Heather Hunter

Living the Dream in Guildwood Seniors’ Residence       May'23

By Heather Anne Hunter

Long time Guildwood residents among others, ready to cash out in a seller’s housing market, watched and waited as the beautiful building at 65 Livingston Rd. took shape and opened in September 2021. The yellow brick low-rise complex surrounds a courtyard where residents can stroll on walkways past landscaped gardens or sit in the shade of a rustic pergola on comfy outdoor furniture. The architecture and design was inspired by “the beauty of nature and the artistic tradition of Guildwood Village.”

The glass doors of the entrance spring open onto a reception desk and an adjacent sitting area with a mesmerizing aquarium and a fireplace. The first impression is of a 5 star, all-inclusive resort built for seniors with deep pockets. (For the time being, visitors are required to sign in, answer Covid questions and given masks.)
The expansive first floor has a coffee bar, billiards table, library, big screen TV and seating arrangements which invite residents to leave their suites to mingle, converse and make new friends. There is a movie theatre with easy chairs for Friday night showings, a music room, a kid zone, an indoor pool, a gym and a roof-top terrace for socializing on sultry summer nights. Residents gather in the main area for exercise classes and special presentations. Socials and excursions are arranged each week. Art programs, discussion groups and workshops keep minds as well as bodies fit.

The first floor dining room resembles a classy restaurant with the daily menu posted at the door boasting 3 three course meals. Items can be selected from the menu or a la cart, catering to the needs and preferences of residents. Tables are set for two or four.
Studios and one or two bedroom suites contain a spacious living room, bathroom and full kitchen or kitchenette equipped with a fridge and microwave. Balconies and first floor patios overlook the courtyard. Residents may choose to have their own apartment-size washer and dryer in their large storage closet or use the laundry room on each floor. Light housekeeping is provided including weekly bed linen changes. Studio apartments start at $4,796/month. Outdoor parking is available at a monthly rate, but many of the occupants feel no need for a car as this “premier lifestyle” offers “worry-free retirement” providing for all their needs including social.

A “Memory Care” section, a supportive and independent environment for seniors with dementia on a secure floor, offers personalized support. A “Wellness Center” is on the first floor where nurse or doctor appointments on-site can be scheduled as well as fee-for-service assistance such as medication administration, lab services, escort to activities, weight and blood pressure supervision and help with daily routines. All-inclusive packages are available. Residents have their temperature taken every day. Beauty and physiotherapy appointments can be booked.
In essence, this upscale residence is a community. What’s not to like?

Widower, Bill Shedden, was tired of living alone, dealing with the responsibility and work of home ownership. The pandemic exacerbated his feeling of isolation and loneliness. So, he sold his 4 bedroom home of 50 years and bravely embarked on a new chapter of his life. He divested himself of most of his belongings and moved into a third floor unit in September 2022 at the age of 86. Overnight, he went from living alone to living with about 200 others.

Bill’s new lifestyle will take some getting used to. He had a busy life in the navy and then as a fireman. He and his wife Martha raised 3 kids in Scarborough. When Martha got Alzheimer’s disease, he cared for her as long as he could until she went into Seven Oaks long term care home where Bill visited daily and volunteered until she died. He stayed in their home for 5 more years.

After settling in, I asked him anxiously, “So how do you like it?” His instant reply was “I love it!” “How’s the food?” “Good!”
If only first impressions were lasting. A few months later the novelty of luxury living seemed to have worn off. When asked the same questions, the answers were: “I’m bored. I can’t putter around the house like I used to. I have nothing to do.” But wasn’t that the idea? No more grocery shopping, meal preparation, snow shoveling, grass cutting, climbing stairs or house repairs? Sometimes the mind is willing but the body is not. Ironically, Bill told me, “My favourite time is in the evening when I’m alone in my room (suite).” “The food here’s okay, but let’s go out for lunch. I need to get out of here.”

On the other hand, Hilda MacLennan who moved in October 2021 has no reservations. She proudly showed off her lovely first floor apartment with “high ceilings” and patio overlooking the courtyard. “I love it. The food is good. When I didn’t want a cold plate for lunch, I ordered something else. No problem. (If you don’t show up for dinner, they’ll be looking for you to be sure you’re alright.) You can be as busy as you want; I have little time to sit; something is always on.”

