Ontario Provincial Police Detachment Commander’s Conference: excerpt from my presentation

Some would say you have too much time on your hands when you’re in the Hole, for those of you who aren’t accustomed to the lingo – solitary confinement. Usually this isn’t dangerous but rather an additional punishment in a complex system of punitive treatment. For me in early May of 2004 it was a launch pad for lunacy.

My thinking began fairly simply and I would say both then and now logically. When I was on the regular Range, an old retired teacher slept in the next cell. Each night at 20:00 hours they brought my medications and then would waken this soul to give him his usual sleep medications.

My master plan was to escape from the Hole. This would occupy some of my idle time. The Hole is about five by eight feet with solid concrete walls and has a solid steel door. The door has two four inch square windows for observation and a flop down opening through which food is passed. Escape by physical means is not a possibility. That leaves two other exits. The first is to escape the reality of the Hole in your imagination. The second is to devise a complex plan whereby the system itself rescues you from the monotony. I spent several days imagining except everything I imagined was reality to me. The C.I.A. were really monitoring me, my toilet was bugged, the Pope was in the basement following my every move, my thoughts were being broadcast throughout the jail and courthouse etcetera.

After becoming bored with my physical surroundings in a bizarre reality I devised a simple and at the same time innocent plan to depart from Hole number six. I decided I would pretend to be asleep when they came by with my evening medications, I assumed they would try to waken me like my teacher friend. The logical outcome that I foresaw was that I would be taken to the nurse’s station for observation or assessment. My hope was to jump awake in the nurse’s office and proclaim to be Harry Houdini The Second as I had just escaped from the Hole in my sleep. That madness wasn’t to be. Things quickly went in directions I couldn’t possibly have hoped for.

Firstly, during my feigned sleep they came to offer me back my mattress. There are no clocks or watches in jail let alone the Hole so my timing was off. I had been removed from the medical cells for screaming in the night as I was saving the world and was there for “administrative segregation” rather than for punitive measures but I still lost my mattress, pillow and sheets during the day. They may have been successful in preventing me from sleeping during the day but be damned if I didn’t retain the right to pretend sleep!

After the guards screamed my name several times, they came in and physically tried to waken me. I remember hearing the nurse’s voice, she proceeded to check my pulse and blood pressure. I was able to discern from her voice and information she gave to the fire department, who were now present, that my pulse was erratic. She was calling me Mr. Batten so I knew she was frightened. At the same time the fire department response was reminding me of my calls to the Fire Marshall’s office weeks earlier to have the jail updated regarding inspections.

They lifted my limbs and tried to look into my eyes.I was twitching different parts of my body while everything else was relaxed. They lifted me into a chair as I was concentrating on twitching and relaxing. On the way through the doorway they slammed my foot into the jam. It didn’t break and I didn’t flinch. I took the cue that they weren’t as concerned about my well being as they were about my security and “flight” risk. I realized where I was when they tipped the chair forward at the top of the stair well and in my relaxed state I began to fall out of the chair. I was pushed back at the last second but they continued to test me as I’m sure they were not convinced I was having seizures.

Near the top of the stairs I heard the one of the female emergency responders say I held the breathing tube down my throat for ten seconds and that I was no doubt a popular person around the jail. Everyone broke out in laughter. The humour wasn’t lost on me but I did not crack a smile.

Once they had me outside I was greeted with a breath of fresh evening air. I wanted to open my eyes, to see the stars, but I have a feeling I would have seen a police officer first. They said to me “O.K. Mr. Batten we’re outside, do you feel better?” I hadn’t been given the signal from God to stop or change course so into the ambulance I was placed. It was nice to be on a soft bed, nicer than the mattress I was offered at the jail.

I have a feeling I was shackled around this time. They put something down my throat again to create an airway. My airway was larger without the apparatus. I choked continuously for at least two minutes all the while twitching and remaining relaxed. My secret was to try to concentrate on one thing at a time. While choking on this airway, it wore on my throat and started to mix with my air and saliva. I began frothing blood and the ambulance turned on the sirens and I could feel the acceleration. For all I know they could have been circling the jail trying to outsmart me. They didn’t realize I had complete and total faith in God.

