Canada Now Has a National British Home Child Day

It’s just one more reason to celebrate being Canadian. On February 7, House of Commons motion M-133, sponsored by Conservative MP Guy Lauzon (Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry), passed unanimously 294–0 in Parliament. The motion declares September 28 national British Home Child Day. It’s a long overdue recognition of the more than 100,000 boys and girls brought to this country as child immigrants and indentured labourers between 1869–1948. It’s estimated that there are four million descendants of British Home Children living in Canada today—or about 1 in 9 of us.


Early group of girls at Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School in Duncan, BC. Courtesy Ron Smith / Fairbridge Chapel Society

The text of Lauzon’s motion reads: “That, in the opinion of the House, the government should recognize the contributions made by the over 100,000 British Home Children to Canadian society, their service to our armed forces throughout the twentieth century, the hardships and stigmas that many of them endured, and the importance of educating and reflecting upon the story of the British Home Children for future generations by declaring September 28 of every year, British Home Child Day in Canada.”

They were known as ‘home children’ because many of them came from orphanages and charity homes in Britain. In the early years of the program, children as young as 5 were sent to live on Canadian farms. All were required to sign indenture contracts that terminated at legal age. Later legislation passed in 1925 banned child immigrants under age 14, but this was often ignored by the philanthropic organizations shipping boatloads of kids to Canada. Philanthropists like Dr. Barnardo cultivated support—both financial and moral—for their organizations at the highest levels of society, including the British aristocracy. So it wasn’t hard to get Canadian immigration officials to look the other way.

I worked with NDP MP Richard Cannings (South Okanagan–West Kootenay) to draft his speech to the House of Commons representing the federal NDP Party’s support for the motion. Since then, the other parties in the House have each had their opportunity to speak to the motion, and all did so with great respect for the legacy created by these generations of former child immigrants. It was wonderful to see the cross-partisan support from all political parties, though as Cannings told me on the phone, “this is what’s known in politics as a ‘motherhood’ issue, and they tend to pass fairly easily.”

Barnardo portrait

A popular portrait of Dr. Barnardo, whose organization emigrated some 30,000 children to Canada.

Liberal MP Serge Cormier (Acadie–Bathurst) said in his speech to the motion that, “The thinking that led to the decision to uproot those children from their lives in England and send them to another country, thousands of kilometres away, seems absurd to us today. The story of their lives in Canada is happy for some and sad for others. Moreover, the background of a large number of them will forever remain unknown. Many were initially ashamed and, once they were adults, they decided to forget. They have never told their families how things went after they arrived in Canada.” He commended the efforts of BHC activists Perry Snow, Lori Oschefski and John Willoughby. Many others could be added to this list, including Peterborough octogenarian Ivy Sucee, recipient of the Queen’s Jubilee Medal for her efforts. Cormier provided some useful historical details proving that federal and provincial governments were partners in the child immigration scheme. “Initially, the children’s travel expenses were greatly subsidized in Canada. Nova Scotia provided $5 for young children and $10 for older ones. Ontario provided $6 and the federal government provided $2 for every child that the charitable organizations brought into the country.” Yet these children were also expected to pay back the cost of their passage from Britain, and were often solicited for donations by Barnardo’s out of their meagre earnings. “In fact, the apprenticeship agreements (were) brutal reminders that the children were not considered to be family members, but servants,” said Cormier.

For some of the MPs who spoke to the motion, the BHC story is personal. “The story of the British home children struck home with me through my uncle who never spoke about it,” said Conservative MP Phil McColeman (Brantford–Brant). “I found out about the British home children in 2008 when I first came to the House of Commons. A minister at the time, Greg Thompson, suggested that I should learn more about this issue. Through that research, I found the story of my uncle. With further research, I found the story of many others.” It’s a common refrain amongst BHC families—not finding out anything until one’s middle age or even later, and underscores the need for the topic to be taught in all Canadian public schools. McColeman’s uncle Ken Bickerton, who came to Canada, was separated from his brother, who was sent to Australia. One’s view of BHC history is often coloured by the experience their forebear had, whether positive or negative. Brutally hard labour in primitive conditions and all weathers, beatings and in some cases sexual abuse were not uncommon. Some of the lucky ones prospered in their new country, such as Joe Harwood and LV Rogers, two of the BHCs I profile in my book Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest. For McColeman, “they would never have had lives they had if they had not come through what many believed in that time period… to be something necessary to rescue them from poverty and life without hope in Great Britain…”

Barnardo's Peter St. home Toronto

Barnardo’s Home in Toronto, Peter St. with boy’s band and staff.

NDP MP Linda Duncan (Edmonton–Strathcona) said it was “remarkable how many members in the House of Commons are touched by this issue and who come from a line of children who were emigrated to this country, were not well treated, and should be recognized in history.” Duncan alluded to the House of Commons motion passed last year (February 16, 2017) apologizing to the BHC and their families for the poor treatment many of them received. She cited “motions tabled by former NDP MP Alex Atamanenko and the current member for South Okanagan–West Kootenay, both calling for a formal apology.” So far BHC families have had to be content with the House of Commons apology rather than an apology from a head of state representing the government, as was done previously in England (2010) and Australia (2009). As Duncan correctly pointed out, “Canadians were falsely led to believe these children were orphans who had been living on the streets of British cities, but in truth only 2 percent were. Most of the children came from intact families that had fallen on hard times. It was because of a lack of a social safety net that these families had no other choice than to surrender their children.” She noted that one receiving home for the children was less than a kilometre from the House of Commons, at 1153 Wellington Street West. “It is hoped that by designating this day Canadians will become better informed of the treatment of these children and this will contribute at least in a small way to the healing process for those home children still with us and their families.”

Joe Harwood young 1

Joe Harwood c. 1889, a Barnardo’s success story.

