The Mail

Viewing democracy

May 11 1998

The Mail

Viewing democracy

May 11 1998

The Mail


Viewing democracy

The premise posited by Bruce Wallace in his column “Potshots at the judiciary” (April 27) is summed up in his closing: “They just have to be able to withstand popular frenzies.” Now, that’s a jaundiced view of democracy. Wallace appears to dismiss the anger and consternation expressed by Canadians regarding the recent Supreme Court decision in the Delwin Vriend case. As well, the columnist refers to the dismay expressed by Albertans as “the grassfire sweeping Alberta.” It’s entirely possible that the air up where Wallace sits and writes is so thin as to cause him to miss the point. The reason why the great unwashed are upset may have more to do with the dismissive arrogance of the court in exceeding its jurisdictional and legal authority and stepping into the political arena by defining and setting social policy, than any bias against homosexuals, homosexuality or the judiciary. The development of social policy is the exclusive

preserve of Parliament and provincial assemblies. That simple principle is a cornerstone of democracy.

Roger Davidson, Cornwall, Ont.

Human rights

Barbara Amiel’s view is based on a fundamental error. As a member of Alberta’s Human Rights Commission, permit me to clarify. Amiel writes that the Supreme Court ruling forcing Alberta to include sexual orientation in its list of forbidden grounds of discrimination means that “if a religious school decides all its professors must share the views of some Christians that homosexuality is an abomination, it will no longer I be free to hire only those teachers I who practise this view” (‘Yes to hu| man rights; no to the commissions,” ° April 27). It does not mean this. Bona fide occupational requirements— such as belief systems in religious

schools—are reasonable and justifiable grounds for discrimination in employment. Insurance companies discriminate against young male drivers; teachers discriminate against poor exam writers; and Maclean’s discriminates against shoddy journalists, all on “reasonable and justifiable” grounds.

W P. Baergen, Stettler, Alta.

Barbara Aniel argues that human rights legislation is designed only to satisfy special interest groups. In stating that she would employ, house or service an “African-Canadian, Hindu homosexual” only polarizes the view of human rights legislation. Furthermore, she wrote that “equal treatment is very rarefy extended to men.” In fact, a Catholic, Caucasian, heterosexual male is also protected against discrimination on the basis of his sex, religion, race and sexual orientation. If this seems more absurd than Amiel’s example, then there is all the more reason for human rights legislation.

Stephen Betschel, Toronto

Bravo to Barbara Amiel on human rights commissions. The statism that tries to solve all social problems by new forms of discrimination moves our society from reason and merit to sentimentality and bureaucratic whim—and we all suffer.

Wilmer Penner, Steinbach, Man.

The effects of drugs

Your article on the side-effects of prescription drugs (“Death from side-effects,” Health, April 27) was all too poignant for me. I said a final farewell to my dad last September. After many years of pretty good health (he was still painting and decorating at the age of 72), my dad’s rheumatoid arthritis began about five years ago, He was advised by a specialist to undergo a course of treatment with gold injections. Thus began his dance of death with the medical profession/ pharmaceutical industry. From a gold-salts bone-marrow attack, through a cortisone-induced weakened heart, shingles from a compromised immune system, supposed “last-resort” splenectomy complete with a too-soon discharge and near-fatal blood clots on his lung, massive weight loss and wasting thanks to a bungled hospital stay for kidney stones to an ultimately lost battle with antibiotic-resistant pneumonia, he seemed to be on the short end of the pharmaceutical odds no matter which drug was administered next. And each time it was usually to counteract the toxic side-effects of the previous one. Unfortunately, my dad put his faith in the pharmaceutical industry and the medical establishment.

Maggie Laidlaw, Guelph, Ont.

Medicinal correctness

I hope your article opened a few eyes to one of the many-faceted problems associated with the use of otherwise excellent modern medicines. For instance, you say the “researchers suggest that correctly administered drugs kill an average of 106,000 people a year in the United States.” But who out there is deciding what is correct and what is incorrect? Likely the prescribe^ about whom Dr. Tom Perry, a Vancouver clinical pharmacologist in your story, notes “how hard it is to understand one drug well, let alone dozens or hundreds.” To me, what is at fault here is not the drugs, not the physicians, but the system we use to distribute the drugs to the public. Ways must be found to take some of the pressure off physicians, already overburdened with unreasonable requests from the public, plus drug manufacturer blandishments from their representatives and from medical journal advertising. One way to do that is to encourage people to be more responsible for their own health care. But in light of the glut of information on medicines available in the media and now on the Internet—almost all of which encourages more use of medicines, both traditional and alternative—we, the public, first need an unbiased and non-intimidating intermediary, such as newly graduated pharmacists, to help sort it out, including the advice given us by our doctors and our sales-motivated community pharmacists. Governments spend enormous sums of money protecting us from ourselves. They could spend a small sum protecting us from misused medicines.