Once in the emergency room I could hear one of the guards misinforming the nurses and or doctors. One guard said I had just come off a range and could have been into some drugs. He also said I had been acting strangely for several days which though plausible didn’t say much for their treatment of me.

They warned me several times about the catheter, it sounded more like threats. I was more reluctant than my peaceful appearance. I had a catheter removed following a suicide attempt. I let out a small yelp at that time and I assumed going in would not be much better. The catheter didn’t provide a drop of urine. “Ohh” was their response. I could feel and hear them moving about. “He didn’t flinch,” said a female voice. I would later bleed as a result of that catherization.

After some blood work, they pulled the intravenous from my left arm and the blood shot across my chest, some things were working. They pinched the inside of my left arm and left a bruise, no response. They kept trying to examine my eyes, I fought it and they kept saying he’s faking he’s faking. Off I went to the psychiatric unit.

A while after I was directed to wake up, I was interviewed by a psychiatrist. He started asking the usual questions. I was cognizant of time and place, I knew the date. The sad part for me was that I had to yell at him to bring him down a notch with his condescending questions. I was an important figure, I was followed by religious leaders, the CIA, etcetera. They maybe thought I was delusional but that would have to be assessed and investigated to prove me wrong. The doctor was a sceptic without sufficient reason as far as I was concerned. As he left my room I screamed through my door to the nurses’ station which was out of sight. I assumed he was there taking notes. “Do you give out drug samples to your patients?” “Do you have a pharmaceutical license to dispense medication in Ontario?”

I think they were interested in me while I was meek and gentle, swaying with the end of the world. If I lay on my pillow, the world would end. Awake, I would finally see my children.

I’m not sure what the doctor wrote about me. He must have declared me sane enough to go back to jail because that was where I was heading. For some reason the system found me fit enough for confinement once again. I was placed in the medical cells where you get a mattress 24/7. I was behind bars but I had indeed escaped from the Hole.

Dear Mr. MacKay, I was surprised that when I spoke to you at the Canadian Alliance On Mental Illness and Mental Health Gala that you did not inquire into my access-ability requirements.

I feel terrible. The Honourable Minister of Justice Peter MacKay is leaving his post. He’s been urinating on the Charter for a while now and I was wondering how long he could keep it up. I guess he’s finally petered out which I’m sure is a relief. Maybe not to the prime minster who is nothing more than Reform without Peter.

If I thought Peter MacKay would resign I would have written to him sooner. I only wanted to invite him to my home but he has taken it as the gauntlet being thrown. I hate to say it but for someone so athletic looking I would have thought Peter had more game. I did admonish him which may have been unwelcoming but having no regard for a segment of society who are in conflict as a direct result of a mental illness is not a slight I can pretend to ignore.

I actually thought Peter may have visited me so he resigning is quite a shock. Does anyone know how long cucumber sandwiches last? I guess someone should step aside. We are allowing serious human rights violations to be inflicted on the mentally ill. When I looked into my crystal ball/stainless steel toilet sink combination I saw more orange than justice ministers resigning at my feet. I wasn’t even aware that it was an injustice to be psychotic in the confines of solitary confinement.

I did not mean to scare Peter MacKay into resigning. I only wanted to point out his mistake in the hope of pointing out more mistakes. It would have simply been tea with a detainee but in a way he has done the right thing by stepping down. I feel somewhat responsible but he made his own mistakes. I would have reasoned with him and found a way around all of this but some crown attorneys see only one scenario. It can be overlooked as a job description for a crown attorney but when you continue on that path as a Justice Minister you become a knob. Peter MacKay became a thing Stephen Harper turned to key up for election. When it comes to justice and sadly Peter MacKay this government always did what looked good and seldom what was good.

I’m not an optimist but I have dreams. I will be awake at night imagining the course of withdrawing my extended hand to the prime minister. Possibly he too will not see me coming. I certainly did not see this coming. I don’t know who to aim for next but this is sure a lot of fun. Good bye Peter.


May 12, 2015

Dear Mr. MacKay,

I was surprised that when I spoke to you at the Canadian Alliance On Mental Illness and Mental Health Gala that you did not inquire into my access-ability requirements. Some disabilities are invisible and I assumed at such an event you would have been more careful. I mentioned to you that I had lived in solitary confinement and that I was found Not Criminally Responsible on Account of a Mental Disorder. But you handed me a business card without asking if I had any requirements of assistance. It would have been most helpful to have you contact me.