At the close of the sessions speaking to the motion, Guy Lauzon rose to thank his colleagues for their support. “Despite writing a vital chapter in the story of Canada, many Canadians have never heard a whisper of their stories. In my opinion, and that of thousands of Canadians right across this wonderful country, the Government of Canada should undertake whatever means it has at its disposal to help preserve and highlight this important part of our history. When we look at the suffering and strength of these wonderful people, we have to honour them by remembering them on one day each year.”

Judy Neville, whose brother Jim Brownell was the Ontario MPP responsible for shepherding that province’s British Home Child Day into legislation, was among the families who only learned late in life of family members who had been BHCs. Neville was a key part of that initiative through her membership in the East Ontario British Home Child Family group, which has established a seasonal BHC Museum at the Aultsville Station in Upper Canada Village. “Last evening watching the historic vote live from the House of Commons on my laptop, I was in tears,” Neville says. “My hope going forward is that we (Canadians) will collect, preserve and share the stories of these children and make sure this is taught in History classes across Canada.” In a previous statement she commended the pioneering efforts of Dave and Kay Lorente of Renfrew, Ontario, who established British Home Child Canada in 1991, well before the subject was generally known. The group initiated BHC reunions in every province in Canada. In 2010 they were invited to the official apology ceremony in London, England by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

“The newly established national British Home Child Day is one more important step in the right direction towards getting the BHC recognition of their immeasurable contribution to Canada, especially during its formative years,” writes Lori Oschefsky, who established the British Home Children Advocacy and Research Association. “This accomplishment firmly cements the BHC’s place in Canadian history. We as a nation cannot forget their collective contributions nor can we forget those who suffered greatly and those who lost their lives far too early.”

Best of all, September 28 is my birthday! I now have twice as many reasons to celebrate.


British Home Child Canada http://canadianbritishhomechildren.weebly.comBritish Home Children Advocacy and Research Association http://www.britishhomechildren.comLaying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest. Ontario British Home Child Family

Posted in Barnardo's Homes, Home Children, social commentary | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Queens of the Gutbucket Blues

In case you were wondering what had happened to the long lost ghost of Janis Joplin, she’s alive and well. Well, metaphorically—or is that metaphysically? —speaking. Her whole-bodied, gut-wrenching, full-throated passion has become something of a rarity in singers these days. That’s why it’s so exciting to hear new blues-rock artists like Mandy Lemons of Low Society and Lex Grey of The Urban Pioneers. Janis’s guiding spirit is certainly large enough to be ‘reborn’ in contemporary singers with their own unique range, power and passion, hinting at what she would have been capable of had she lived a long life. Added to this metaphysical sisterhood is the fabulous Sarah Benck of the Rex Granite Band, though to be fair, Benck’s clear, rich timbre is more evocative of vintage Bonnie Raitt than Janis. And if Janis is the mother of these Queens of the Gutbucket Blues, Keith Richards is their father.


The legendary Janis at work. Courtesy Austin Songwriter.

Like Janis, these gals were savvy enough to partner up with smokin’ guitar players capable of a down ’n dirty electric slide. On Low Society’s Sanctified, the Rex Granite Band’s Spirit, Matter, Truth, Lies, and Lex Grey and the Urban Pioneers’ Usual Suspects, the atmosphere seems steeped in the free-flowing, bourbon-fueled spirit of the Exile on Main Street sessions. It’s a welcome return to form for the white blues via its Sixties and Seventies heyday. These queens of what I call ‘Gutbucket Blues’—blues that strips away the show-biz gloss to get at the raw, beating soul at its heart—are carving out new territory in a well-worn track.


Mandy Lemons of Low Society belts it out. Courtesy band website.

On Sanctified, Sturgis Nikides commands a mean slide guitar, the perfect foil for Mandy Lemons’ gutsy vocals. Included amongst the album’s original tunes is John Prine’s timeless Angel from Montgomery. It’s a risky choice given how often this song has been covered, but Lemons infuses it with smoldering intensity. In the oddly-named Raccoon Song, she belts out the mojo with a pleasingly original take on John Lee Hooker’s famous vocal flourish, “how, how, how.” Lemons drops to a sexy simmer on The Freeze before riding the locomotive of Sanctified, a repurposed Train I Ride with vocals that blow its forebear off the tracks. It takes real talent to make songs we’ve all heard a thousand times sound original again, and Low Society pulls it off again with I’d Rather Go Blind, the song made popular by Rod Stewart and The Faces. Lemons manages it with her foot steadily on the gas pedal yet never losing control of the car, as Stewart and the boys could sometimes do live. But the real revelation here is Nina, the band’s tribute to Nina Simone. Nikides plays an eloquent, understated dobro and the passion in Lemons’ voice builds to a crescendo of raw, controlled power. It’s one of the longest tracks on the album but not a second of it is wasted. For more information visit


The Rex Granite Band featuring the incredible Sarah Benck. Courtesy band Facebook page.

Rex Granite provides the smoky electric slide that allows Sarah Benck to propel her voice into the stratosphere. This woman has the most incredible set of pipes I’ve heard in ages, recalling early Bonnie Raitt circa Give It Up, before she turned to more commercial efforts. And Benck knows how to use her instrument, from the slight restraint necessary to propel rockers like Stop Doing What You Want and Cadillac Car to the slow, sweet burn of Curtis Mayfield’s Please Send Me Someone to Love. It’s a stunning performance by Benck, whose vibrato is used to breathtaking effect. The band almost veers into Prog Rock territory with Granite’s slide providing muted atmospherics on numbers like Sail Away and Spirit/Matter/Truth/Lies, a welcome diversion in contemporary blues, which too easily bogs down in note-perfect tributes to its past heroes. Benck’s voice would probably be capable of singing any genre with equal ferocity. It has a crystal clarity and at the same time a gutsiness that is perfectly suited to the blues but never descends to parody. Wisely, she opts for passion, pulling out all the stops yet always fully in control. Spirit/Matter/Truth/Lies is a consistently powerful album.


Lex Grey captures the spirit of Janis.

