we’re going to have a paradigm shift here, what about this? Why don’t we teach young people that the best defence against abuse is self-awareness? That the moment a sexual partner makes them uncomfortable, is the moment they have a chance to do something about it. That going along with sexual momentum is safer when you’re with a partner you trust and trust isn’t something that develops overnight. That calling a friend, or some sort of help line, to talk about discomfort is one way to determine where your boundaries are.

What isn’t okay, and what is frustrating to a lot of us, is the expectation that our police and our legal system should protect those who don’t seem interested in protecting themselves. That may be fine for children–they lack the maturity and emotional resources to do it–but it’s hardly fine for women who expect to be taken seriously as adults.


Below is an excerpt of a text describing Julian Assange’s experience with Sweden’s sexual assault laws (also taken from The Guardian). Although the article was meant to defend the women accusing Assange of assault, its tone, and account of the facts points to a legal response we in Canada should be wary of. I’m not sure I want our nation’s police officers fielding “torn condom” complaints. 

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange speaks to the media after appearing at Belmarsh Magistrates court in Woolwich on January 11, 2011. Assange was appearing court today to fight against his extradition to Sweden where he is sought for questioning over alleged sex crimes. UPI/Hugo Philpott
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange speaks to the media after appearing at Belmarsh Magistrates court in Woolwich on January 11, 2011. Assange was appearing court today to fight against his extradition to Sweden where he is sought for questioning over alleged sex crimes. UPI/Hugo Philpott

[One accuser’s] account to police, which Assange disputes, stated that he began stroking her leg as they drank tea, before he pulled off her clothes and snapped a necklace that she was wearing. According to her statement she “tried to put on some articles of clothing as it was going too quickly and uncomfortably but Assange ripped them off again”. Miss A told police that she didn’t want to go any further “but that it was too late to stop Assange as she had gone along with it so far”, and so she allowed him to undress her.

According to the statement, Miss A then realised he was trying to have unprotected sex with her. She told police that she had tried a number of times to reach for a condom but Assange had stopped her by holding her arms and pinning her legs. The statement records Miss A describing how Assange then released her arms and agreed to use a condom, but she told the police that at some stage Assange had “done something” with the condom that resulted in it becoming ripped, and ejaculated without withdrawing.

When he was later interviewed by police in Stockholm, Assange agreed that he had had sex with Miss A but said he did not tear the condom, and that he was not aware that it had been torn. He told police that he had continued to sleep in Miss A’s bed for the following week and she had never mentioned a torn condom.

On the following morning, Saturday 14 August, Assange spoke at a seminar organised by Miss A. A second woman, Miss W, had contacted Miss A to ask if she could attend. Both women joined Assange, the co-ordinator of the Swedish WikiLeaks group, whom we will call “Harold”, and a few others for lunch.

Assange left the lunch with Miss W. She told the police she and Assange had visited the place where she worked and had then gone to a cinema where they had moved to the back row. He had kissed her and put his hands inside her clothing, she said.

That evening, Miss A held a party at her flat. One of her friends, “Monica”, later told police that during the party Miss A had told her about the ripped condom and unprotected sex. Another friend told police that during the evening Miss A told her she had had “the worst sex ever” with Assange: “Not only had it been the world’s worst screw, it had also been violent.”

Assange’s supporters point out that, despite her complaints against him, Miss A held a party for him on that evening and continued to allow him to stay in her flat.

On Sunday 15 August, Monica told police, Miss A told her that she thought Assange had torn the condom on purpose. According to Monica, Miss A said Assange was still staying in her flat but they were not having sex because he had “exceeded the limits of what she felt she could accept” and she did not feel safe.

The following day, Miss W phoned Assange and arranged to meet him late in the evening, according to her statement. The pair went back to her flat in Enkoping, near Stockholm. Miss W told police that though they started to have sex, Assange had not wanted to wear a condom, and she had moved away because she had not wanted unprotected sex. Assange had then lost interest, she said, and fallen asleep. However, during the night, they had both woken up and had sex at least once when “he agreed unwillingly to use a condom”.