Moving is one of the top stressors in life. Such a major change would be momentous at any age requiring a huge adjustment. Going from living alone or with a spouse in the family home, to living in an apartment in a communal setting can be disconcerting and overwhelming even in the nicest residence.
We work hard all our lives dreaming of the day we can retire and enjoy our “Golden Years”. The old adage comes to mind: “Be careful of what you wish for, for you may get it.” The secret to a lifetime of happiness is enjoying what every stage has to offer.[sic]

Ontario Waterway Cruising     October 2022

By Heather Anne Hunter

International travel these days is not for the faint of heart. Along with a carry-on, travellers must pack infinite patience. Many would-be vacationers cannot bear the thought of air travel due to flight cancellations, delays, long lineups in crowded airports and lost luggage. Others are still nervous of the Corona Virus and don’t want to venture too far from home.

An all-inclusive cruise for seniors on the Trent-Severn Waterway, a 5 day vacation aboard the Kawartha Voyageur, was the solution to my wanderlust. The charming 120 foot cruise ship has 23 cabins, an elevator, dining room and lounge with the capacity for 45 passengers and a crew of 12 plus the captain.

The Trent-Severn Waterway is a world famous destination less than two hours from Toronto offering 240 miles of uninterrupted water travel with spectacular scenery: rugged granite of the Canadian Shield, idyllic farmland, marshland, tranquil bays, forest, rivers, canals and lakes with beautiful cottages. With 36 conventional locks, two sets of flight locks, two of the world’s highest hydraulic lift locks and a marine railway, it is a world class boating adventure on “one of the finest interconnected systems of navigation in the world” (National Geographic) where tourists experience the intersection of nature and technology.

Ontario Waterway Cruises Inc. was established by former farmers, Helen and Lloyd Ackert, who retired in 1993 leaving their sons Marc and John to take over the family business. They alternate as the ship’s captain and business manager, working along with their wives, Robin and Joy, who oversee the hospitality functions and reservations.

Marc and Robin were ever-present on our Kawartha Summer Cruise. Marc was ship captain and Robin, head cook, following traditional family recipes compiled in the ship’s cookbook (available for sale onboard). Warm bread and fresh juice accompany three meals a day and two snacks, all homemade from fresh Ontario produce served by friendly, young local staff. My only complaint was I gained 6 pounds in 5 days. Alcoholic drinks are $4 each while coffee, tea and pop are free all day.

Between meals, the guests sit on the top deck or the bow of the Kawartha Voyageur enjoying the changing scenery. The boat docks each night and the passengers spill out to explore the quaint ports of call.

The first lock, Ashburnham Lock 20, and the CPR rail swing bridge, built in 1898, the oldest remaining truss bridge in original condition, open manually onto a four mile long, man-made canal which rejoins the Otonabee River at Trent University.

The massive Peterborough Lift Lock 21, constructed in 1904, raises boats 65 feet, higher than rival locks in Europe. The next section of Waterway contains 5 concrete locks within just 6 miles, the first of their kind in Canada.

We pass through Lake Katchewanaooka, Clear Lake and Stoney Lake traversing Lock 27 at Young’s point and lock 28 at Burleigh Falls before Lovesick Lake and Lock 30. Lock 31 rises 11.5 feet to Lake Buckhorn where we stop for the night and passengers can choose to take an evening stroll to see two gargantuan rocks, glacial erratics, named “Adam and Eve.”

Narrows Bridge is a “sit-down” bridge with only 4 to 6 inches clearance. The deck roof and the wheel house collapse and the captain pops his head out a hatch to navigate to Pigeon Lake, a 6 mile run to Bobcaygeon. A modern hydraulic lock 32 is in the center of the village, where we stop for a quick shopping trip before going on to Sturgeon Lake.

A beautiful rocky gorge is the entrance to Fenelon Falls. Lock 34 is situated right on the main street. We pass by the old railway swing bridge to enter Cameron Lake. At Rosedale lock 35 we glide under Highway 35.

Balsam Lake is the summit of the Trent-Severn Waterway at 220 feet above sea level before the descent of 143 feet to the Severn. The man-made Kirkfield Channel between Balsam Lake and Lake Simcoe crosses the divide between the two watersheds uniting the Trent water system with The Severn.

East of Mitchell Lake is Carden Plain, a natural limestone plain, attracting 30 protected bird species to Carden Alvar Provincial Park, a rare, grassland ecosystem.