But if you’re listening for a voice that most closely resembles the passionate rasp and purr of Janis, you want Lex Grey. Grey is the New York to Janis’s San Francisco. Like Janis, Grey’s songs on Usual Suspects are gritty with urban disillusionment and heartache. Yet she manages to avoid the maudlin sentimentality of so many broken-hearted songs. “I’m not your dirty secret anymore,” she sings in Dirty Secret. The metaphors are sometimes coarse, like Chow Down, but it was Janis who taught female singers to be unapologetic about liking sex. (It wasn’t all that long before Janis—1959, to be exact—that Pearl Bailey’s album Pearl Bailey Sings for Adults Only had to be released on record only and would certainly never have had airplay.) The Urban Pioneers also tip their collective hat to the late great Stevie Ray Vaughn with SRV, smoothly emulating his Texas shuffle. But Grey’s tour de force—and if the band’s PR team knows what they’re doing, the top single from the album—is Renegade Heart. The lyrics here are both original and poetic, with the opening verse: “The tree outside looks like a man / reaching with his bleeding hands / scratching letters in the sand.” And when she sings “my heart’s in flames,” it’s no mere pose—you feel it with her. Throughout the proceedings on Usual Suspects, Lex Grey never gives less than everything, and then some. For more information visit

Posted in blues, Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Bill Lynch releases CD featuring top Kootenay musicians

Some labours of love take a lifetime of experience to create, and are all the better for it. Bill Lynch, the Nelson-based musician best known for his work with blues band Lazy Poker, has just released his first album, Would You Speak On My Behalf. It features a Who’s Who of Kootenay musicians, drawing from a wide spectrum of genres and instrumentation. Slocan, BC-based guitarist and songwriter Jon Burden is featured prominently on the record, as is Kaslo, BC-based keyboard player Tom Thomson.

Bill Lynch @ Cedar Creek

Bill Lynch performing in the Slocan Valley, 2010. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Lynch is an Irish immigrant who has lived most of his life in Canada but found his inspiration early in the blues. The Lynch family suffered the premature loss of his father when Bill was only 12 and music became a source of healing. In Ireland music is woven into the fabric of daily life, with many Irish not just passive listeners but performers. The only place with a comparable tradition of grassroots music in Canada would be the Maritimes.

“I remember when the Blues came to Ireland – I was young and it was startling, the notes that bent and twisted the old familiar scales, the lyrics without euphemism or innuendo that spoke of the stuff of real life, love and loss and sex and joy, and all of it performed with an attitude – an attitude stripped of sentimentality.”

But Lynch’s eclectic new record isn’t exactly a blues album. Lynch has travelled widely during his life – the Middle East, Central Asia, India, the Balkans, and Cuba, and these influences subtly creep into the record. Only two numbers on the CD, the traditional song Corinna, Corinna and Please Leave My Kitchen, are blues. Even these are done with an off-kilter 13-bar structure, something blues greats like Charley Patton and Robert Johnson were known for. Please Leave My Kitchen, inspired by post-concert parties in Lynch’s own kitchen, is of course a kind of musical answer to Johnson’s classic Come On In My Kitchen.

“There’s a certain rigidity that comes with putting things in multiples of four that wasn’t there in the early days of blues,” says Lynch. “Charley Patton and Robert Johnson used to sometimes shorten a verse to nine and a half bars. The version of Corinna, Corinna I do is in 13 bars. I went with them because they suited the songs and people don’t notice it because it feels natural.”

Bill & Jon @ Cedar Creek 2

Jon Burden & Bill Lynch performing in the Slocan Valley at Cedar Creek Café, Winlaw, BC, 2010. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Lynch writes all but one of the 12 songs on the album, and displays a deft hand at creating beautiful guitar melodies and arrangements. He credits Jon Burden, whose guitar playing “has the biggest vocabulary I’ve met. Jon’s influence is all over this album.” There are distinct traces of folk music throughout. The title track was inspired by Lynch and Burden figuring out that one of their blues heroes, Albert Collins, used an F minor open tuning. The resulting song has a chiming, almost Indian sound to it. The song Would You Meet Me There has an underlying Cuban element, while You’re Not Ready and Chasing Shadows have R&B style horn sections driving the groove. Song For a Country Girl has a 1930s jazz feel to it. Unsurprisingly then, when I ask him about his musical influences, Lynch is determined not be pigeonholed.

“I think we’ve all been influenced by everything—by world music, folk, blues and everything. When I was asked to classify it for the online music platforms I ended up going with ‘roots folk,’ although I hate to classify music that way.”

Bessie best *

Actor, singer & playwright Bessie Wapp at Silverton Winter Blues Boogie in 2012. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

According to Burden, the recording started with just himself and Lynch laying down tracks with vocals and guitar, but soon expanded to include a cast of 20 musicians. What changed? “I was sitting listening to it with some friends who have produced a number of albums over the years and there were suggestions flying around the room. And someone said, imagine a cello on that one. And another one said, imagine some soprano voices on that song. And I said, well we have all of these people here.” Lynch started making phone calls and everyone he called said yes. That includes musical luminaries like soprano Noemi Kiss, who performs in opera houses across Europe, yet makes her home in sleepy Argenta, BC. Multi-talented Bessie Wapp adds accordion and vocals with an Eastern European shimmer. Allison Girvan – whose brilliance shines as both singer and conductor of the Corazon Youth Choir – lends her pristine vocal talents.  Earthy blues singer Aryn Sherriff – a frequent performer at the annual Silverton Winter Blues Boogie – lends a soulful edge where needed. Ubiquitous hornmeister Clinton Swanson provides a brassy gloss to the songs along with trumpet player Donnie Clark and trombone player Keith Todd. Nelson, BC-based composer Don Macdonald provides a warm, folksy violin. To mention only a few of the worthy musicians on Lynch’s long guest list. “I wonder why other musicians in the Kootenays haven’t done that, because I’ve only scratched the surface, we have so many good people here.”