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Competing for Jian Ghomeshi, and Other Dumb Things Women Do

jealous_friend_xlargeIt’s hard to avoid stories of emotional survivors these days, especially when it comes to domestic violence and sexual abuse. These narratives are familiar: they’re about hardship endured, transformation achieved and virtue rewarded.

They’re tales as old as Cinderella.

However, while seeing virtue rewarded is satisfying, in real life these stories may conceal an unpleasant fact: some survivors have indeed suffered, but their love of melodrama is the real culprit. Stories of women who overcome difficulties, but do so privately and without much fanfare, aren’t fascinating enough for some women. From their perspective, those female dullards who suffer and grow up anyway, without any fireworks, are to be pitied.

The arrogance of this perspective shouldn’t surprise us. For all their cries of sisterhood, self-proclaimed survivors, like Jian Ghomeshi’s accusers, often feel superior to other women. That’s not news to those of us with more rational ideas about sisterhood; some of us see a wide swath of female competitiveness running through the stories we’re hearing lately, one that suggests another paradigm for interpretation. What many feminists see as the results of “social conditioning” and “low self-esteem” may just be signs of what used to be known as poor character.

A recent experience with 40-ish friends I’ll call Jane and Jeff is illustrative. It started when Jane responded to Jeff’s profile on a dating site. Like a lot of men these days, Jeff was playing it safe and winnowing down his pool of potentials by pre-emptively announcing his belief in open relationships. Jane was more conventional but infatuated with him nonetheless, so she relegated that detail to the fine print. In the following months, she breathlessly and, yes, annoyingly, talked about him to the exclusion of everything else that had previously made her interesting.

The problems started when Jane’s friends, myself included, received an overwrought message announcing that Jeff had “cheated” on her. I was surprised at her wording since Jeff had made his preferences known and she had apparently accepted them. When she messaged everyone again, a week later, she announced she and Jeff had reconciled and were planning on starting a family. When she mentioned babies, I dispensed with my usual tact and suggested she would be stuck with a cheater for a long time if she went ahead with her plans.

What I wasn’t saying, of course, was that he would be stuck with her too, a woman determined to form a bond on her terms, terms which clearly didn’t augur with his right to be himself. The next time I saw her, she airily waved away my concern as so much nonsense. There was fury beneath that airiness, however. Jane’s competitiveness emerged and she began treating me, a single woman, with not-so-subtle attitudes of arrogance and contempt.

My history with women like Jane goes back a long way, starting with my mother. Both my parents, in the last 20 years of their 40-year marriage, drank and fought a lot. Although those last two decades were the worst, the first two, or at least what I saw of them, weren’t always stable either. So knowing I wanted a better life, I worked and student-loaned my way through university. When I was in my 30s, I experienced an important turning point in my relationship with them.

It happened in Florida over one Christmas break. When the drinking and fighting culminated in my mother throwing a present at me, at 4:00 AM while I slept, I knew I’d had enough. It was Christmas day and when I got up, I called the airport and arranged for a flight back to Montreal. As I packed, I read both my parents the riot act: I told them they were equally childish and deserved each other. As I walked to the taxi, I threatened to change my name and disappear if they ever behaved badly in my presence again. It sounds dramatic now, but I was serious then.

The threat worked and what it taught me is this: when it’s in their best interest, most people will stop behaving badly. It also taught me something else: after years of observing my parents and reading up on domestic abuse, I knew the dominant narrative we have of it in Canada is hopelessly skewed. Most of it is not misogynistic; most of it involves substance abuse and is mutual in some way. The story of a vulnerable, abused woman, regularly beaten by her husband, is a distortion of another story, a story that for many children comes with a cultural dictum that forbids them from admitting–even to themselves–that their mother may be just as bad.*

Needless to say, this isn’t a popular perspective. But acknowledging its existence is necessary to counteract the pervasive belief that only women can be victims of domestic violence. Given all my research and experience, I find it curious that the male-on-female variation dominates in our culture to the extent that it does, overshadowing even parent-on-child violence, which is far more damaging. For example, when we do hear about child abuse, the default position is that the perpetrator is male and sex is involved. But by now we know women–mothers included–can be abusive and neglectful too. So why can’t we just say it?