As one of few who speak about the issue of Not Criminally Responsible having experienced it as living flesh I am dismayed that my voice has not been heard by this government. I submitted a Brief to this government regarding Bill C-54 which post prorogue became Bill C-14. I spoke with government employees and tried to access my own Member of Parliament but I was never asked if I had any accessibility requirements. I’m somewhat uncomfortable with sharing my medical information with a receptionist and I had to enlist assistance from individuals not employed by the government in attempting to communicate with the government.

I am pleased you are coming to London and will take you up on your offer to see me. I would like the opportunity to show you that solitary confinement can damage an individual. Mental illness in the correctional system is a complicated issue. I understand corrections is not your portfolio but in reading your statement on solitary confinement and thanks to your offer to speak with me I’m sure you could understand and convey to those better versed what you will learn.

Since language is no more than incomplete shorthand I will be able to convey more in person. As such I would like to invite you to my home. I am slightly agoraphobic and it would be helpful to have access to my writings to impart on you what I know. I have firsthand knowledge of corrections and the forensic system from the position of inmate and patient while living with serious and persistent mental illness. I know you believe that there are no adverse effects to Administrative Segregation but I have proof. Some of this evidence is within me, some of it is written and some of it is in how I live.

Please contact me at your earliest convenience to set up a meeting.

Kind regards,
Brett Charles Batten

I had a meeting with the Minister of Justice and Attorney General Peter MacKay

I was sitting at an elegant table in the elegant Shaw Centre in Ottawa. We were gathered for the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health Champions of Mental Health Awards. The Parliament Buildings were to my right as was my beautiful wife and I was simply minding my own business. A senator who didn’t look anything like Mike Duffy came round the table and gave me his business card. I smiled and gave him mine.

I noticed the Minister of Justice Peter MacKay schmoozing and posing for photographs like some redundant rock star. He seemed pleased with himself. Without warning I rose to my feet and went and stood behind him as he was speaking to a groupie. I glanced back at my wife and she had the same worried look on her face as the day I proposed to her. I gave her a wink and she started shoving dinner rolls in her purse in case we were turfed before the taters.

“Hi Mr. MacKay, my name is Brett Batten and I’m an advocate. I don’t know if you’ve ever met anyone who has lived in solitary confinement but I have spent some time there.” “In fact I have” was his response. I wondered if they too were wearing a suit and tie at the time but my immediate thought was to recall ‘Bobby the Bullshitter’ who lived around the corner when I was seven. “We’re going to Disneyland.” “I’ve been to Disneyland twelve times.” I detoured the exasperation and mentioned that I would like to discuss the issue of solitary confinement with him sometime.

“Well, that’s the portfolio of Public Safety and my portfolio is Justice.” I wasn’t sure who thought who was stupid. “I understand that but as the Attorney General you have made statements regarding solitary confinement which are misleading.” “I don’t believe I have, what did I say?” I looked around for a second as I thought we were suddenly in the House of Commons. “You said Administrative Segregation was not similar to solitary confinement in other countries.” “Well, solitary confinement in Sarajevo is different from what we find in Canada.” “Well, we are not talking about dirt floors but the dimensions and more are quite the same sir. The United Nations defines solitary confinement as any incarceration that confines a person to a cell for 22 hours a day or more without human contact.” “Well I don’t always agree with the United Nations.” (Especially when it contradicts ‘the agenda’.) “Solitary confinement is used for sex offenders to ensure their safety.” “It is predominantly used for individuals with mental illness; it is a default response to a health issue.” For someone who didn’t say anything about solitary confinement Peter seemed to hit on all the points he made in his official statement.

I decided to give him the benefit of my doubt and asked who I could speak to about the issue. “You can talk to me” and he handed me his business card asking for mine. “Where are you from?” “London!” “I’m going to be in London in a week or two, maybe we can meet.”

“I was found Not Criminally Responsible and was the individual Champion of Mental Health here last year. Pretty much in that order.” He looked surprised and at the time I wasn’t sure at which. Maybe for a minute he thought ‘Wow, I could have actually spoken to someone found Not Criminally Responsible before I shoved the Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act through Parliament.’ Nothing may come of this but at least Peter MacKay can say he shook the hand of someone found Not Criminally Responsible. Good on him!