Clint Swanson 2017

Hornmeister Clinton Swanson at Silverton Blues Boogie, 2017. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

His lyrics have the same no-nonsense honesty of his blues heroes. Given his Irish roots it’s not surprising that one of his major influences in songwriting is poetry. Lynch says the Irish often claim English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins as their own, “for complicated reasons.” What he draws from Hopkins is his use of sprung rhythms that don’t conform to the standard poetic meters. Over the phone, he reads me Hopkins’ poem Pied Beauty, beautifully illustrating the point. “His very interesting ways of breaking up rhythm were fascinating to me since childhood. I felt like I’d like to play guitar the way Hopkins writes, with those broken rhythms. On Please Leave My Kitchen, I feel like I have that rhythm, like a hobbled horse stumbling along.”

The production values on the album are second to none. Given the challenges faced by Nelson recording engineer Rick Lingard – some songs have up to 10 musicians performing – the mix never degrades into a sonic mush. The clarity and separation of instrumentation are clear yet bring every song into a smooth unity of sound. Mastering was done by Outta Town Sound of Winnipeg.

Would You Speak On My Behalf can be purchased online at iTunes or CD Baby or listened to free at Spotify. For those who still prefer to have an actual CD, these can be purchased locally at Taghum Shell, Packrat Annie’s and Otter Books in Nelson and Figments in Kaslo, with more retail outlets to come. For more information or to order visit

Posted in blues boogie, Music, The Kootenays | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Phonegate Interview with Dr. Marc Arazi

JOYCE: Explain to us how you first learned of the Phonegate scandal. What was your personal connection to the issue?

DR. ARAZI: First, I read the report of the National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES) published on July 8, 2016, entitled ‘Exposure to Radiofrequencies and Child Health.’ In this report, there was information from the National Frequencies Agency (ANFR) on tests conducted in 2015 on 95 cell phones from mobile phone stores. The overall results showed that the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) for the trunk and extremities of 9 out of 10 phones was above the limit value (2 W/kg) when the phones were tested in contact with the body (0 mm distance from the skin). Some mobile phones exceeded 3 to 4 times the limit values. I therefore immediately wrote to and called ANFR and ANSES to request the measurement results carried out by ANFR. I received a refusal from ANFR, which was trying to gain time. In September 2016, I requested the Commission for Access to Administrative Documents (CADA) to obtain the results.


Smart phones aren’t quite so smart when you actually consider the health risks.

Since 2004, as a physician, I have been concerned about the health issues related to mobile phones. Until 2014, I was spokesperson for a non-governmental organization advocating better protection for mobile phone users and people living near relay antennas. (NOTE: The NGO is known by its French acronym PRIARTEM, dedicated to educating about the risks of “electromagnetic technologies.”) From 2009 to 2013, I participated as negotiator in the Grenelle des ondes as part of the Grenelle de l’Environnement debate in France bringing together representatives of national and local government and organizations to reach a position on a specific issue.

JOYCE: How did the Phonegate story first break in Europe? The media? Or a whistleblower who went public?

DR. ARAZI: Between July and December 2016, at first, no French media reported on the subject despite many press releases and reminders. At the end of December 2016, following the notification of CADA confirming the obligation of ANFR to provide the test results, three media finally published articles, first, the site Le Lanceur (a French investigative journalism site), then on 23 December 2016, the newspaper Le Monde and the magazine Marianne. The term “Phonegate” was first used by the journalist Pierre le Hir of Le Monde in his article. The subject remained limited to France until May 2017. Thanks to the assistance of a volunteer from Switzerland who began to translate the press releases and articles into English, the American organization, Environmental Health Trust (EHT, whose president is Dr. Devra Davis, contacted me and issued an initial press release in the United States in June 2017. Following this, the EHT invited me to a scientific conference in July 2017 in Jackson Hole (Wyoming). This has given international visibility to my action as whistleblower. Since then, other volunteers are translating press releases relaying information to several European countries, most recently Spain.

JOYCE: For those of us not technically-minded, can you explain why the SAR standard is an unreliable method of determining radiation risk? (For further details on SAR standards I recommend reading Dr. Arazi’s blog article:


French physician Dr. Marc Arazi.

DR. ARAZI: The control standards for SAR are not a reliable method for determining the level of radiation simply because the distance at which the SAR trunk and body extremities are measured is not realistic. In Europe, until June 2016, the distance was between 15 and 25 mm from the skin. In everyday use, however, the mobile phone is in direct contact with the hand or near contact in a pocket. This is even truer when we talk about children’s use. It is for these reasons that in its July 2016 report, ANSES requested the public authorities to take action to establish a new SAR measurement protocol. For its part, in May 2016, ANFR intervened with the European Commission in order to give a warning at European level, specifying that the measurements for the SAR extremities be conducted at 0 mm from the skin and for the SAR trunk, at a few millimeters from the skin (such a lack of precision is in my view in order to avoid legal responsibility of the manufacturers).

Since 1996, Americans and Canadians have benefited from a slightly more restrictive regulation than Europe and a large part of the rest of the world, thanks to: 1) A lower threshold of 1.6 W/kg (watts per kilogram); 2) A calculation based on 1 gram instead of 10 grams in Europe; 3) A conversation time of 30 minutes compared to 6 minutes in Europe. On the other hand, the distance is 15 mm, which means that mobile phones sold in North America, if tested in contact with the skin, largely exceed the threshold limits. This clearly has consequences for the already high threshold levels in Europe. For example, a smartphone measured at 7 W/kg by ANFR is above 21 W/kg under the measurement conditions of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) (that is, a multiple of between 2 and 3 according to Professor Om Ghandi and Dr. Devra Davis).

JOYCE: There have been repeated instances of industry-biased consultants being appointed to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) ICNIRP panel. Do you see any indications this situation will improve in the near future?