Kirkfield Lift Lock 36 descends 49 feet to Canal Lake created by constructing the lock and dam on the Talbot River at Bolsover which involved the purchase of 2,000 acres, now underwater. Efforts are being made to preserve the historic value of 5 manually operated locks 37 to 41 on the Talbot River.

Gamebridge Swing Bridge is the last barrier to Lake Simcoe, 19 by 16 miles, the largest on the waterway. Atherley Narrows is a dredged natural channel between Lake Couchiching and Lake Simcoe. We dock at Orillia, where tourists come to visit the historic home of Canada’s premiere humorist, the late Stephen Leacock, on Couchiching’s Old Brewery Bay.

The lake narrows and we enter the Trent Canal passing under Hwy.11 at Washago and the CNR swing bridge, the transcontinental line, before Lock 42 brings us down 20 feet to the level of the Severn River. We follow the river to Sparrow Lake and pass under one more swing bridge at Hamlet before rejoining the Severn to Port Stanton.

At Big Chute, we are 71 feet above the level of Georgian Bay. The historic marine railway, the only one in North America, was first built in 1917 to bypass a waterfall dropping 58 feet in just 200 yards. Beside it, the functioning railroad, built in 1977, has a double track which keeps the carriage level at all times. Boats are floated onto the partly submerged carriage and carried smoothly overland. Using the marine railroad instead of a lock prevents migration of lamprey eels into the waterway from Georgian Bay.

Alas, The Kawartha Voyageur is too large for passage at Big Chute, so the 5 day journey ends just 8 miles from the last lock 45 on the waterway at Port Severn. Passengers board an awaiting coach to travel back to Peterborough in just two and a half hours where their cars are parked for free at The Holiday Inn. Many are planning their next trip. Kawartha Summer from Peterborough to Big Chute is one of 3 cruise itineraries. Quinte Summer goes from Peterborough to Kingston and Rideau Summer, from Kingston to Ottawa. Ontario is “Yours to Discover” aboard the Kawartha Voyageur.

2023 cruises from May 14 to Oct 09 are already filling up. To inquire call Ontario Waterway Cruises 1-800-561-5767 or email: info@ontariowaterwaycruises.com. The Canadian fare (double occupancy) is $2,336 per person plus tax. There is no need for additional medical insurance while enjoying a safe, stress free holiday in your home province.


No Such Thing As Closure     September 2022

By Heather Anne Hunter

Eighteen years ago, Arona Bridgebassie suddenly lost her only son to a cardiac event when he was only 21. The intensity of her pain has never gone away. She believes there is no such thing as closure; there is only learning to live differently. Life is forever altered when you lose a child which contravenes the natural order of things.

Seven mothers from her church congregation have lost children over the years. Three of my friends have suffered the loss of a child. It is astonishing how many people have gone through a parent’s worst nightmare. Arona’s co-worker who lost a son asked her: “How did you get through the first few years?”

The platitudes of well-meaning people, often religious, are aggravating, not consoling. “God wanted him in heaven. It was his time. Everything happens for a reason, etc.” Arona couldn’t accept these rationalizations. Her faith was tested when it seemed clear that God does not intervene to prevent illness and suffering of the innocent or the devout. People telling Arona “silly things”, when and how to grieve, what to think and feel, “made me shut down.” She decided to write a book, Closure: No Such Thing, to support the grieving and help other people better understand what they are going through. Her therapist encouraged her to channel her energy into helping others. Arona acknowledges that professional therapy is important.

Distress is individual and part of the human condition but we live in a death denying culture. “Prolonged Grief” lasting over 12 months has recently been included as a medical disorder in the psychiatric diagnostic manual (DSM). However, other professionals think there is no right or wrong way to grieve, that the diagnosis will mostly benefit the drug companies. Grief counsellor, Kathy Kiteley, believes “it is necessary to feel our pain, anger, guilt and sadness. The grieving need our support and patience.” Arona feels medicalizing long term grief is “condescending, wrong, not accurate at all.”

                 Arona also saw the need to start a support group under the umbrella of Malvern Presbyterian Church, lay people sharing their uncensored feelings with kindred spirits. She was anxious about the planning and commitment required and feared revisiting her darkest years, afraid that listening to so much grief would stir up her own. Despite Arona’s apprehension, she felt, “as a Christian, called to do this, an obligation to do it for other people” as well as herself.