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR should be addressed to: Maclean’s Magazine Letters 777 Bay St.,Toronto, Ont. M5W IA7 Fax: (416) 596-7730 E-mail: letters@macleans.ca Maclean’s welcomes readers’ views, but letters may be edited for space and clarity. Please supply name, address and daytime telephone number. Submissions may appear in Maclean’s electronic sites.

John Hill, Brantford, Ont.

Sensitive writing

Reading your review of Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes was a very moving experience for me (“Remembering Sylvia,” Books, April 27). I want to compliment you on your sensitive and thoughtful comments. I was particularly struck by the wisdom expressed in the last paragraph of the review. Thank you for a memorable reading experience. Now I must buy the book.

Eleanor Allgood, Trondheim, Norway

Riel's citizenship

A major point about Métis leader Louis Riel, which is not well known, often ignored and sometimes studiously discounted: after fleeing Manitoba, he was elected to Parliament as the Red River Settlement representative. There was a price on his head, but he went to Ottawa anyway to assume his seat. He was refused that right. Riel then fled to the United States, where he lived for 15 years. During that time, he took out American citizenship. If the bill by MPs Reg Alcock of Winnipeg and Denis Coderre of Montreal passes, we will be naming a national day after a U.S. citizen (“Rehabilitating Riel,” Opening Notes, April 27).

Peter Warren, CJOB Radio, Winnipeg

Digital or analog?

The article “Cellular confusion” (Technology, April 27) perhaps added to the confusion by propagating the common misconception that PCS is digital and cellular is analog. While PCS is all digital, it does not follow that cellular is all analog. The difference between PCS and cellular is simply the frequency band that the signal is transmitted in, 800 MHz for cellular and 1800 MHz for PCS (although Cantel AT&T has muddied the waters by advertising Digital PCS, which actually is a digital system operating in the cellular frequency bands). Since the frequency of operation makes little difference to the consumer, the difference between cellular and PCS largely boils down to price and coverage. Your article also claimed that PCS phones have “better sound quality” than analog cellular. This is a matter of opinion, and many would claim the “gold standard” for wireless voice is still analog.

David Crowe, Editor, Cellular Networking Perspectives,


A done dea!

The proposed megabank mergers in Canada and the United States may be getting all the press (“The challengers,” Business, April 27), but perhaps the real banking news is the startling success of micro-banks around the world. Beginning 20 years ago, microcredit has offered opportunity to millions of the poorest people on earth. Over 8,000 microcredit institutions now offer tiny loans (averaging about $100) to destitute people to generate income through self-employment. Numerous independent studies have documented the results: higher incomes, better health and better school attendance. Micro-banking now functions on a large scale. The Grameen Bank of Bangladesh has more than two million borrowers, most of them village women, in one of the world’s poorest countries. Yet the on-time repayment rate is 98 per cent. The Grameen Bank is now self-reliant, and uses the international markets to secure financing for its operations. There is the real news: a mega-micro-bank, where the interests of customers, not global strategy, come first.

Blaise Salmon, Victoria

Boffed, porked, bugled and pilloried again. “There will be no mergers in the banking sector,” says federal Finance Minister Paul Martin, “until we are convinced that is what is best for Canadians”. Horsepuckeys. It’s a done deal. Martin knows it, God knows it, the universe knows it. In spite of past reassurances, from government and industry

alike, the result has been a loss of jobs and price increases. Martin’s posturing in Parliament is only meant to appear to soften the blow of job losses and hidden service charges going vertical before they come. When Martin took his seat after delivering his remarks, it was evident from the smirk on his face that even he could barely contain himself from bursting into laughter.

Bob Nucich, Revelstoke, B. C.

Facts about Ireland

Without wishing to be caught up in the whole debate over Ireland, I wish to correct one statement in your editorial of April 27 (“Bringing old foes together,” From the Editor). You describe the republicans as “wanting the six counties of the northern province returned to the Republic of Ireland.” Those six counties never were part of the Republic, and so cannot be returned. The 26 counties of the Republic voted to secede from the United Kingdom; the other six decided to stay.

Robert S Dilley, Professor, Department of geography, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ont.

If the acts of terrorism noted in “Real peace at last?” (World, April 20) were indeed “indiscriminately” carried out by Northern Ireland’s Protestants and Catholics for the past 30 years, then neither side is very adept at guerrilla warfare. Otherwise, the average annual death toll would have been higher than 113 and there may not have been enough live bodies left to negotiate the Belfast Agreement. The fact is that most Protestants and most Catholics in this sixcounty statelet have not been terrorists, and those who have been were, like the unmentioned British army, usually discriminate in their choice of targets.

William A. Kearns, Cooperstown, N Y.


For the July 1 issue, Maclean’s is preparing a list of the 100 Most Important Canadians in History. We invite readers to submit nominations in the following 10 categories: Nation-Builders; Thinkers and Writers; Entrepreneurs; Artists; Discoverers; Activists; Characters; Stars; Heroes; Scientists. The project is being organized for Maclean’s by the noted historian J. L. Granatstein. Nominations can be sent by mail, fax or e-mail (addresses on page 4), or be posted at Maclean’s Online ( www.macleans.ca).