The omission raises other important questions. With these cultural biases built into our social services, what are the children of those women supposed to think? That daddy is the bad guy, despite the fact that it’s mom who gets drunk first and starts fighting? That mom is right to keep the fridge stocked with beer because—nudge, nudge, wink, wink–controlling a drunk man who passes out every night is easier than controlling a sober one who doesn’t? What goes through children’s minds when they arrive at a shelter where the guiding narrative is ‘We have to hide from daddy because he’s bad,’ when what they’ve seen tells them mom isn’t much better? What does that distortion do to children?

The Ghomeshi trial is giving us an opportunity to talk about female patterns of abuse too. We can start with the denial that underlies much of it and end with the abuse that happens–to children, loved ones and the legal system–when the facts stop fitting a woman’s fantasy. Ghomeshi’s trouble started when an ex-girlfriend went through his phone looking for the numbers of other women he was seeing. As Jeff did with Jane, Ghomeshi clarified the extent of his commitment to this woman. The relationship was decidedly casual, so casual in fact that she came to regret it later.

It also appears she was hoping to round up other hurt women so they could collectively punish a man they believed had been dismissive with them. In terms of their anger, women like Ghomeshi’s accusers and Jane have a lot in common: their denial causes problems, yet when they seek support they usually, and quite arrogantly, dispute any advice that points to their own responsibility. My conversation with Jane is one I could have had with Ghomeshi’s ex months before she decided to go through his phone; however, she probably wouldn’t have listened either.

Turning to the question of Ghomeshi’s abusiveness, we must admit that it is just that, a question. His flirtatious texts indicate that instead of being deceptive with women, he was actually straightforward, lending credence to his assertion that he negotiated consent. For example, when some women indicated they just wanted to be friends, he gave them a polite version of “I’m not looking for friendship, thanks.” When some mentioned getting help with their careers, he made it clear he’d contacted them for “personal and not professional” reasons. These are strategies I’ve seen used by plenty of women over the years. If I can admire them for being bold and decisive, I have to concede Ghomeshi likely was too: his texts indicate that he announced his intentions. The question, of course, is did his accusers choose to believe him?

As those of us who have lived with others know, purposeful filtering is not always about low self-esteem–sometimes it’s about control. I plucked the following line from a comment thread because it is representative of much of the thinking out there: “Women who feel inferior often choose men who have lots of power and/or money. I would say this happened with Ghomeshi and his women.” But did these women suffer from low self-esteem or were they just being competitive? Didn’t they also fall for the allure of dating a celebrity, recognizing the admiration and power it would naturally confer on them?

Men like Ghomeshi may be in the habit of discarding women, but they never seem to want for female company. That’s because their power is an aphrodisiac and not only do women offer themselves freely, they freely do the dirty work too. I think of a university professor who was surrounded by an admiring circle of female students. Unbeknownst to some of us, these students engaged other students in conversations about him at his behest. His purpose? He reveled in intimidation. He read a casually uttered set of complaints I’d made about him back to me, verbatim, after calling me into his office to have a chat. Thanks to one of his loyal admirers, I felt forced to drop his course.

I think of a surgeon who operated on a family member. Without telling us, he’d deemed her life futile, so when she suffered a serious setback, in the midst of a recovery, the nurses on duty did everything except take meaningful steps to revive her. When I tried to investigate afterwards, I was stonewalled on one level, but enlightened, discreetly, on another. Several staff members told me that a surgical charge nurse, who was having an affair with the surgeon, had the power to change nurses’ schedules and revoke holidays. Apparently it was a power she wielded freely with those who contradicted the surgeon’s wishes. The nurses on duty that day failed to act because they feared her retribution, not his. I’ve since learned that the intimidating behaviour of women like her–mistresses with toxic loyalty, in other words–is common in Canadian hospitals.