It all sounds hopeful with him coming to London for Tea and Crumpets but like the rest of the electorate I expect his political promise to be broken. It was a formal event and I’m sure he was trying to appease me but I did drive all night to get home and vacuum in case he visits. He has my business card so I hope he enjoys my Blog.

As a public service Peter MacKay’s phone number is (613) 992-4621. Just tell him Brett gave you his number.

P.S. Please don’t call me at home, I’m expecting an important call.

Attorney-General MacKay wants us to believe solitary confinement doesn’t exist in Canada because he calls it ‘administrative segregation’. BS!

The use of solitary confinement and acceptable standards for the treatment of mental health in corrections is a form of torture as it exacerbates and often deteriorates the mental health of a segment of society that is marginalized, compromised, and vulnerable to abuse and in many cases clearly disabled. Solitary confinement deteriorates the mental wellness of anyone.

The use of solitary confinement can inflict permanent psychological injury. To use it on individuals with mental illness is more harmful, depending on their symptoms. ‘Administrative segregation’ denies a person the psychological benefits of movement, and visual or auditory stimulation. The need for human contact and interaction is fractured at best. Seeing a hand or face through a food slot may worsen symptoms. It is also internally disorienting to be exposed to 24 hour light. The use of light in various forms can be used to torture an individual. To my knowledge there is no medical literature supporting the use of constant light to treat or rehabilitate mental illness of any sort or severity.

When I was in solitary confinement I lost the sense of time in part due to 24 hour light. For me 15 minutes was exactly the same as 2 hours which was identical to 12 seconds. What reality was I to build without the cornerstone of time? At times I confused night with day. The denial of a sense of day or night affected my sleep which worsened my condition. Sleep interacts with several neurotransmitters which also have an effect on memory, emotions, moods and appetite. Solitary confinement causes a disruption in circadian rhythms and affects dopamine which is linked to schizophrenia and serotonin which is linked to depression, anger, OCD, sleep disturbances and many other emotional and physical disturbances.

To place someone in solitary confinement who is struggling with reality is like taking the half dead goldfish out of the bowl to revive it.

This government would not allow corrections to worsen the physical health of an inmate but we allow them to worsen the mental health of inmates. Mental health in corrections or around the corner is a health issue. Being involved in the justice system does not in any way mean the government or any individual has the right to withhold proper and humane health care. Mental health is health care. If I suffered a severe physical illness the image of correctional surgeons would seem alarming.

Even in corrections the necessaries of life are a societal standard. The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) Commissioner’s Policy Objective Regarding Health Services is:

1. To ensure that inmates have access to essential medical, dental and mental health services in keeping with generally accepted community practices. Inmates with severe mental illness are subjected to ‘administrative segregation’ so why do we not see it used as an “accepted community practice?”

It is incumbent on government; a duty, to provide the necessaries of life including mental health care, as inmates are in conditions which make them incapable. The duty to provide the necessaries of life is essential when an inmate is further incapacitated by illness. This government has not and is not performing their duty. Instead they are openly presenting a systemic institutionalization of stigma through laws and services. Under the charter these are acts of discrimination. The government is legally bound to provide the necessaries of life; treatment, to any inmate who is in need of what we refer to as mental health services but which under the charter must be acted upon as though it is and can only be recognized as health care. To continue with the use of solitary confinement and the denial of mental health care is negligence.

When an inmate is incarcerated, health care becomes the responsibility of the government. Individuals in jails and prisons are neutered of any capability to seek out or enlist assistance. In dealing with individuals with mental health concerns, availing oneself of health care is often not within the capabilities of the inmate as symptoms often further reduce an inmate’s ability to vocalize and enlist assistance. If an individual is incapable of insight into their illness they are also incapable of being proactive with regards to their health. It then becomes imperative for the authorities to institute conditions and opportunities to address the needs of the inmate.

Attorney-General Peter MacKay says inmates in ‘administrative segregation’ do not suffer adverse effects and that segregation in Canadian prisons is “different from and not analogous to the concept of ‘solitary confinement’ referred to in many foreign jurisdictions and should not be confused with it.”