On July 23, a sunny Saturday morning, twenty-two people attended the opening of the bereavement group held in the bright and cheerful fellowship hall of Malvern Presbyterian Church. Tables were set up with white tablecloths and potted plants and each place was provided a notebook, pen, and book mark printed with wise, pithy statements by Jessica Traczynski: “10 Things I Wish People Told Me About Grief” such as: “There is no such thing as closure; there will always be regrets; there is no timeline; there is no ‘normal’ to grieving; grief is not linear in 5 stages; grief will make you question your faith, your life, your whole purpose…” The program was interspersed with beautiful spiritual songs, both emotionally triggering and comforting: “He Knows Every Hurt”, “Save a Place For Me”, “Don’t Be Mad If I Cry.”

Reverend Barbara Duguid opened with the scripture verse: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” She emphasized that the group takes confidentially seriously. “What is said here, stays here.” All faiths will be respected as well as those with no faith. The hope is that people seeking comfort and companionship will be uplifted despite the sad nature of group therapy. The vision is to provide comfort, ongoing support and empathy in a non-judgemental environment so those in grief will find healing and hope.

Carolyn Swinson, Victim’s Services Volunteer for MADD Canada for 25 years, graciously volunteered to address the first meeting of the bereavement group. MADD Canada (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) was started by one mother and their activism blossomed into a national organization. Carolyn gave the address: “How Grief Manifests Itself.” She has been to court with over 60 families, but says there usually isn’t justice for victims killed by drunk drivers who rarely show remorse, an added blow to survivors. She believes people should not be told to forgive them for a preventable tragedy, “not an accident.”

Siblings have a special bond and have a different experience from their parents. Arona’s daughter, Lacey, was nearly 10 when her brother died. She didn’t know how to react. It became real when she saw her brother in his casket. Joy and happiness left the home. “I didn’t have a childhood.” Her mother went quiet, was sleeping or crying all the time, and was emotionally unavailable to her. Her dad was working (somebody had to). Lacey grew up fast. Arona’s therapist reminded her that she still had a daughter who needed her support beyond the basics.

After presentations, tearful individuals volunteered to express their feelings:                                                                                                                                                                           “Part of me died too.”                                                                                                                            

“After 50 years, I still carry the pain.”                                                                                                                         “His future was wiped out.”                                                                                                                                       “It’s not an easy road.”                                                                                                                                  

“There’s only so much you can talk about.”                                                                                                                                     “I always want to talk about her, brag about her.”                                                                                         “Include those lost at family gatherings, so they are not forgotten,”                                                                                                                                               “Death makes you look differently at life, adds perspective.”                                                                                “My son is with me every single moment of every day.”

When the meeting concluded, the mood lightened. Smiles and laughter returned as people enjoyed refreshments and fellowship. A sense of community had been established. People left feeling relieved likely to return to the next meeting.

There is no need to suffer in silence.

The group supports grieving parents but is open to anyone. It will meet on the third Saturday of every month at Malvern Presbyterian Church, 1301 Neilson Road (at Sewells). For more information contact: Malvern Presbyterian Church, 416-284-2632 or Arona Bridgebassie, bridgebassie@bell.net

A Fearless Culinary Experience     September 2022

The enormous menu is daunting but the prices are not. At Fearless Meat the 6 oz. Beach Burger is only $5.99 and the Junior 3 oz. only $3.99. The shakes start at $3.49. Coffee and tea are only a buck twenty five. Breakfast sandwiches, Montreal smoked meat, chicken fingers (made from sliced boneless breasts) are homemade in their open kitchen. Haddock and chips is the latest item at $6.99 and $10.99. Fearless Meat, an old fashioned neighbourhood fast food joint, uses locally sourced ingredients and biodegradable packaging. I was really disappointed after devouring a burger and fries—because I didn’t have room for a soft serve cone. I returned the next day for a towering ice cream cone at $1.99 which did not disappoint.

This hole-in-the-wall restaurant at 884 Kingston Rd. is easy to miss even though the exterior is painted a bright red. A cross between a small town diner and a beachside grill, the family friendly atmosphere makes you feel like you’re on holidays. The patio seating is picnic tables with umbrellas in the ally beside the restaurant. The walls of the small indoor seating area are gaily adorned with a mural depicting a giant burger, fries, and ice cream cones sailing on a big blue wave, a nod to the Upper Beaches location. A caricature portrait of owner, David Brown, greets you on the way to the spotless restrooms.

