Wishing for peace in the Balkans

Forensics Experts Work On Exhuming And Identifying Srebrenica Victims

Remains at a mass grave in the former Yugoslavia.

For the last six months, I’ve been researching and learning much about the Balkans. I’ve had the pleasure to meet some amazing people who have kindly shared their pleasant memories and bravely shared their painful ones. They say those who don’t know the past are condemned to repeat it. One thing that I have learned is that people from the former Yugoslavia are keenly aware of their history and, to paraphrase the words of a tearful Serbian woman watching the news in the 1990s, nationalism keeps rearing its ugly head and history keeps repeating itself.

One thing I have learned is that the majority of people in the region want peace. They are still struggling to rebuild 20 years after the civil war ended. Corruption and a grey economy stifle the rebuilding effort, and in Bosnia, a clunky three-headed political system ensures partisan bickering and posturing takes up more energy and thought than progress.

There are a couple of movies coming out about the wars in the region. I haven’t seen them, but I hope that they don’t inflame a fragile peace. For a generation, the people of Yugoslavia lived together in a country where their ethnic differences were either ignored or celebrated — not the justification for cold-blooded killing.

It is impossible to forget what happened to your family. It is important, for your sake, to know the past, but, for the sake of your children, it’s equally important to forgive, and avoid the tragedies of the past.

Ghomeshi should be forced to testify


Jian Ghomeshi, and others accused of sexual assault, should have to testify and face cross-examination.

It flies in the face of a basic tenet of law, and there’s a section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that will prevent this from happening, but Ghomeshi should really have to go on the hot seat. He is the one on trial, after all.

Instead, the women who have accused him of sexual assault are the ones facing rigorous cross-examination. Some would say they are being grilled by Ghomeshi’s lawyer, Marie Henein.

It’s all well and good to have a fair trial and make sure you don’t send an innocent person to jail, but we have a problem in Canada.

An estimated 90 per cent of sexual assaults go unreported and of the 10 per cent that are reported, only 25 per cent lead to a conviction. That’s an alarming failure rate and it’s not because women are imagining they’ve been raped or sexually assaulted.

What can the federal government do to turn the tables? They could pass a law that would force those accused of sexual assault to testify and be cross-examined. Section 11 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms would normally prevent someone from being compelled to testify in a case in which they are the accused, but there is a trump card the federal government can play.

If Justin Trudeau’s new Liberal government is serious about solving the problem of unsolved and unreported sexual assaults in this country, it should pass a law forcing accused rapists to testify and have their comments and personal histories sifted through and torn apart. The federal government could do this if it invoked Section 33 of the Charter. Also known as the Notwithstanding Clause, it would allow such a law to stand for five years at a time at which time the federal government could let it lapse if it’s not working, or renew it if it is.

When you’re faced with a problem that has reached such epic proportions, you need to get creative and you need to get serious. How much would such a measure help? I don’t know, but it won’t hurt. It would certainly wipe the smug look off a lot of faces and knowing they’ll have to sit in the hot seat could act as a deterrent.

The other solution is to teach men not to rape, but that only works on the nice guys, so let’s roll out the Notwithstanding Clause and use it to fix a problem.

Don’t pit one worthy cause against another

Some folks are pointing out that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is a waste of water. With so many people in under-developed countries dying from a lack of clean drinking water, and so few people dying from ALS, this highly successful marketing campaign that has been so prevalent on social media is misguided.

When you look at the raw numbers, it’s a compelling case.

More people die from a lack of clean drinking water than ALS. You can even find some diseases that kill more people than ALS. But look deeper, how many of those diseases are exacerbated by the way we live, poor diet, alcohol consumption or lack of exercise?

People who get ALS get it because they draw the short straw. Plain and simple. I’m not going to pit one worthy cause against another, but I was nominated for the ALS ice-bucket challenge and I accepted – and donated.

The pharmaceutical industry hasn’t found a cure to help these people because it’s not profitable and doesn’t bring a good return to shareholders. If I can help with a little bit of time, a little bit of money, and have a little fun doing it, count me in.

I wonder, how much money would have been raised for ALS research, if somebody just donated money and didn’t make a funny video that also challenged others to give? A lot less, and there’s no doubt about that.

What is the reason for ALS deaths? Lack of research into a cure. What is the reason for deaths related to a lack of clean drinking water? It’s not the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and it’s not a lack of research money. Can money help? Sure it can, but if you think that giving people access to clean drinking water is important, as I do, then use the publicity that this campaign has generated to say that while you support ALS research, you are concerned about access to water or some other disease that doesn’t get enough research funding. Instead of dumping a bucket of ice water over your head, say you’ll fund research for another disease or you’ll fund a project to bring clean drinking water to those who don’t have it.

It’s like using the fundamental principal of jujitsu, but in a slightly different way. In jujitsu, you use the force of your opponent against them. In this case, use the force of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to bring attention to another worthy case and help raise money for that instead.

Oh, I’m also helping to raise money for a project that will drill a well in Ecuador and provide a continuous source of clean drinking water to a village.





Police brutality in Russia

Pussy Riot members whipped by police

I have not watched much of the Olympics. Partly, it’s a lack of interest but mostly it’s because I am not a TV watcher. If the Olympics did not happen, the world would carry on. As much as I admire the Olympic ideals, the event has strayed a tidy step from its roots.

That said, I don’t think anyone who takes an interest in the Olympics or does anything less than calling for a boycott of the Olympics can be so summarily categorized as a supporter of the Russian regime. You can enjoy and appreciate the Olympics while not supporting the behaviour we see in the video (see link above.) Polemics rarely settle issues and often start arguments.

The Olympics have brought a lot of attention on Russia. This plague of human rights abuses did not start in the run-up to the Olympics — it has been going on for years. The Olympics have shone a bright light of scrutiny on Russia. The picture is ugly to be sure, but awareness is the first step to a cure. The remedy will take a long time and I hope the suffering will be mitigated by some more progressive thinking.

Change — whenever it happens — would quite likely have taken much longer without the Olympics. For inspiration, look to South Africa. I remember thinking that Apartheid would never end there. With scrutiny and pressure from the international community, the seemingly impossible happened.

I admire the bravery of the protestors in Russia. Their courage is beyond compare.