Solitary confinement in Canada is not dirt floors or cockroaches but the dimensions and duration of confinement is essentially identical. Inmates are given food and sanitation but their toilet is table and chair. Inmates are checked regularly but there is virtually no human contact. People who have no mental illness to contend with would find segregation alarming in a matter of days if not hours but politicians speak of it like it’s a fable or fallacy.

I know that solitary confinement has many similarities regardless of latitude and longitude. It is the prolonged exposure to a small chamber often with constant light and essentially no human contact. Peter MacKay wants Canadians to believe solitary confinement doesn’t exist in Canada because the conservatives and corrections call it ‘administrative segregation’. You can paint a Toyota a hundred colours but it’s still a Toyota. It is a ridiculous ruse and epitomizes the fact that the conservatives have no “concept” of solitary confinement.

Peter MacKay uses the same distorted logic in telling Canadians ‘administrative segregation’ is not analogous or in no way comparable to solitary confinement. The United Nations refutes this notion. The United Nations defines solitary confinement as any incarceration method that restricts inmates to a cell for 22 hours a day or more “without meaningful human contact.” Canada falls into this definition easily but for some reason the government wishes to make their own parameters and use silly name games to camouflage their use of these measures. Is it a bad thing to follow the United Nations in promoting human rights or would we rather the conservatives make up our definitions? Are we a nation of conscience?

I would ask Attorney General MacKay how many solitary confinement cells he has seen in “foreign jurisdictions” and how many he has seen in Canada. What is the Dishonourable Peter MacKay’s firsthand knowledge of solitary confinement?

With regard to these “foreign jurisdictions” my first question is what are the differences? My second question is does the Canadian government consider solitary confinement as a form of torture in these “foreign jurisdictions” or is it simply foreign ‘administrative segregation’? My third question is which elements of solitary confinement in these jurisdictions are considered a form of torture and of these elements how many exist in ‘administrative segregation’ in Canada?

I can only laugh if Peter MacKay has never seen ‘administrative segregation’. I wonder if he has heard the door close behind him. Has he spent an hour there? Peter MacKay is a manipulative liar and I will call it to his face. We are all talking about the same place but the conservatives have named a bathroom Bermuda and we’re supposed to swim in the spin. Inmates refer to it as the Hole or the Digger. Corrections call it ‘administrative segregation’ and therefore conservatives tell us solitary confinement doesn’t exist in Canada. We are exposing persons with identifiable medical conditions to this contradiction of terminology. We should ask the inhabitants if it is anything but hell.

I will simply state that the conditions of ‘administrative segregation’ in Canada contains elements of torture and further that these conditions are imposed on individuals with symptoms of mental illness and in many cases for that reason alone. This policy and practice is discrimination.

We see photos of Peter MacKay and the Teflon Toupee in combat zones. It would be a great photo op with the pair of them near a solitary confinement cell. Maybe they could step on the throat of someone with an identifiable illness as they croon to the base of their vote who are excited by tough on crime policies regardless of human rights.

As far as non-existent “adverse effects” I mainly speak from personal experience but in comparison to the Attorney General Peter MacKay it is at least experience. Peter’s mother is a psychologist. Possibly she could draw him a picture of what dissociation and PTSD are. I went into solitary confinement with neither. I had never experienced them in my life. When I came out it took two years before I stopped staring. If that means nothing to Peter MacKay and his conservative agenda the shame is his mother’s.

Distancing oneself or ones government from the truth that they are not providing services in health care is understandable. I think quite simply this government wishes most not to have to compensate those who have been exposed to this form of torture. Like the residential schools they owe an apology. (Other than those in the conservative government who have spoken up against it.) It confounds me why a government would use conditions even remotely similar to what is clearly torture in other nations on individuals with a health condition or disability. I am ashamed of my nation.

As I write this, individuals with mental illness are in solitary confinement in Canada. The use of solitary confinement as an acceptable standard for the treatment of mental health is a form of torture, exacerbates mental illness and often causes a deterioration of the mental health of a segment of society that is under the care of our government. This shame doesn’t disappear with terminology. Tomato, tomahto.