Brown has 50 years experience as a butcher. His secret to success is generosity and a big heart. “I wanted to offer great food products at reasonable prices. Butchers have a long tradition of giving back to the community before food banks existed.” Kiddie cones are free. For needy seniors and homeless citizens, there is no charge for burgers. Even dogs waiting patiently with their owners at the take-out window are treated to sample cups of ice cream. Dave is committed to his community and rewarded with enthusiastic patronage. The walls are adorned with framed rave reviews and the 2021 Reader’s Choice Best Burger in Toronto Award. Google reviewers give the restaurant 4.7 stars.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Dave heard that neighbouring proprietor of Kingston Rd. Market, Andy Sue, had been the victim of a racist rant coming from a woman who insinuated that Chinese-Canadians were spreading the Coronavirus. Brown saw the story on the community Facebook page and Global television. Asian owned businesses were suffering from this misconception at the time. Unbeknownst to Andy, Dave decided to lend his support online by offering free 6 oz. burgers to anyone presenting him with a receipt from Andy’s flower shop. Patrons swamped the two establishments. The unassuming little restaurant dished out between 700 and 800 free burgers and Andy had the best weekend since his family opened in 1972.

Last November, Dave sponsored a writing contest asking students to express their thoughts on Remembrance Day. The 33 entrants received commemorative coins and coupons for free Fearless burger combos. He initiated the “good deed challenge” online. Why does Dave do these acts of kindness? Because it is a “rewarding experience helping out.” Dave is an inspiring member of our community who demonstrates that nice guys do not finish last!

How to Reduce Your Grocery Bill      May 2022

I love saving money. It must be my Scottish heritage. Call me cheap. I take it as a compliment. As food prices rise, I see it as a challenge.

Saving starts with not wasting. Old food gets shoved to the back of the fridge, forgotten until it takes on a life of its own. Then it is chucked out. Everybody goes for the newest, assuming the old is stale. If this is happening in your house, you are buying too much.

Food lasts longer kept in the fridge rather than on the counter, especially baked goods and fruit. To have enough fridge space, buy smaller amounts and don’t replace food until the old is used up. Use up leftovers. What was made fresh one day becomes a ready-made meal a few days later, or you can freeze it and eat it a week later.

Prices at the bargain food chains are lower than higher end stores where you are paying for greater choice (50 kinds of the same thing). Store brands are a good value, basically the same as name brands.

Meat is the most expensive food and we don’t need to consume so much. It is healthier to eat smaller portions. Half a pound of minced beef will suffice instead of a pound to flavours stews, casseroles, sauces and soups. Serve small portions of meat and fill the plate with vegetables and grains. Protein and fiber rich legumes are cheaper and healthier than meat.

There is nothing wrong with the meat reduced for quick sale. “Best before” doesn’t mean rotten after. This meat can be frozen, so stock up. I haven’t poisoned my family yet.

Boxed broth is a real rip off – flavoured, coloured water full of chemicals and salt. Simmer old vegetables or cheap cuts of meat in water, strain and kept the broth in plastic containers in the fridge or freezer. The fat rises to the top and can be removed making it low fat. Frozen, it defrosts in minutes in the microwave. The water you pour off of cooked vegetables is chock full of vitamins and flavour and shouldn’t be dumped down the drain.

Rummaging through the reduced rack of produce is an adventure. Don’t be embarrassed if your neighbour sees you. A bruise can be cut out of an apple. Spotted bananas and oranges are perfect inside. Slightly wizened green peppers work great in soups and sauces. ‘Imperfect’ fruits and vegetables are perfect.

Day-old bakery goods freshen up in the microwave or toaster. The day after you shop, everything becomes day-old.

Food coupons are free gifts. Put the ones you will use in your wallet so you will remember them.

Look for the weekly specials and stock up. Deals rotate so eventually you will have some of everything in the freezer. Energy efficient freezers are worth their weight in steaks. Mine has paid for itself over and over.

Working together in the kitchen making dinner and cleaning up is quality time when family members reconnect at the end of the school or work day. Carrots and potatoes, cheap staples, can be washed with a brush instead of peeled, reducing work and increasing vitamin content.

Frozen vegetables, flash frozen right after picking, are equal to or better than fresh both in vitamins and flavour. Frozen diced onions and green peppers are economical time savers.