This is what competitive behaviour among women looks like and it’s time we stopped minimizing its damage. The behaviour of Ghomeshi’s accusers deserves close scrutiny too: the idea that these women weren’t cognizant of their own motives may explain their poor choices, but it doesn’t excuse their poor behaviour, or the grief it’s caused others. These women are experiencing unpleasant consequences, not tragedies. That distinction needs to be more widely acknowledged and accepted, if only to protect the truly vulnerable: children and adults who legitimately lack the agency to protect themselves.


*From the Canadian Addiction Survey (CAS): A National Survey of Canadians’ Use of Alcohol and Other Drugs: Focus on Gender

With regard to domestic harm arising from alcohol use, summary found on page 55: Among men, the rate of reported harm is similar to that of women, with having been insulted or humiliated the most common (22.3%), followed by having experienced verbal abuse (17.2%), serious arguments and quarrels (14.8%) and having been pushed or shoved (13.3%). In comparison to women, men reported fewer family or marriage problems resulting from others’ drinking (7.7%). However, men reported significantly higher rates of aggressive harms, including being pushed or shoved, verbally abused or being hit or physically assaulted.

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Earth to Emma Healey

torstar (2)I no longer expect much from the Toronto Star, but the Ghomeshi-themed op-ed by Emma Healey is inane clickbait. Healey conflates “complexity” with dishonesty when she says we aren’t allowing  Ghomeshi’s accusers to be less than perfect victims.

She’s referring to the raft of electronic and paper evidence put forth by Marie Henein, Ghomeshi’s lawyer. That evidence made it clear that all three women were involved in romantic ventures with Ghomeshi before, during and after they claim to have been physically assaulted by him.

Here’s what I think: the world is full of women who want to be victims. That’s fine. You go girls!

But know that there are some of us who believe that with adulthood comes the responsibility to take care of our minds and bodies, especially in our dealings with men. That means not taking intoxicants when sex is a possibility. It means setting boundaries with dates who expect intimacy too soon. It means saying no and meaning it.

It means checking in with a sensible friend when a man is making you uncomfortable. More importantly, it means listening to that friend when she says, “I don’t think he’s a good guy,” instead of clobbering her with a thousand yeah-buts.

There is an outraged we involved in the excoriation of Ghomeshi and his legal team, but not all of us belong to that we. Some of us are looking at that we–that group of women who, like Healey, thinks “society” doesn’t allow women to be “complex”–and we’re wondering where they’re getting their ideas from.

Imagine, if you will, women who don’t continue dating abusive men. Imagine women who say after a bad date, “He’s a jerk,” and block his number before he has the nerve to call again.

Imagine women who have learned, perhaps through trial and error, that the word no is their friend. These are the same women who say no to a drink that will push them over the limit or a joint that will make them too stoned to stand up. These are women who actually have some knowledge of the men they sleep with before they sleep with them. These are women who aren’t waiting for the police, or a knight on a white horse, to rescue them, because they aren’t damsels in distress. Because they are adults instead, they aren’t throwing the responsibility for their dodgy decisions at everyone else.

Earth to Healey: Women are definitely complex. Men have been fascinated by us for millennia for precisely that reason.

What’s not complex, and certainly not very appealing, are women in women’s bodies who act like children and expect that the world owes them their safety.

Men who get drunk and go into bad neighbourhoods late at night can be attacked too. They can be rolled for their wallets or beaten up just for the heck of it by a bunch of hooligans. They can walk into the wrong kind of bar and end up losing some of their teeth. I doubt that the police are extra-sensitive when these things happen to them. Why? Because the understanding is that they should have known better, or at least travelled in pairs, in order to have a safe if boozy night out. But they’re not taking back the night because guys like them usually have a vague idea they may have made a bad decision or two in that evening they are now having a very hard time remembering.

The problem with op-eds like Healey’s is that they make the dispensing of sound advice difficult. We can’t tell young women to watch their alcohol or drug intake when they are heading out at night because, gosh, what about those young women who took too much of whatever and got raped? Aren’t we implying that it’s their fault? Aren’t we going to be hurting their feelings?

So instead the upstanding PC brigade is expecting “society” to keep young women safe. It’s dumb and impossible, but like all immature women, Healey and her ilk are insisting on it anyway.




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