Ignoring inflation it cost $550 000 dollars to deal with my mental illness institutionally.

I read an article in the London Free Press regarding policing and mental health. In a survey Londoners were asked :

“What do you think is the most important crime-related or policing problem facing the community and London police?”

Mental illness replaced downtown safety/bar issues in the top five. Why do Londoners believe that mental health is a police concern? If physical health is not a police concern why is mental health? If diabetics deserve doctors from start to finish why wouldn’t people with mental illness? If we are ever going to view mental illness differently we need to insist on medical interventions rather than law enforcement interventions. Part of the problem is the widespread perception that mental illness is synonymous with dangerousness.

Less than 3% of violence is attributable to mental illness in the absence of substance abuse. If ever we notice someone we suspect as hearing voices or disoriented in their thoughts or actions or somewhat delusional we might cross the street. The truth is that on both sides of the street 97% of our vulnerability to violence comes from the people who have no mental illness. People with mental illness are more often the victims of crime than the perpetrator.

When we allow law enforcement to administer to a health concern it is little wonder that the health concern becomes stigmatized, related to crime and associated with violence. If the police escorted diabetics to the hospital we would all have similar impressions about diabetes. Consider what we visualize, assume, think, feel and understand about mental illness. Now imagine having similar perceptions for a cancer patient. It would be unfair to the diabetic person or the individual with cancer but for the mentally ill it is as it would be for others with other illnesses; a barrier to treatment and a difficulty of rehabilitation.

Five years of my life have been spent under 24 hour care 7 days a week in an institution. Ignoring inflation it cost $550 000 dollars to deal with my mental illness institutionally. If a tenth of that money was used for comprehensive treatment in my youth, I might not be writing this.

A mental health clinician paid $60 000 dollars per year could have treated me for one hour a day for 70 years.
If we continue to fund and access policing and correctional measures to deal with mental illness we will forever feed the wrong end of the cow.

We do not fight cancer by building more cemeteries.(King)

When I first started living in the community after the forensic hospital I saw a psychologist once a week, a specialized therapist once a week and my psychiatrist at least once a month. Those supports were needed initially and they would have been expensive but it was nowhere near the near $350 dollars a day it cost to keep me in an institution. People can be monitored and treated in their own homes.

I could simply say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure but people might miss the point.

We leave mental illness unanswered and instead we deliver services mainly in times of crisis. Figure out the cost of an ambulance, two police officers and a truck or two of firefighters to respond to a suicide call and with any luck deliver that person to an emergency room and possibly a psychiatric unit for an indefinite period.

Now figure out how much it would cost for a therapist to prevent it in the first place.

If the financial realization is not enough for you consider letting heart disease progress to the point where invasive measures were necessary. With every other illness we prescribe the greatest amount of medicine at the beginning because to let any illness worsen is more devastating, difficult and expensive to treat. The social costs are immeasurable.

If you were ask a child how she feels about her father finding the best treatment for his heart she would likely answer the same for helping her father with schizophrenia. The best medicine at the beginning is not rocket science.

We are stupid to continue as we do but we are wrong and inhumane to do nothing.

You can call yourself a vegan but I had to call myself a lawyer and use the jail copy of the Canadian Criminal Code to read a copy of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to write a letter to the Ombudsman of Ontario to be a Vegan.

In my mind one of the best things about Canada is our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Most of us take our rights and freedoms for granted. My rights and freedoms have been curtailed at times but even in solitary confinement in a correctional facility, I had and exercised certain rights and freedoms. When you can’t choose what to sit on, where to walk, what you eat or who you see; you pay attention to what part of you the government allows.

I wore an orange jumpsuit and could not escape even the light in the ceiling. When you are in solitary confinement or medical isolation about all that exists is you and That which speaks to you.

I was allowed both a copy of the Koran and a Bible and with knowledge of several other faiths I decided I needed to not be eating meat. You can call yourself a vegan but I had to call myself a lawyer and use the jail copy of the Canadian Criminal Code to read a copy of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to write a letter to the Ombudsman of Ontario to be a Vegan. It was jail policy that an inmate could not alter their diet unless for medical reasons after their admission to an institution. The jail tried to impede my religious freedom. I won my battle with the Deputy Superintendent and was punished with meatless cabbage rolls three times a week.

