Canada’s gun laws aren’t saving lives — they’re just making them more complicated

First published at Global News on May 12, 2017.

If I were a more daring person, dinner with my parents last week could have cost me jail time.

No, I’m not talking about a family meal devolving to blows before the dessert course, but rather a bizarre provision of the law that impacts hundreds of thousands of Canadians — including me.

I needed to take my handgun to the gunsmith last week for a minor maintenance issue, dropping it off before work with the plan of picking it up afterwards.

I live on one end of the city; the gun store is on the other — the same end in which my parents live (though my mother would be mortified by this juxtaposition.)

If I were getting my knives sharpened or squash racquet restrung, I would have picked it up, gone to dinner, and then headed home. With a gun, it’s not so simple.

To transport a restricted firearm, the class in which handguns fall, the law requires I take “a route that, in all circumstances, is reasonably direct for the specific indicated purposes.”

The precise interpretation of that depends on the jurisdiction, and the police officer who catches you, but one firearms expert told me even a Tim Hortons stop on the way home could be illegal.

When I asked the Ontario firearms office for advice on my scenario, I was only reminded of the conditions of my license.

Those conditions also prevent target shooters from stopping at the gun store for ammunition on the way to the range. If you get caught, it could mean seizure of your firearm and revocation of your license — and possibly even criminal charges.

Who does this law protect?

Had this been a non-restricted gun — which most rifles and shotguns are — I could have taken whichever route I wanted and even kept it in my car during the work day, provided it was stored properly.

It’s reasonable to maintain strict rules surrounding ownership and transportation of firearms, but people must realize gun owners have already passed safety courses, been vetted by law enforcement, and are subjected to almost daily police checks.

We’re also subject to warrant-less home searches, despite a constitutional right to freedom from search and seizure.

Yet still, running afoul of the regulations could be irreparable.

The penalty for these minor regulatory infractions would be akin to having your car impounded and your driver’s license suspended for being late in renewing your stickers.

That I needed to drive 20 kilometres out of my way is certainly a first-world problem, but it’s indicative of the bigger mess that is Canada’s bundle of convoluted and needlessly strict firearms rules as laid out in the Firearms Act.

The more I learn about guns themselves, the less sense the laws make.

To get a handgun that shoots a .22 LR calibre round (with a length of 15.6 mm), one needs a restricted license complete with transportation restrictions, registration, and increased oversight from law enforcement. A rifle that shoots a .50 calibre round — a cartridge the size of a small flashlight — accurately to over two kilometres away requires only a basic possession and acquisition license.

Someone could walk into a gun store, buy it, and leave in a matter of seconds after only flashing their license. Even so, most Canadians don’t view firearms as a clear and present danger.

When someone does commit an atrocious crime with a gun, the regulations are irrelevant.

If Justin Bourque or Michael Zehaf-Bibeau used restricted guns, I doubt their plans would have changed had they been reminded to take only a direct route to and from home and a gun range or gun shop.

Regardless of classification, if someone is intent on killing, they’ll use the resources they have available to them.

I would blow past my word count for this column if I listed all of the firearms that bear stricter classifications than others that shoot the same ammunition at the same rate of fire. Often, the sole difference is aesthetics.

Some guns just look scarier than others. Should that make them harder to get, or more convoluted to transport?

It sounds like a trope to say we shouldn’t penalize law-abiding gun owners, but the firearms system does that every single day.

These headaches exist even after improvements put in place by Stephen Harper’s government simplifying some of the rules around firearms and changing the classification guidelines.

The stakes are higher for gun owners than most other groups in Canada in the event of a slip-up.

What if my cable lock isn’t closed all the way? What if I forget my license at home? What if I need to stop to change a flat tire on my way home from the range?

These questions shouldn’t be the difference between one’s arrest and one’s freedom.

By the way, I made it to dinner — gun-free.

It’s hypocritical to change London’s voting system without the voters deciding

First published at Global News on May 5, 2017.

When Londoners head to the polls next fall, they’ll have the option to rank council and mayoral candidates instead of choosing only one.

By a margin of nine to five, city councillors voted Monday night at a special meeting — hours before the midnight deadline set out by the Ontario government — to abandon first-past-the-post in lieu of ranked ballots.

The decision was met with great excitement from advocates — many of whom live outside of the city — while most Londoners responded with a shrug, at best.

If first-past-the-post was threatening the foundation of civic democracy, most people seem to have missed the memo.

The lead-up to the vote had eerie similarities to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s abandoned attempt to change Canada’s voting system. That discussion ended when Trudeau told his new democratic institutions minister that electoral reform wasn’t part of her mandate.