Grow you own vegetables. A small strip of land on the sunny side of a building will produce incredible amount of food which can be frozen for winter. Tending your garden is a great hobby and educational for kids, even inspiring as you watch the miracles unfold from shoot to ripened tomatoes, beans, zucchini, peppers, cucumbers etc.

I am not a nutritionist or professional chef, just a mom with a reputation as a good cook and money manager. I learned from my mother, who was raised in the Depression Era, who learned from her mom. So, pass on your wisdom and leave this article in plain sight of your adult children (for whom it was intended).

Doctors Advise Us To Keep Masks On!      May 2022

As some people rejoiced that masks could come off, others were filled with trepidation. A sixth wave of COVID-19 is upon us. The disease is making an aggressive comeback and doctors are sounding the alarm, telling us in no uncertain terms that we should continue wearing masks. Government officials have recommended we wear them in public settings. However, after having had a taste of freedom from masks, will people follow recommendations which are not mandates?

Many now believe that getting the Omicron virus is like having the flu… no big deal. However, rapidly mounting cases and hospital admissions attest to the fact that isn’t quite true. The risks are higher for seniors and those with co-morbidities, but even fully vaccinated, young, healthy adults and children may require hospitalization. Some patients experience life-altering, long-haul symptoms not linked to age or health conditions. The stealthy VA2 Omicron variant is more transmissible and unpredictable than ever, and reinfections are happening.

We are getting mixed messages. Dr. Kieran Moore (Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer) strongly recommends it, but does not require us to wear masks in public and in schools. He believes that with high immunization and the anti-viral treatment, Paxlovid, the health care system is protected. In news conferences, Premier Ford echoes Moore’s comments. Nevertheless, ICU numbers are expected to reach 600 which means that surgeries will be postponed. Clearly frustrated, Dr. Michael Warner (Critical Care, MGH) responded: “It doesn’t make sense. There should be access to hospital for all patients.”

Dr. Isaac Bogoch (Infectious Disease Specialist) stated unequivocally, “To lower the risks and create a safer indoor space for all, we should clearly be wearing masks.” The World Health Organization simply stated: “Get vaccinated and continue to wear your masks.” Teresa Tam (Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer) is predicting a surge in the fall and winter of 2022. “People’s behaviour will determine the scope of the wave.” Dr. Peter Juni, (Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology and Director of the Science Advisory Table) believes that the rise in cases is due to the sudden change in our behaviour. “We got ahead of ourselves.” He wants us to continue to “mask up.”

Should public safety be in the hands of Canadians themselves, politicians, or health care specialists? In April, the Ontario government removed most restrictions leaving the option to wear a mask up to the individual. Premier Ford insisted, “We do have capacity in our hospitals and ICU’s. We can manage this.” Health Minister Elliot (not a doctor) stated, “There is no need to panic. We can handle it.” Dr. Moore admitted we “will see a rise in admissions, but we have the tools to mitigate that.” But who wants to end up in the hospital? Are they downplaying the risks, looking at the situation through a political and economic, rather than a scientific lens?

Dr. Sharkawy (Internal Medicine and Infectious Disease Specialist, UHN) believes the ministers’ statements are inaccurate due to attrition in the health care sector. Dr. Michael Warner insisted, “Masks should be put back on! We need to avoid infection.” Dr. Irene De Villa, Toronto’s top doc, said that “We should expect from time to time to adjust our behaviour,” and return to stricter protocols when necessary.

True, with three and four doses of the vaccine the population has a fair degree of protection (which diminishes after 4 months). The antiviral treatment, Paxlovid, gives us a better chance of surviving the disease if it is administered within 5 days of developing symptoms. To be prepared, it is up to us to contact our family doctors in advance of getting sick to establish our risk factors and treatment strategies. Will busy doctors dealing with very ill patients have the time for conferences with patients who are not even sick?

We must not only assess our own risks, but also the risks to those around us. Household outbreaks are more common than ever. School age and adult children are bringing the virus home to their parents and grandparents. Toronto’s school boards, seeing a record number of teacher and student absences, asked the government to reinstate the mask mandate for schools, but were denied because there has been “no significant rise of children in intensive care units,” as reported by Dr. Moore. Dr. De Villa is pushing for indoor mask use. “Children have been hit with a wide range of mental and physical health issues,” thus excessive school absences and disruptions should be avoided.

With the arrival of warm weather, we can gather safely in parks, backyards and patios. Is it such a hardship to mask up when indoors, especially with older friends and family? As one passerby said to a TV reporter: “It’s an easy thing to do–not a big ask!”