I do not belong to any recognizable faith, sect, church or choir but as someone who has experienced different aspects of spirituality in far flung places I see Canadians entering dangerous waters. It is seriously important when an institution can dictate what to eat, wear, not eat or in any way influence what gives meaning to any life. We can shout about Turbans before Burqas but we are on a dangerous slope kicking up clouds of divisions. It is somewhat frightening when a Prime Minister attempts to pit the country against itself.

It all slithers into the sinister when the conservatives have singled out one of the most vulnerable minorities in Canada. I am 46 years old and have never seen a burqa in person. My city is 365 000 small. One woman in one religious garnet is what the government wants us to see. We need to look for what we are being distracted from. We also need to imagine something similar being exposed to any religion. Religions grow, and fade. No one can be sure that they or their blood will never see a day where the faith that has guided generations becomes a minority. Why does this government dig their heels in here? When a government devotes its resources to interfere with any religion or culture, none are safe.

If a government does not belong in the bedrooms of the nation what are they doing interfering with an individual’s customs and beliefs? If we allow this government or any government the mandate and ability to interfere in any religious or non-religious custom of anyone on our shores, it sets a dangerous precedent. It makes no sense to spout to the world that we are a country with religious freedoms but if you want to become a citizen you must interrupt your fundamental beliefs. I don’t think becoming a Canadian citizen should include institutional interference with any belief or custom of any religion, faith, sect or believer.

Who would a God find favour in? The one who openly displays his or her beliefs or the one who covertly wants her or him to be subjected to an interruption of faith and belief in order to belong in our citizenship?

One would assume someone’s identity could somehow be revealed without disrespecting or dishonouring what anyone believes and gains through public or private adherence to a system or lack of which forms and enfleshes what we inwardly experience. Is the burqa less significant than the water in a baptism?

Every citizen, visitor or refugee should be allowed at any moment to honour or announce any aspect of their faith, if safe. This provision is guarded by almost every organization, institution, agency and decent citizen but the conservative government seems to want to stand tall for us all and tell certain Muslims that they must deface a custom and belief to be included in the magnificence of multiculturalism and a land that offers outright protection of freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

I would feel violated if I had to remove and turn my back on my beliefs to become a citizen of a country that claims to embrace the opposite. Are we Canadians or conservatives? Belief in something or anything can be and should be one of the most sacred of personal rights and responsibilities. A measurable minority who claim majority is imposing on the fabric of an individual by reason of her faith. I believe all should be protected from such action if we aren’t already.

One could be the other and what protects the individual protects us all.

My religious freedoms were imposed on by the government but because the government had to honour the Charter of Rights and Freedoms I could even in complete powerlessness resist their overbearing actions. They had complete control of my body but I could fight for my spirit. If the rights of the individual to express their religious freedom is not respected, honoured and implemented by the government, the government can be forced by the individual to refrain from actions or policies that hinder religious freedom.

I will end with the words of the woman in a Burqa who this government is harassing. We need to ask what the end benefit is for Canadians and what the end benefit of the Conservative’s is.

“Aside from the religious aspect, I like how it makes me feel: like people have to look beyond what I look like to get to know me. That I don’t have to worry about my physical appearance and can concentrate on my inner self. That it empowers me in this regard.”

Why is it what’s good for the courts of the land are never good enough for the Conservatives of the land? For a party that claims closeness to justice they seem rabidly fanatic of disregarding Superior and Supreme Justice. This worries me.

What does St. Patrick’s Day have to do with Canada? Were the Irish indigenous to Canada? Did they plant some flag on our shores? Or were they like the majority of us, immigrants and decedents of immigrants?

The Irish have been as Canadian as any of us but I believe they have had ample time to assimilate.

Is it not inconsiderate and disrespectful to have them drinking green beer with utter disregard for Tim Horton’s and poutine? It’s a whole day and night of it for cows sake. Why can’t it be short like a Citizenship Ceremony? I thought we only let in a certain number of the Irish but when I drove down Richmond Street at noon they seemed quite prevalent. I’m not good with statistics but I would say 3 out of every 4 Londoners are Irish. I am Irish so I can’t really tell you what it might be like to be a minority. I kinda get minority though.