DR. ARAZI: Given the public health issues and the experience of previous health scandals—tobacco, asbestos—I do not think this situation will change. The mobile phone industry is one of the most important economic powers today. In France, it owns many media: television, radio, press, Internet. This does not facilitate dissemination of information on the Phonegate scandal. This is just as true in all countries of the world. The recent release of the recommendations of the California Department of Public Health, however, is rather good news. Finally, after eight years of action by Dr. Joel Moscowitz, Director of the Center for Family and Community Health at Universitiy of Berkeley’s School of Public Health, Californians are now informed of the risks of keeping a mobile phone against the body and the head. Incidentally, the headquarters of companies like Apple and Google are located in California.

JOYCE: France has been progressive in banning cell phones from public schools and universities. In your opinion, what does the French government—and the European Union—need to do next to better protect the public?

DR. ARAZI: The ban concerns primary, junior and secondary schools (up to age 14) and not universities. This decision clearly goes in the right direction. It is in line with the report of the scientific experts of ANSES which in July 2016 wanted to dissuade young people under age 14 from using mobile phones.

At the same time, it is essential to launch campaigns at the French and European levels on the uses to be avoided in order to protect the health of users, especially the younger ones. But this would not be enough if at the same time the mobile phones most at risk were not removed from the market, particularly those exceeding a SAR value of 2 W/kg and which are currently being used by tens of millions of people.

NOTES: The Grenelle de l’environnement is an open multi-party debate in France that brings together representatives of national and local government and organizations (industry, labour, professional associations, non-governmental organizations) on an equal footing, with the goal of unifying a position on a specific theme. The aim of the Grenelle Environment Round Table (as it might be called in English), instigated by the former President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy in the summer of 2007, is to define the key points of public policy on ecological and sustainable development issues over the following five-year period. (

The Grenelle des ondes (formerly Grenelle des antennes-relais) is a debate initiated by Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, Secretary of State for the Digital Economy in 2009. It dealt with electromagnetic waves, mobile telephony, and WiFi and responded to the concerns of the public sensitized by the many controversies aroused by associations supporting the existence of health risks of telecommunications.

Posted in Cellphones and health, journalism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Phonegate scandal goes unreported in Canadian media

You may have heard of Volkswagen’s ‘Dieselgate’ scandal, where the company was caught out misreporting for decades their vehicles’ carbon emissions levels. While that made global headlines, a similar new scandal, ‘Phonegate,’ has only managed to penetrate European headlines. The advocate heading up the campaign to raise awareness of this debacle is French physician Dr. Marc Arazi.


Smart phones aren’t quite so smart when you actually consider the health risks.

“Details were revealed in July 2016 in a scientific report published by the French National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES), entitled, ‘Exposure to Radiofrequencies and Child Health,’ reports Dr. Arazi on his blog. “The ANSES Report highlighted the results of the French National Frequencies Agency (ANFR) 2015 measurement tests of 95 mobile phones tested in body contact positions – meaning with no separation distance. ANSES announced that 9 out of 10 mobile phones tested in contact with the skin exceeded the regulatory threshold of 2 W/kg, some of them more than three times. No one paid attention to this information.”[1] Dr. Arazi has established a ‘Taskforce Phonegate’ Facebook page in the hopes of forcing health and safety regulators to re-examine and revise their microwave radiation exposure standards.

At scientific conferences in Israel and Colorado last year, Dr. Anthony Miller announced that the science on wireless radiation has reached a consensus of risk. Physicians for Safe Technology announced in 2017 that, “It appears that we are at the same point of emerging science similar to early recognition of health impacts associated with tobacco, asbestos, coal dust and lead.”[2] It’s analogous to tobacco in the 1950s, when enough scientific studies had accrued to confirm a link between smoking and lung cancer. Of course, through political lobbying and commercial propaganda, the tobacco corporations managed to hold off the cancer warnings on their products for another three decades.

According to Dr. Miller, there is now ample scientific data to place the telecommunications industry in a similar position. “Dr. Miller concluded that the body of evidence has increased since the World Health Organization International Agency for the Research on Cancer (IARC) classified radiofrequency fields (RFR) in 2011. The current research evidence in 2017 indicates that RFR should be considered a probable human carcinogen and the public should take cautionary steps to reduce exposures.”[3] At present the WHO lists RFR as a Class 2B ‘possible carcinogen.’ Scientists such as Dr. Olle Johansson and Dr. Lennart Hardell have been arguing for years it should be raised to a Class 1 ‘known carcinogen,’ and Dr. Miller agreed: microwave RFR “fully meets criteria to be classified as a ‘Group 1 carcinogenic to humans’ agent, based on scientific evidence associating RF exposure to cancer development and cancer promotion.”[4]


French physician Dr. Marc Arazi, head of Taskforce Phonegate.

Except for one rather large problem. Wireless telecommunications is a multi-billion dollar global industry that now rivals Big Oil and Big Pharma for economic (and therefore political) power. The media is increasingly dependent upon the advertising revenue coming from Big Telecom, and naturally, you don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Through powerful lobbying groups like the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), the industry has exerted enormous pressure on regulatory bodies such as the American FCC and Health Canada to keep standards low, even helping write the codes that govern emissions. The usual tactic is to stack regulatory review boards such as IARC with former industry ‘consultants.’ A supposedly independent Royal Society of Canada review panel in 2013-2014 was so riddled with conflicts of interest its chair Dr. Daniel Krewski was forced to resign.[5] And he wasn’t the only one on the panel with ties to the industry. It’s a classic, time-tested tactic, whether it’s tobacco, asbestos, drugs or wireless: stack and skew the panel, sway the government to your point of view, and then refer all comers to the government safety standard as the guarantee your product is ‘safe.’ And then insist—as was done with climate science for decades—that the data is ‘inconclusive.’