It was a significant broken promise by the Liberals, who told Canadians unequivocally the 2015 election would be the last under first-past-the-post. After getting elected, however, it became increasingly apparent that few people really cared about changing things, save for those who change would directly benefit.

I don’t fault activists for advancing reforms that would benefit them: who wouldn’t? It’s important that the rest of us recognize the self-interest in their advocacy, however.

Proponents of ranked ballots say voters will be more likely to support a “fringe” candidate if their votes can be later allocated to a more electable beneficiary. People are less likely to vote based on electability, in other words.

It doesn’t seem to increase the likelihood of fringe candidates actually getting elected though.

Ranked ballots benefit moderates because they make for palatable second choices. A right-winger would rather have a centrist than a socialist, and vice-versa. Even if someone gets 40 per cent of the vote on the first ballot, surpassing all other candidates, they could still lose.

The system penalizes those who run on bold ideas and policies.

The current system has its own flaws, of course, which is why any discussion of change has to be far more involved than London’s council’s was.

Regardless of one’s position on specific reforms, no elected representative should be able to change the rules on how they’ll seek re-election.

It was wrong for the Liberals to discuss reform without considering a referendum, just as it was for councillors in London to approve a change without one.

At least the Liberals told Canadians the reform was on the table. A small number of London councillors were forthright in the 2014 election about their hope to move away from first-past-the-post, but it wasn’t a significant election issue.

London is in the midst of a half-billion dollar rapid transit discussion, which has overshadowed any half-baked attempts at electoral reform engagement.

The City of London attempted to consult — I use the term generously — residents of the city. Just 815 people filled out an online survey on the subject. Among them, 52 per cent said they would prefer to vote for only one candidate in an election.

Half of those surveyed said they were in favour of changing to a ranked balloting system.

No other possible reforms were presented.

The city hosted four open houses to discuss ranked ballots and address people’s questions. Ninety-one people showed up — total. One meeting had a mere 12 attendees.

Even the federal Liberal government had more people show up at its electoral reform roadshow whistlestops.

Online engagement was more abysmal.

A report by London’s city staff said there were six Facebook posts and 14 tweets from Londoners weighing in. Perhaps the question should have been posed alongside a cat GIF.

Proponents of ranked ballots insist the current system gives too much power to a small group of people.

We hear this rhetoric about our federal political system as well. A party can have a majority in Parliament with only 39 per cent of the national popular vote.

These voices are blind to the hypocrisy of having nine people change our entire way of voting.

Nine people elected under a system they say is flawed, I might add.

If they’re illegitimately elected — based on their own contempt for first-past-the-post elections — how can any vote they cast on how democracy is enacted be legitimate?

This goes far beyond weighing the pros and cons of the status quo versus reform. Any serious discussion needs to engage voters directly through a referendum, not four tea parties and a handful of tweets.

If electoral reform were actually about democracy, it would be decided by the people.

To update the famous T.S. Eliot quote, democracy in London died not with a bang, but with a whimper.

30 years ago, a professor predicted the ‘closing of the American mind’ — how right he was

First published at Global News on April 28, 2017.

Organizers pulled the plug on a planned lecture by author Ann Coulter at the University of California, Berkeley this week. This is only the latest example of speakers — generally conservatives — being shut down by riots or the threat of violent protest.

It was only in February that Berkeley was literally aflame after hundreds of “anti-fascist” protesters took to the streets in opposition to Milo Yiannopoulos.

The conduct was reprehensible, but so was that of the 100 faculty members who called on Berkeley to cancel the event, citing the offensive nature of Yiannopoulos’ schtick.

Many of these professors have tenure, protecting their right to be controversial. Not as important for others, apparently.

Universities were once bastions of free speech, but genuine dialogue has been replaced by vicious shouting matches and conformity enforced by mob rule. This is particularly sobering at Berkeley, given its long-standing support of free expression.

Anyone caught off guard by this incursion of censorship hasn’t been paying attention: We were warned.

This month marks the 30th anniversary of Allan Bloom’s renowned book, The Closing of the American Mind: How higher education has failed democracy and impoverished the souls of today’s students.

Published in 1987, the book lamented the dilution of education and decline of discourse at post-secondary institutions — witnessed firsthand by Bloom, a classics professor and philosopher.

As the culture changed in the 1960s with the sexual revolution, anti-war protests and the rise of feminism, so too did the attitudes of that era’s students, in particular. Universities capitulated to the demand for education that was more rooted in social justice than objective truths.

This didn’t just manifest itself in political theory, but even the arts. Students were more concerned with discrediting, rather than studying, classics (on account of undertones of sexism and racism, invariably). Not even works by Shakespeare, Homer and Aristotle were safe.

Challenging truth and authority is a part of education. Campus progressives wanted their view unchallenged.

Universities responded, Bloom noted, by “offering every concession other than education,” saying “the whole experiment in excellence was washed away, leaving not a trace.”

As cultural relativism, the belief system that rejects any sense of cultural superiority (certainly that of the West) became the norm, students rejected quintessential Western values like free speech.

Despite being the mother of all liberties, free speech was lumped in with any other theory of mythology, viewed as a novel idea rather than a necessary tenet of democracy.

And so began the death of debate.

More than a generation after The Closing of the American Mind, disrespecting free speech is part of progressive doctrine.

Instead of countering controversial opinions with opposing views, it’s more the norm to protest a speaker or try to shut them down altogether.

Student unions routinely block assembly by groups challenging liberal orthodoxy.

Speech codes to guard against allegedly oppressive language are ubiquitous on campuses.

Without ever using the term “political correctness” or “safe space,” Bloom described what is so apparent in academia, and even off-campus, today. He was ahead of his time.

As a concept, political correctness was in action in the 1980s, but not as mainstream or understood as it is today.

It was actually a 1993 Newsweek feature that blew up the national discussion in America about the PC phenomenon, which the author termed, “an experiment of sorts taking place in American colleges.”

The piece shared stories that were unbelievable at the time.

A University of Connecticut student was excommunicated by her school for a tasteless joke about gays. She was later allowed back, but only after a federal lawsuit.

A Brown University student insisted the school refer to young girls as “pre-women,” to avoid belittling them.

Smith College issued a notice informing students of the 10 kinds of oppression they should avoid — from ageism to ableism to heteronormativity.

It’s laughable today to think these were controversial. Stories like these are now the rule, not the exception.

As much as Bloom’s book sent shockwaves through academia, his concerns weren’t heeded by the tenured Marxist professors and peacenik students who tended to run the show.

Idealism was partially to blame, Bloom argued.

In 1987, most college-aged students had a relatively good life. They had more personal freedoms than their parents did, and they didn’t have to live in fear of the Second World War or Vietnam War drafts.

Even the Cold War threat of nuclear attack had waned.

It was easy for students to pick more abstract enemies — misogyny, racism, [insert marginalized group]-o-phobia, and so on. Identifying and opposing these isn’t bad, but it’s problematic when every issue is viewed solely through the lens of oppression.

No one can argue, 30 years later, that things are better.

Perhaps Bloom’s hopefulness was his book’s biggest failing. He looked to the purity of the philosophical discourses in ancient Greece — the Platonic and Socratic dialogues — as model examples, stating that such a return to a culture of ideas and values is always viable.

It seems less so with each passing riot.

Assisted suicide is an affront to mental illness, not a cure for it

First published at Global News on April 21, 2017.

After a years-long battle with mental illness, 27-year-old Adam Maier-Clayton committed suicide last week.

His dying wish was to make it easier for other people in his situation to do the same.

The Windsor, Ont., man killed himself to end the debilitating physical and mental pain he experienced as a result of anxiety, mood disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.

He tried antidepressants, counselling, and even some experimental therapies, but none of it worked, he said.

Before his passing, Maier-Clayton urged government to amend assisted dying laws “so that sufferers of refractory illness (both mental and physical) have the ability to decide for themselves if they wish to continue suffering and enduring their illness or not.

“If not, giving them a dignified, painless way out of their suffering is what we need to do if we wish to truthfully be able to consider ourselves a civilized society.”

This idea that suicide is dignified and painless is a dangerous one. Take it from someone who tried and failed.

Nearly seven years ago I overdosed on dozens of pills — causing multiple cardiac arrests and weeks in hospital on life support.

I survived, but only narrowly so.

Everything from the method to the date and time was meticulously thought out.

I picked the day because I didn’t have any other appointments scheduled — as though missing a meeting would have been the only problem with my plan any other day.

Suicidal people are irrational. This is true even when decisions appear to be made through logic and reason.

I saw suicide as the answer to pain I was convinced wouldn’t abate.

It wasn’t just about picking the easy way out of an unpleasant situation — it was the only way. I saw no way my life would improve.

Spoiler alert: it did.

Like Maier-Clayton, I had tried myriad therapies, medications, and treatment throughout my years-long battle with depression. By the time I tried to pull the plug on my own existence, none had made an impact.

But after the attempt, that changed. Healing didn’t happen overnight, but things that hadn’t worked previously showed positive results.

My circumstances didn’t change, but my outlook did.

When discussing assisted suicide, mental and physical illness can’t be lumped into one category.

For diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often regarded as the poster diagnoses for assisted suicide, a person’s degeneration is linear and predictable.

That certainty is absent for those with depression or anxiety.

There is a difference between a septuagenarian whose best days are behind them and a 20-something who simply might not have found the right treatment yet.

Assisted suicide activists say those with mental illness are being denied the right to die with dignity just as elderly ALS patients were before the Supreme Court struck down the ban on physician-assisted death in 2015.

Exit International founder Dr. Philip Nitschke, who worked with Maier-Clayton in the lead-up to his suicide, maintains the young man was of completely sound mind to make the literal life and death decision.

“Yes he was suffering. Yes he had a mental illness. But did he have rational decision-making abilities? Absolutely,” Nitschke told me. “And I would challenge anyone to have been able to find any flaws in his thinking.”

Being a pretty good debater, I’m sure I could have sold my own suicide given how convinced I was that it was the right call. That wouldn’t have made it any less flawed a conclusion.

Despite my illness, I functioned in the world in such a way that most people didn’t even realize there was a problem. I worked, engaged and had relationships with others. I appeared normal, despite not thinking normally.

When illness is in the mind, rather than the body, it calls any decision into question — an irreversible one all the more so.

Maier-Clayton’s family experienced a powerlessness that most could never imagine, seeing such suffering in a loved one and not being able to fix it.

The role of health-care practitioners is to try — not to enable one’s disordered thinking by killing them. State-sanctioned death doesn’t help the mentally ill — it robs them of a chance for healing.

In 2010, no one could have told me happiness was possible. Today, I am married to the love of my life, working in a successful career, and able to look forward each day — all just a few years after I signed my own death warrant.

Suicide is a symptom of mental illness — not a cure for it.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways for getting help if you, or someone you know, is suffering from mental health issues.

Omar Khadr’s victim mentality

First published in the National Post on October 31, 2014.

Omar Khadr is gearing up for his forthcoming return to free society. His red carpet to cultural exoneration already has been laid by the NDP, the Toronto Star editorial board and Amnesty International. And now Khadr — whether by his own quill or that of a savvy legal and PR team — is trying to whitewash his history and present himself as an activist, rather than a convicted killer eager to apologize for his crimes and reintegrate into Canadian society.

In the wake of two terror-inspired attacks that claimed the lives of two Canadian soldiers last week, Khadr has taken to the op-ed page of the Ottawa Citizen to call out Canada’s allegedly “misguided” security laws, by which he claims to have been victimized.

In his op-ed, published Wednesday, Khadr had little — nothing, in fact — to say about his own actions in a Taliban-controlled Afghan village that led to his arrest, detainment at Guantanamo Bay, interrogations, and eventually his transfer to Canadian custody, where he is serving the remainder of his eight-year sentence at Alberta’s Bowden Institution, the product of a 2010 plea deal with U.S. officials before his military court trial.

The 2002 firefight in which Khadr (by his own admission) killed U.S. army medic Sgt. Christopher Speer with a hand grenade took place less than a year and a half after the wedding of Osama bin Laden’s son, which was attended by Khadr and his family. That was only 10 months the 9/11 terror attacks, for which Khadr’s father, Ahmed, a high-ranking al Qaeda member until his death in 2003, was a primary suspect.

“I was mired in a nightmare of injustice, insidiously linked to national security,” Khadr writes. “I have not yet escaped from that nightmare.”

Khadr sees himself as the victim. Not once does he acknowledge the gravity of the 9/11 attacks — preferring only to comment on “Canada’s post-Sept. 11 security practices” — nor does he ever mention Sgt. Speer. Also conspicuously absent is an apology, or any veiled sense of remorse whatsoever. Falling in line with the reputation created by so-called social justice activists, Khadr sees himself as the wronged party.

“I was apprehended by U.S. forces during a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002. I was only 15 years old at the time, propelled into the middle of armed conflict I did not understand or want,” he says.

Even to a 15-year-old, the destructive power of a grenade is rather clear
If this conflict was so unwanted, they why has he not condemned it? Why has his leading champion, his sister Zaynab, not deleted her rather concerning Facebook homage to Osama bin Laden, whom she calls “the great martyr”?

More importantly, why has Omar Khadr not distanced himself ideologically from the actions that he took, which his apologists see as excusable on account of his youth at the time. At 28, has he still not learned the difference between right and wrong?

I’ve made many mistakes in my own life. But even to a 15-year-old, the destructive power of a grenade is rather clear.

Khadr has claimed that he should be treated as child soldiers around the world are, and afforded the appropriate protections. Take responsibility for your own actions first, Omar.