Learning to live with the virus doesn’t mean throwing caution to the wind and ditching simple protective measures. The VA2 Omicron variant is a wild card. We cannot become complacent.

Relaxing health mandates gave us a false sense of security and a feeling that the pandemic is basically over, but Dr. Bogoch told us “We are not there yet.” Doctors at all levels are literally begging us to continue wearing masks. Unfortunately, as the old saying goes; you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

Post-Pandemic Canada: A House Divided ~ Opinion      April 2022

The protest in Ottawa was all but forgotten in the news cycle when it became busy reporting on the next horror story, the war in the Ukraine. Hopefully, the people who called Prime Minister Trudeau a tyrant have had their eyes opened to what a true dictator looks like personified by Vladimir Putin. The leaders of the occupation have been let out of jail and the truckers quietly given back their keys. However, all is not well. Canada’s population is more polarized than before the pandemic.

Conservatives and liberals in Canada display animosity similar to that of republicans and democrats in the United States. People have divided into camps, “unfriending” each other based on who are vaxxed or unvaxxed and whether they were for or against the anti-mandate protests. Our polite tolerance of each other’s different views has waned.

Populism is a political approach that appeals to ordinary people who feel their concerns have been disregarded by the established elite. In a democracy, people have the legal right to demonstrate peacefully. However, the truckers’ “Freedom Convoy” was hijacked and exploited by far-right extremists. The populace who may have had real grievances were drowned out by extreme social conservatives. The police, the politicians and mainstream media were vilified by prominent protesters.

Right-wing conservatism opposes pluralism and advocates a return to an idealized traditional society. White nationalists blame minorities and prey on the fears of people angered by wealth inequity who are seeing their lifestyles eroded by rampant inflation. Visible minorities were conspicuously absent from the protest in Ottawa. Were they afraid of the underlying racist element? Or, are immigrants more grateful to Canada because they were not born with a sense of entitlement and do not take their new, peaceful lives in a democracy for granted? Some who have fled war were dumbfounded to see protesters, people who have never experienced war, playing war games, building barricades and shouting “Hold the line”. Yet they were not among the brave Canadians who joined Ukraine’s foreign legion in an actual fight for freedom.

Across Canada, people were glued to their televisions, shaking their heads in disbelief, waiting to see how the protest would end. But has it ended? Anti-mandate advocates were subdued for the time being when most Covid-19 restrictions were lifted. However, like the stealthy virus, they lie in wait, ready to erupt again if rules are reinstated due to a surge from a new variant.

What did our youth learn by example from the illegal protest in Ottawa? If they don’t want to do what their teachers say, do they now believe they have the God-given right to protest loudly, disrupt the whole class and disrespect authority figures with impunity? Anti-Semitism has been rearing its ugly head in TDSB elementary schools of late. Were racists emboldened by the swastikas amidst the inverted Canadian flags, so uncomprehending children feel that it is okay to mock their Jewish teachers with a Nazi salute?

At the beginning of the pandemic, people seemed to have increased empathy for one another having a “We’re all in this together” attitude. Health workers were hailed as heroes. As people started to lose patience, the mood soured. Individual freedom started to matter more than collective rights. Exhausted nurses and doctors found themselves maligned, heckled and threatened. An “us versus them” attitude emerged.

Tribalism, a fervent loyalty to one’s own social group, is widening the gap between Canadians of different persuasions. We pay lip service to the great Canadian ideals, diversity and inclusion, but anger and hatred against “the other” is rampant on social media and increasingly evident in our society. Alas, Canada is losing its innocence.

Rights and Freedoms in a Democracy ~ Opinion      March 2022

The “protest” in Ottawa resembled a massive block party complete with bouncy castles, barbeques, drinking and blaring music. Letting off steam after two years of Covid restrictions, the protesters seemed to be thoroughly enjoying their moment of fame. However, out of sight of the cameras, a more radical faction strove to embolden the “movement”.

In their “Memorandum of Understanding”, the self-appointed leaders of the “protest” turned “occupation” in Ottawa, initially advocated the overthrow of our democratically elected federal government. How could such extremism attract throngs of normally law-abiding citizens? Believing they were in a noble fight for “freedom” against “tyranny” and on the right side of history, the truckers disrupted the lives of their own families and the communities they invaded. They vowed to remain until all their poorly thought-out, diverse demands were met. No compromise would satisfy them.