After a long legal battle with CTIA, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) released its first guidelines on ‘How to Reduce Exposure to Radiofrequency Radiation for Cell Phones’ on December 13, 2017. It’s the first public health agency in North America to finally concede the overwhelming scientific evidence of potential harm from the use of wireless devices.[6]


Dr. Olle Johansson has been at the forefront of microwave frequency research. 

What the Phonegate scandal points up is that our testing standards for determining risk are nothing short of farcical. The ‘SAR’ measurement (the Specific Absorption Rate of radiation) that is used has long been cited by scientists as either unreliable or unrealistic. Even the top testing labs in the US visited by CBC journalist Wendy Mesley still use the questionable methodology of a plastic, water-filled dummy head for determining SAR exposure rates.[7] In November 2017, Dr. Dimitris J. Panagopoulos, Dr. Olle Johansson and Dr. George L. Carlo released a paper critical of SAR “as an entirely inadequate method of measuring EMF dosimetry and bioactivity assessment.”[8] Dr. Arazi points out another absurdity of the testing regime: “Before June 2016, In France and all of Europe, a manufacturer could measure SAR values by placing the cell phone at a distance of 15 to 25 millimeters from the skin of the trunk and limbs. Under these quite unrealistic conditions, all cell phones obtained an authorization to be placed on the market. Mobile phones, however, are not held in the air, but rather, they are in our hands, in our pockets, often for hours at a time, in direct contact with the skin.”[9]

The fact is, we’re being frog-marched into a massive public health crisis and none of our health authorities nor the medical profession is remotely briefed on the state of affairs. A neurosurgeon interviewed by Mesley admitted that there is currently no consistent tracking of brain tumour statistics. Cancer agencies in both Canada in the US routinely rely on Big Telecom for advice on public safety recommendations. Thankfully, independent scientists and physicians like Dr. Arazi around the world are raising red flags, dutifully doing untainted research or combing the thousands of available studies to report the real data. I interviewed him via email with the help of a living translator (not Google Translate!).


[1] ‘Phonegate: The Health and Industrial Issues of a Global Scandal,’ Dr. Marc Arazi, December 17, 2017.

[2] ‘Wireless Technology and Public Health,’ Executive Summary, Physicians for Safe Technology,

[3] ‘Cell Phone Radiation Is Likely A Human Carcinogen,’ Dr. Anthony Miller, Environmental Health Trust,

[4] ‘Cancer Expert Declares Cell Phone and Wireless Radiation as Carcinogenic to Humans,’ EM Facts Consultancy, August 18, 2017.


[5] ‘Controversy dogs wireless health panel,’ Howard Solomon, IT World Canada, August 1, 2013.

[6] ‘California Department of Public Health Leads in Recommendations for Cell Phone Radiation Protection,’ Physicians for Safe Technology, December 16, 2017.

[7] ‘The Secret Inside Your Phone,’ Wendy Mesley, CBC Marketplace, March 24, 2017,

[8] ‘Scientists call for cell phone tests to ‘get real’, claiming simulated results grossly misleading,’ Nya Dagbladet, Sweden, November 2, 2017.

[9] ‘Phonegate: The Health and Industrial Issues of a Global Scandal,’ Dr. Marc Arazi, December 17, 2017.

Posted in Cellphones and health, journalism, News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Deconstructing Empire: a Review of ‘The Emperor’

“Tired, looking as if they hadn’t slept, they acted under feverish stress, pursuing their victims in the stale air of hatred and fear that surrounded them all. They had no shield but the Emperor, and the Emperor could undo them with one wave of his hand.”

‘The Emperor,’ by Ryszard Kapuscinski[1]


Ryszard Kupiscinski, author of ‘The Emperor.’ Source: Wikipedia.

If you want a single slim volume that succinctly, accurately and even poetically depicts the collapse of a monarchy, look no further than The Emperor, by the late Polish journalist Ryszard (Richard) Kapuscinski. The book tells the story of the final years of Ethiopian monarch Haile Selassie, venerated by some in the Rastafarian faith as a divine saviour. It’s a gripping portrait of the depths to which a privileged elite can sink when steeped in the blinding stupor of solipsistic narcissism. With the release of Michael Wolff’s new book Fire and Fury, an explosive view of the Trump White House, it’s not hard to see a parallel of imperial breakdown, an inner circle disintegrating.[2]

During the early ’70s, while hundreds of thousands of his people were starving to death in the Ethiopian provinces, Haile Selassie and his sycophantic courtiers remained holed up in Addis Ababa, oblivious to the skeletal nightmare stalking them. Shipments of international food aid were hijacked by high-ranking members of the royal court, leaving the Ethiopian poor to starve. Meanwhile Selassie was flying in caviar and other delicacies for lavish political banquets.


Haile Selassie, 1960s. Courtesy imdb.

Not that it was always a picnic for Selassie’s courtiers, though their agonies were more psychological than physical. As the quote heading this article attests, autocratic power breeds mistrust, suspicion and lethal intrigue, with those on the lower rungs of power constantly jockeying for higher position. Palace cliques daily sought ways to discredit others and thereby rise in ranks themselves. “O God, save me from those who, crawling on their knees, hide a knife that they would like to sink into my back,” says one official. “Ears appeared everywhere,” says another palace insider. “Sticking up out of the ground, glued to the walls, flying through the air, hanging on doorknobs, hiding in offices, lurking in crowds…” It’s a page straight out of Eric Hoffer’s classic work on mass movements (as he politely calls cults), The True Believer:[3] which “deliberately fosters in its adherents a frustrated state of mind” as a means of control.

Kapuscinski allows interviewees to speak unhindered and under cover of anonymity. The resulting prose is both effortless and at times poetic, laced with the peculiarities of vernacular speech, the unique, often bizarre twists of individual minds. Kapuscinski never interrupts his subjects; he lets them give themselves away. The author’s viewpoint is only heard in occasional introductions to different sections of the narrative. It’s a simple but brilliant strategy, loosening normally wary tongues and clearing the haze of narcissism that enveloped everyone in Selassie’s administration.