I saw people in green hats and even painted faces. I was leery of their disguises and wondered if it was truly safe. What if they had to prove who they were? I doubt they would be recognizable to their barely legal driver’s licences. I guess like the rest of us I assumed they were all Canadian citizens already but what if one of them had a few too many Guinness and had to take their citizenship tomorrow? With all that paint on their faces they could be anyone. They could even be Scottish. How would we ever know?

I saw two uniformed police officers and two security personnel in front of an Irish pub at 11:15 in the morning. Obviously all this Irishness is a threat. I do not even see this police presence outside the mosques I sometimes notice. I thought it was every living Muslim I had to fear but apparently it is the Jamaican spilling out an establishment after celebrating his brethren’s history, culture and religion.

It is easy to agree with green beer but if we want to call ourselves Canadian we ought to show the same courtesy to any religion. St. Patrick’s Day was a solemn religious recognition at one point. People didn’t go to pubs they went to mass. Would you have your green beer if the conservatives were at the helm of deciding or needing to decide what is tolerable in another’s beliefs? Someone could have run the first Irish settlers back on their ship or told them to defrock their beliefs. We embraced and always have the religions, beliefs, customs and symbols of people who find our shores. To make a monster the conservatives have tried to twist one woman’s faith and belief.

These are her words:

“Aside from the religious aspect, I like how it makes me feel: like people have to look beyond what I look like to get to know me. That I don’t have to worry about my physical appearance and can concentrate on my inner self. That it empowers me in this regard.”

And from the non savages mouth we have:

“Stay where the hell you came from.”

This comes from a Conservative Member of Parliament whose represents Bruce-Grey- Owen Sound. I have travelled these regions and I wonder how many people wearing niquabs one would see in the Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound riding. If I was a radio disk jockey I might be lonely asking for the first five callers. By all intents and purposes this representative of Bruce-Grey -Owen Sound is basically being intolerant of something he or his constituents don’t even have to tolerate. I never saw a person kicked out of a bar without even entering.

I can hear the waves of Lake Huron lapping the riding in no small way. Are we going to cordon off parts of the beach for specific religions and or their customs, beliefs and symbols? I don’t know much about intolerance but it sure as hell doesn’t rhyme with tourism. I wonder if Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound cares about tourism.

If we draw lines in the sand of a Canadian Citizenship ceremony they stretch across the nation. To what we expose the initiate can become a rite of passage on the campus. If I can do something to someone becoming a citizen it is not a stretch to consider the same treatment to a citizen. It is not one faith being threatened it is all faiths. It is not one woman in a niquab, it is each of us.

I hope for this riding’s sake that MP Larry Miller isn’t spouting some party puke in a riding to which it has little concern. It makes me wonder what Larry Miller might be missing that is of concern to his riding. I don’t like distracted politicians. According to Larry Miller he thinks “most Canadians feel the same.” I did not know someone from Tobermory could know what people in Newfoundland and British Colombia would be thinking. Maybe most Canadians feel this way but if this is so we have indeed arrived at a place far distant from where we were even a decade ago.

Larry Miller says: “they want to change things before they even really officially become a Canadian.” I wonder what sort of performance Larry Miller had to incur to become a Canadian citizen. I doubt he knows the gratitude and honour of stepping into our once great nation. It only seems to be the Conservatives who want to “change things.” Why is it what’s good for the courts of the land are never good enough for the Conservatives of the land? For a party that claims closeness to justice they seem rabidly fanatic of disregarding Superior and Supreme Justice. This worries me.

This woman is only attempting to honour and embrace the culture and religion that any and all other Canadians have been allowed to respect and protect. If we do not protect the rights of someone becoming a citizen it becomes difficult to protect the right of the citizen.

I’m willing to guess that not 10 000 Irishmen landed on our shores as a beginning. I envision just a handful. I wonder what it is like to enter a country as a minority. We could ask the Jamaican celebrating and embracing his brethren’s culture and religion but he seems assimilated and may not understand or appreciate the significance.

Thankfully our distant relatives were tolerant of our Irish ancestors and their symbols, dress, custom and belief. The world would a dull place make without the Shamrock Shake.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and yes I am in fact one eighth Irish which is why I am drunk enough to spell:

DISCRIMINATION