Their one clear message was the slogan plastered on every vehicle, “Freedom”. According to Wikipedia, “Freedom” is “a total lack of restraint, the ability to fulfill one’s individual desires.” “Liberty”, on the other hand, “entails responsible use of freedom under the rule of law without depriving anyone else of rights and freedom.” The protesters were, in fact, severely interfering with the civil liberties of other Canadians entitled to live and work peacefully and unimpeded in Ottawa. Are the “freedom fighters” gravely misinformed about the nature of democracy, buoyed up by their social media community?

Demanding “freedom for all”, even though the vast majority of the population do not identify with or support their cause, one young trucker summed up his beliefs: “It’s about choice… to do what we want”. Do they actually want to see a “free-for-all”, to live in a society where “every man (is acting) for himself”, heedless of the toll on others?

We are not islands unto ourselves; our actions have a ripple effect. In all societies including democracies, individual rights are necessarily curtailed to ensure basic rights for all, the greater good. Laws are safeguards against anarchy. Without government controls, countries like Haiti become failed, lawless states and no one is safe. Under a totalitarian regime where freedom really is denied, demonstrations are outlawed and government critics are imprisoned or disappear.

Our political leaders have an obligation to protect the collective rights of the majority by basing their decisions on the advice of legitimate authorities, not special interest groups or vocal minorities. If crowds of belligerent protesters were able to bully politicians into changing laws, we would have mob rule, not rule of law.

In a democracy, non-violent, peaceful protests are a right, but harassing, tormenting and infringing on the rights of others is not! The situation in Ottawa was not a peaceful protest, but a siege, an illegal occupation, a form of domestic terrorism. Police were outnumbered and obstructed from doing their duty. Heedless of the inherent dangers, demonstrators flagrantly broke the laws by blasting horns, blocking streets, stock piling jerry cans of diesel fuel and propane tanks and having bonfires. 25% of the protesters brought their children who breathed air polluted by diesel exhaust four times the safe limit. Honking of horns reached decibel levels dangerous to their ears. Did child protective services have a duty to step in given the unpredictable nature of the situation? Were children in essence serving as human shields to prevent police from using greater force?

According to Professor Colin Rose of Brock University, social unrest and civil disobedience accompany times of natural disaster, so the demonstration was predictable even if the scope was not.

A segment of our population seems to have a deep distrust of authority: scientists, doctors, main stream media and government officials, bordering on paranoia. “They’ve all been bought” shouted one protester. Some even believe that nurses and doctors were paid to lie about the severity of the disease, hence the intimidation of hospital workers.

On alternate media, anti-vaxxers and Covid deniers have been contradicting health care professionals throughout the pandemic. Do they expect and deserve to receive good medical care from exhausted hospital staff working in an over-burdened health care system? Is it fair that patients needing surgery have had to wait and suffer because the ICU’s were filled with the unvaccinated? Calling the illness “viral pneumonia” instead of Covid-19 will not make the disease less lethal. Does their right to circulate freely in society exceed their responsibility to avoid spreading the infection thereby prolonging the pandemic and the restrictions on everyone? How do they propose we deal with a surge in new strains of the virus or future pandemics?

In Windsor, the border blockade at the Ambassador Bridge had enormous national consequences. Supply lines at the busiest land access point between Canada and the US were cut off. Working truckers and other essential workers were prevented from freely doing their jobs. Business leaders predicted that, with Canada’s reputation tarnished by the disruptions at border crossings, damage to international trade relationships could be long-lasting. Protesters seemed not to care about the economic impact on fellow Canadians. Drew Dilkins, the exasperated Mayor of Windsor lamented, “We are not working with rational actors.”

A few people were seen carrying American flags (even Confederate) in our nation’s capital. Donald Trump and Republican governors Ron DeSantis and Ted Cruz publically proclaimed their support for the “Freedom Convoy”. 57 % of the crowd funding support for the protesters came from the United States, clearly foreign interference in our domestic affairs. Is the “Americanization” of Canada altering the fabric of our democracy and our very identity?

We are all fed up, bored and frustrated with the pandemic, but the virus doesn’t care. Demanding that all mandates immediately be lifted will not make it magically go away. Ultimately, this unprecedented period in our lifetime is a test of our patience, rationality and maturity, a measure of our commitment to each other and Canada.