Jonathan Dimbleby. Courtesy BBC. 

Often, reading their testimonies, you’re simply gobsmacked that anyone could think like they do, that they could be so utterly blind. Even as the palace is under attack from rebelling factions of the Ethiopian military, Selassie’s ministers continue to point the blame at students, foreign journalists and other ‘rabble rousers.’ An uprising in Gojam province in 1968—along with several others in the provinces—is brutally put down by the Ethiopian military, with many protestors killed. Ethiopian students that had studied abroad had been staging regular demonstrations since 1968 protesting the gross inequities of wealth that resulted in famine. But it took foreign journalists like Kapuscinski and Jonathan Dimbleby to bring the crisis to a head. Dimbleby’s 1973 documentary Ethiopia: The Unknown Famine finally brought the disaster to the attention of the world.

“Soon afterward we suffered a real invasion of foreign correspondents,” complains one palace official. This is how he rationalizes the famine that was killing thousands of Ethiopians: “First of all, death from hunger had existed in our Empire for hundreds of years, an everyday, natural thing, and it never occurred to anyone to make any noise about it. Drought would come and the earth would dry up, the cattle would drop dead, the peasants would starve. Ordinary, in accordance with the laws of nature and the eternal order of things. Since this was eternal and normal, none of the dignitaries would dare to bother His Most Exalted Highness with the news that in such and such a province a given person had died of hunger.”[4] Really. Mass starvation the eternal order of things. The more these people talk, the more they betray themselves. That’s the genius of Kapuscinski’s prose.

Kapuscinski’s high-level informants were as steeped in Selassie’s cult as the uneducated public. One official whose son became a student and joined the demonstrations complains that the problem began when the young man started thinking for himself: “…in those days thinking was a painful inconvenience and a troubling deformity. His Unexcelled Majesty, in his incessant care for the good and comfort of his subjects, never spared any efforts to protect them from this inconvenience and deformity.”[5] It’s the classic approach of the cult leader—keep the cultists ignorant and isolated so they never learn to question you. In The True Believer, Hoffer writes that with the rise of secular power in the 20th century, nationalism would become “the most copious and durable source of mass enthusiasm.”[6] Selassie meanwhile was clinging to a quasi-theocratic state and an imperial order that was already a thing of past centuries. Hoffer’s great insight was that whether it’s a religious or secular cult, its operative principles are the same. Kapuscinski’s incisive book underscores the point: Selassie’s royal delusion was a microcosm of the principles in any cultic system of power and how they inevitably unravel. “There is a certain uniformity in all types of dedication, of faith, of pursuit of power, of unity and self-sacrifice,”[7] Hoffer wrote.


Ethiopian famine. Image courtesy ‘Ten Most Deadly Famines in Africa.’

But with the dawning of the ’60s, it was only a matter of time before the man behind the curtain was exposed. The final phase of the revolution that unseated Selassie’s monarchy occurred in 1974, but apparently he remained so hermetically sealed in his internal world that until his death a year later he still believed himself to be the ruler of Ethiopia. It’s the kind of self-delusion that’s become routine for President Trump, who—just as Selassie did—insists he’s improving the country even as he hands over its tattered remains to the One Percent. The great irony of Selassie’s tale is that he believed himself to be a kind, progressive ruler, and did indeed outlaw such barbaric practices as cutting off the hands of thieves. He loved the conveniences of the modern world and sought to introduce them to his country, though little of it escaped the confines of his palace. He’s one of those tragic figures in history who end up being pulled apart by his own internal contradictions—Haile Selassie the reformer and modernizer on one hand, and on the other the August Majesty who clung to his elite lifestyle at any cost.

Kapuscinski may not yet be a household name in journalism alongside Woodward and Bernstein and other great journalists, but he deserves to be. He was one of that rare breed—war journalists, the courageous souls who run toward—not away—from danger. Born in 1932, Kapuscinski worked for four decades reporting on Asia, Latin America and Africa, becoming personally acquainted with Che Guevara, Salvador Allende, and Patrice Lumumba. He witnessed 27 coups and revolutions and was sentenced to death four times. He died in 2007 and his books have been translated from Polish into 19 languages.

SEE ALSO: For an update on the situation in Ethiopia, check out ‘Feeding on Ethiopia’s Famine,’ by Jonathan Dimbleby, The Independent, December 8, 1998. 

Also: ‘10 Most Deadly Famines in Africa,’ by Emeka Chigozie,


[1] Ryszard Kapuscinski, The Emperor, translated from the Polish by William R. Brand and Katarzyna Mroczkowska-Brand, Vintage International, New York, 1989 (originally published 1978), pp. 10, 11.

[2] ‘Fire and Fury confirms our worst fears about the Republicans,’ Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian, January 5, 2018.

[3] Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, First Perennial Library edition 1966, 1989, 2002 (originally published 1951), Preface, p. xiii.

[4] Ryszard Kapuscinski, The Emperor, ibid., p. 111.

[5] Ryszard Kapuscinski, The Emperor, ibid., p. 98.

[6] Ryszard Kapuscinski, The Emperor, ibid., p. 4.

[7] Eric Hoffer, The True Believer, Preface, ibid., p. xii.

Posted in book reviews, Civilization, Democracy, History, Political Commentary | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tempering Justice with Love

Complicity has been named one of the ‘words of the year’ for 2017. Complicity, collusion, corruption—collision! That seems to have been the trajectory of sociopolitical affairs in the Western world in 2017. Much of it is an overdue reckoning—bringing to light sexual predators too long hidden in the shadows. Exposing the lie of corporate complicity in government corruption at every level—whether it’s the scandal of Monsanto paying scientists to falsify studies certifying glyphosate as ‘safe,’ or fossil fuel companies buying up our elected representatives to slow down action on climate change. In a textbook case of seizing the narrative, the Free Market Gospel has for too long made us forget the principle of Conflict of Interest inherent in such corrupt transactions. ‘Follow the money’ thus becomes both an essential axiom and a clear path to truth. If we’re to move forward constructively, we need to walk back the capitalist narrative that claims there is no such thing as public interest or the social contract. “A house divided against itself will not stand,” goes the proverb. Civilization reaches its zenith through a thousand small acts of cooperation at every level. When cooperation breaks down, so does civilization.

Clearly, a social revolution is underway. However, in the spirit of peace and forgiveness that the Christmas season is supposed to foster, we may need to moderate our righteous fury. As one ecumenical minister I spoke with recently asked: “Can we not find a way to temper justice with love? Otherwise what we have is not justice, but revenge.” History is replete with cases of righteously motivated revolutionaries misusing their power and turning into the thing they hate. In particular I’m thinking of the current purge of prominent men due to allegations of sexual misconduct. To be absolutely clear: I look with disgust and contempt upon any man who sexually harasses or otherwise abuses a woman. These men should—and clearly will—suffer the consequences. My concern is that if our zeal for retribution is not tempered, in the name of complicity we risk punishing the innocent along with the guilty. Historically this has happened in every great purge. With the appointment of Anita Hill as chair of an enquiry into sexual harassment in American media and entertainment,[1] will we see even-handed justice? Or will the innocent have to suffer along with the guilty?

It has already begun to happen. In Britain, as part of the purge that rooted out notorious pedophiles like children’s entertainer Jimmy Savile,[2] the same righteous fury also caught up more obscure targets such as folksinger Roy Harper.[3] The case against Harper was so flimsy that after three years of investigation and court hearings, the prosecutor had to admit the Crown lacked sufficient evidence and dismissed the case. In the meantime, however, Harper, now 76 years old, has been broken financially by the ordeal. Given that he was far from the stratus of earnings of some of his superstar friends, this could mean an old age lived out in poverty. And his reputation—one built up over a 50-year career—is ruined. In the Supreme Court of Media, accusation equals conviction, even when the person is exonerated.


You know things are getting bad when Facebook has had to take down hate speech such as “men are scum.”[4] Or when lesbian comedian Jessica Kirson can get away with saying things like, “Well I don’t always listen to my wife and I’m dead inside, so that must mean I’m a man.” Comedian Kayla Avery says she “routinely gets banned for comments such as ‘men are garbage fires,’ ‘the worst,’ ‘trash,’ and other derivatives.” I hate to have to be the one to break the news, but sexism cuts both ways. Case in point: the idea that simply by being male, I’m a “colluder and a beneficiary” of a “culture of sexual violence.” It’s the very definition of a sexist statement. And a textbook example of the cognitive error known to psychologists as ‘all or nothing thinking’: one subset of men is guilty so they all are. Of course, such an argument is specious on its face. No evidence is—or can be—offered to support it. It’s like saying all Muslims are terrorists, when clearly only a few extremists are. However, in ‘antisocial media,’ the ancient and honourable art of debate has degenerated into character assassination. Due process—the right to be presented with evidence, to be considered innocent until proven guilty—is no longer part of the dialogue. There are good reasons our courts are governed by this process.

By even wading into this arena, I’m likely to be criticized for ‘mansplaining’ or downplaying the seriousness of sexual harassment. I’m doing no such thing. When it comes to gender relations, men need to govern themselves with restraint, consideration and integrity, as do women. What we don’t need is to be written off, to be told, “you’re all the same.” Yet when Matt Damon stands up for men who have had no part in sexual misconduct,[5] he is lectured by the Guardian’s culture critic Hannah Jane Parkinson, who writes that he is “splashing back into a lake of ignorance like a dog which repeatedly forgets it is not good at swimming.”[6]


Parkinson’s article is representative of the sad state of public debate. First off, Parkinson launches her screed with an ad hominem attack (the shaggy dog comment), always the signal of a weak or spurious argument. Secondly, she missed Damon’s point: what’s not being discussed are the majority of the male gender who aren’t sexual predators. And what’s so awful about congratulating men who conduct themselves decently with women? How else do we model right conduct but by positive reinforcement? When is the news going to turn its fixation from human evil to what we actually do right? (By contrast, Positive News in the UK and Yes! Magazine in the US are refocusing the news to “accentuate the positive,” as the old song goes.) Parkinson is given a global platform to publicly correct a man for ‘mansplaining,’ yet her column, the very definition of ‘womansplaining’, gets a pass. Apparently women explaining things to men is acceptable, but not the reverse. Damon—and by extension all men, it would seem—is expected to just sit down and shut up. So who has no voice now?

The elites who control most of the world’s wealth and political power are all too happy to see social justice movements fractured, divided along a thousand fault lines. Right against Left. Race against race. Class against class. Nation against nation. And now, gender against gender. As long as this is so we will never be able to mount an effective, united resistance. Unless we each commit to acting with mutual aid and respect, in this or any other social issue, we are doomed to continued infighting and hopelessly stalled social progress. “A house divided against itself will not stand.”

This new year what we all need to be complicit in is justice tempered by love.

[1] ‘Anita Hill to chair Hollywood harassment commission,’ BBC News, December 16, 2017.

[2] ‘Damning report on Jimmy Savile, Sex Monster of the BBC,’ Tom Sykes, The Daily Beast, February 25, 2016.

[3] ‘Roy Harper angry at court fight as sexual abuse charges dropped,’ The Guardian, November 9, 2015.

[4] ‘Facebook bans women for posting ‘men are scum’ after harassment scandals,’ Samuel Gibbs, The Guardian, December 5, 2017.

[5] ‘Matt Damon: One thing not being talked about is men who aren’t sexual predators,’ Benjamin Lee, The Guardian, December 18, 2017.

[6] ‘Matt Damon, stop #damonsplaining,’ Hannah Jane Parkinson, The Guardian, December 19, 2017.


Posted in Civilization, News, Political Commentary, social commentary | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment