Canaries in a coal mine…

canaries

Picture from PNG EGG

All she wanted was a home. One that was safe. One that wouldn’t make her sick. She got death instead. Sophia* was my age, 51 years old, when she died from assisted suicide done through MAiD (Medical Assistance in Dying). She was what they refer to as a “track two” case, meaning there was no foreseeable reason for her to die in the near future. All she had was Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and poverty. Like me, Sophia lived off the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) which allows a single person $1,169/m plus an addition $50/m if they require a special diet. Sophia lived in Scarborough. The average rent for a one bedroom apartment there is $2,100/m. The link didn’t say if that included utilities but I know utilities are not usually included here.

Sophia was “lucky” as she got housing through the Salvation Army but, when covid-19 hit things got worse for her. Her neighbours were home more and smoking more, be it cigarettes or pot. The super was cleaning the hallway more. All this led to more odours in her apartment. She retreated to her bedroom, a place she called the dungeon, but there were vents. The room was renovated to block those vents, which helped to a point but the vents had been there for a reason and now Sally Ann refused to do anything to help provide her with heat or air conditioning. They didn’t feel her condition was real. Apparently their medical degrees trumped her doctor’s. I wonder what universities they went to.

Sophia advocated for herself for two years, networking and searching for affordable housing, anything suitable where she could live. Even her doctors pitched in, writing letters in support saying all she needed was housing. It was all in vain.

Track two has a 90 day period where they’re supposed to look and see what other things can be done to make life easier for the person. I don’t know what the people overseeing her case did. Listen to Yanni and learn how to do macramé via You Tube? It doesn’t seem like they did much searching to find her a safe place to live.

In the end she made a video shortly before her death, where she said, “The government sees me as expendable trash, a complainer, useless and a pain in the ass.”

And she’s not a one-off. Thirty-one year old Denise* also lives in Toronto (Scarborough is part of Toronto) and also has Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. The only differences are Denise’s illness is so severe she needs an EpiPen because she can go into anaphylactic shock around strong odours. And she has a spinal cord injury which has left her using a wheelchair.

Her friends have been paying for her to stay in a hotel on a ravine but that’s a short term solution. Most people can’t afford to pay for someone to live in a hotel. And now around a thousand people have donated tens of thousands of dollars for her so she’s stayed at the hotel even more and is feeling a lot better. But even that’s not a long term solution. She’s keeping her MAiD request in place, just in case.

I think these two women are the canaries in the coal mine. They were the first but more are coming. I think it first started, in Ontario at least, back in 1995 with our then premier Mike Harris. We used to have rent caps that limited the amount the rent could be raised between tenants. Like if the rent was $650/m you could only raise it to $675/m (I have no idea the exact amount). But without the rent cap the rent could be raised to $800. Plus almost every single new apartment building is a luxury building. One person in a group I belong to recently enquired about the units in the building across the street and was informed a one bedroom was $3000/m plus utilities. This is with no amenities in the building.

this was cheap housingAnd then comes the most frustrating of all. I’ve noticed that there are always certain areas and certain buildings that are cheaper. I’m not talking about violent areas, just rough around the edges. I mean I’m asleep at 2am. If you want to pick up tricks in front of my place, be my guest. But, in the past few years, developers have gone from seeing them as eyesores to seeing them as potential money makers. A friend of mine, the daughter of a childhood friend, lived in one of them before moving to a gorgeous house in a small town. Colin bought a computer part (or two or a computer) from someone in that building a short while later. I was floored. The building looked completely different. The guy laughed cynically when I mentioned this to him.

“Yeah, they’re raising all the new rents,” he told me, “and I know they want me to move too so they can raise my rent but I’m not budging. I like it here.” I wish him all the best.

Colin wants to move back to this area but searching is an exercise in disappointment. The picture above is in a crappy part of Oshawa, just south of downtown. It, and several similar buildings, have been known for decades for their cheap rent. It would be even cheaper if you could get the cockroaches to pay their fair share. But it got flipped. To be fair the units are gorgeous in an ultra modern way, all grey paint, reddish wood, long and narrow tiles, and wide greyish laminate but a bachelor is $1750/m (probably before utilities but I’ll leave those out of the equation). As I said above, someone on disability gets $1169/m. That leaves the person short $581 and that’s not even including groceries, phone, internet (Rogers has a $12/m plan for people on disability), hair cut, clothes (as needed), and everyone needs a treat or two in their lives.

On top of that, people on social assistance (aka welfare) only get $733/m. That leaves them short $1017/m for the above apartment. That amount of assistance lets them live where? The average cost for a room for rent in Toronto, according to Zumper, is $738/m. Are they supposed to share a room? People denigrate those on welfare as lazy and “bums”. What they forget is the majority of those people are on assistance for less than a year and the majority of the remainder are single mothers with young/disabled children at home or actual disabled people. I can’t speak for other provinces (or countries) but Ontario has you apply for social assistance before going onto disability. And if you (or your doctor) can’t find a way to explain your disability, you stay on assistance. It often takes people two or three tries before being approved and longer for some. Someone with memory issues, brain fog, and exhaustion could very well give up before then. What they also forget is you can’t find a job if you can’t afford toiletries, fitting clothes, a hair cut, and bus money. If you punish the poor for being poor to the point of being unable to afford to live that gives them no options at all.

Which brings us back to our canaries, Sofia and Denise. They had no money to rent a suitable place to live and no access to an affordable one. For them, all they could see was the one way out that the government offered. And there’s going to be more coming behind them since affordable housing waiting lists are over twenty years long in some areas. If you put your name down for a two bedroom apartment so your newborn will have a clean, safe home to grow up in, chances are they’ll be graduating from college by the time you get that magic call.

Killing off the poor is not the way to reduce the wait list.

Sophia told her friends that her death was a kind of protest against the lack of response received by both she and her doctors from, well, pretty much everyone who could have helped. She hoped that her death would mean something, that it could stop someone (particularly someone with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities) from dying. Please let us not let her, and potentially Denise, die in vain.

*names have been changed

But alternative news said…

“Hi there long time”

The message came at 1:06am, startling me from my sleep. I didn’t bother reading it until the morning and was surprised to see it was from a very emotionally fragile friend I used to chat with on occasion years ago. The last message he’d sent me (and the second last message) was November 15, 2015. That was a month before my ex-fiancé asked me out. So very much has happened since then and he was interested in none of it. He certainly had tonnes to say about the “truckers”, covid-19, and vaccinations though. And I immediately noticed the same thing I’ve noticed for several decades.

There’s a group of people who simply don’t think, or at least they don’t think very much. Let me explain. Years ago I had a friend that I met while briefly running our community group. She was easy going and had a good sense of humour. Later I discovered she was a rabid antivaxxer and after that, on Facebook, I realized the depths of her hatred and distrust of all things science and medical. One day she tagged me in yet another post containing a link to an article. I read the article and was surprised to see the author had provided three sources, all of which were reputable papers. Sources weren’t exactly a common site on these pages. Then I clicked on the links and every single one of them went to an article that said the exact opposite of what the author had claimed. The author knew their audience and knew no one was going to check sources. Which is so patronizing and insulting when you think about it. The author was basically saying, “I know my article is wrong and here are three articles that prove me wrong but I know none of you will bother to look or think to question me so here it is.”

mercolaI find it ironic this crowd calls everyone who disagrees with them “sheep” for blindly following the mainstream media and “big pharma”. They scornfully claim that Reuters can’t be trusted but will totally believe everything written on a small page with no credentials or corresponding education. They claim that Big Pharma (as if every doctor, nurse, pharmacist, lab technician, and so on are a conglomerate) is only in it for the money unlike alternative medicine. Umm, yeah, about that. See the photo above? That’s Mercola’s mansion in Florida. Alternative medication’s not cheap and he’s reaping all the benefits – one hand shoveling in the money while the other hand forming a trumpet around his mouth as he yells, “Big Pharma only wants your money!” And they move on over, in herd formation, because what’s being sold is natural. Forgetting that nature kills quite regularly. Shelling out money for plain water because it has “memories” of poison. Water doesn’t have a brain, it has no memories. It has cells and if those changed it would cease being water. Besides, if water could remember everything it came in contact with, we’d be drowning in frigging memories every time we had a glass. But someone said it’s true and who needs evidence.

Then there’s the broken telephone news where bits of information are passed around and around (and around again) without anyone questioning whether it’s true. It must be true! So-and-so just told them! And so I cycle back to the friend I mentioned in the beginning who informed me that he’s seen “many times” that the pamphlets that come with the vaccines are blank. Of course I’m like “what pamphlet?” because I’ve never got one and I’m sure someone in my family would have said something if they’d been given a blank folded sheet of paper when they got vaccinated. Then he claimed it was in the package and I was still all ??? because I never got a package either. Finally he told me it was the insert that came with the vial and the pharmacist got it. So if the pharmacist got it how did he see many of them? Does he sit in the pharmacy only area with all the meds and watch? I didn’t even bother to ask. Instead I went onto Google and did a quick search. The information popped up right away. As usual, there was a slight grain of truth buried inside a ball of misinformation. Yes, Johnson & Johnson put in blank inserts… nearly blank inserts. They had a QR code at the bottom of the page. That way people could scan the code and get the most up to date information, which was the exact opposite as the rumour claimed. I’ve watched the Instagram video (the middle link in the article I shared) and the woman looks younger than me. I have no idea why she doesn’t know what a QR code is, let alone how it works. You’d think she’d be curious enough to scan it.

I was a precocious child, reading the paper and the Reader’s Digest when I was maybe a smidge into being a preteen. Most adults were impressed by my reading habits. My grandfather wasn’t one of them.

“Watch what you read,” he’d warn me. “Just because someone says something’s true doesn’t mean it is.”

“You’ve got to watch the Reader’s Digest,” he’d continue. “They publish that medical section and make everything sound like medicine that will be out tomorrow instead of research that might not be out for another decade or so. They set people up for a huge disappointment. Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

“Don’t take anything at face value,” he’d say. “Check the sources and check their sources if you can. Anyone can make a mistake.”

I wish everyone had a grandfather like him.

Uniting Canada…

It was an event that united the country. Thousands of families thronged highway overpasses, cheering and waving signs of support. The media coverage was intense. The year was 1980 and Terry Fox was half jogging/half hopping through Ontario in an attempt to run across Canada and raise money for cancer research. He didn’t make it out of Ontario. The bone cancer (osteosarcoma) that took his leg in 1977, spread to his lungs by the time he reached Thunder Bay. But he still unites. There are statues of him all over the country and umpteen thousand Terry Fox Runs held each fall in his honour.

Forty-two years later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau brought into law a rule that states truck drivers must be triple vaccinated for covid-19 before they can cross the border. It should have been a non-issue considering that US President Joe Biden is making the exact same mandate. It wasn’t. A small minority of truck drivers, and supporters in their cars, took to the road in protest. The truck rally (aka the Freedom Convoy 2022) was organized, in part, by Patrick King who’s known for his ties to a racist Alberta party, now renamed. He also protests at anti-racism rallies and spreads blatant misinformation about covid-19 (like we don’t already have enough of that flying around). I’m going to share the link to Wikipedia just because there’s more information and there’s no point in me rephrasing it all when they did the research and deserve the credit.

So we’ve got the truckers, plus their friends in cars, all steadily driving toward Ottawa. We’ve got families thronging the overpasses, cheering them on and waving signs of support. We’ve got media coverage. The Toronto Sun was all, “They’ve got 50 thousand trucks and are going to win a world’s record”. The actual trucking organizations were all, “We don’t know these people. Please make this go away.” A group of people were cheering and saying, “This is going to unite our country” while wearing “f*ck Trudeau” hats. Because nothing unites the country more than wearing an accessory that is that blatantly FU to the country’s leader.

Dear TruckersAnd then they arrived in Ottawa. Anyone could have told them that was a mistake. I mean I love the city but it rolls up and goes to sleep at 5pm. Who are they going to protest to? The pigeons?

Several of my friends posted posted this widely shared post to much amusement but the reality was a lot less humorous. They couldn’t find a place to eat, not sure if they were unmasked or if the shops were closed. Either way they descended on a small soup kitchen called The Good Shepherd and demanded they get fed, and before their patrons too. For free. Because we all know soup kitchens have a large budget and a huge stock of available food. And they found a place to poop. That would be the snowbanks, in front of everyone.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was turned into a party place by these so-called Patriots. They drank and danced on top of it and several pissed on it too (I’ve seen the picture). They drew swastikas on the Canadian flag and someone with the IQ of a grilled cheese sandwich flew a Confederate flag. Buddy, not only did your side lose but you’re way off in the wrong country! And of course they had to let that racist side show up by appropriating First Nations drumming while drinking beer and chanting “yabadabadoo” and “f*ck Trudeau”. There were even some throwing rocks at an ambulance while yelling racist slurs at the paramedics. I wonder if this was while the paramedics were attending to their drunk buddies, of which there were quite a few.

And it’s still going on. These truckers claimed they were indispensable and that they grocery store shelves were going to be bare without them. Nada. The only thing I couldn’t buy was my favourite garlic infused olive oil and that routinely sells out. In fact, when I picked up my Silk creamy maple almond creamer (buy it, it’s so good) they were so stocked up the cartons were stacked on top of each other. I think the truckers forget that their rally isn’t very big. Big enough to be a pain in the arse but not big enough to kneecap the country. There are plenty of fully vaccinated truck drivers still working hard and doing the job. Speaking of which, how are these people managing? They must have homes and bills at home to pay for plus accommodations and food here, and I doubt anyone’s paying them to piss on the Statue of the Unknown Soldier and leave an upside down Canadian Flag in the arms of the Terry Fox statue. And there’s over 200 of them still hanging on.

The residents of Ottawa are fed up with the rabble and the mess and wish they’d all just leave. They insist they’re staying until they see Justin Trudeau (who’s wisely steering clear of them) or their demands are met. The Mayor of Ottawa is talking about suing. I think for the Go Fund Me funds. It couldn’t be the truckers because I doubt they have any money left and, if they do it’s more, “I have $20 left on my Visa” and not, “I’ve still got $150 in savings”. Hopefully they’ll have enough gas money to get home because I doubt a single person in Ottawa wants them to stay.

I am sure that someday, hopefully soon, there will be something else… someone else, beyond Terry Fox or Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield singing Space Oddity on the ISS, who unites this country. But this wasn’t it. You can’t try to unite while dividing the country by racism or by desecrating monuments. You can’t try to unite when your whole stance is “I don’t want to do something and I don’t care if it will help others – it’s me first!” We need to live in a society where we protect the most vulnerable. Terry Fox ran so that the people who came after him would have a better chance of survival even if the treatment wasn’t in time to help him. The truckers are protesting because they don’t want to have a vaccine or wear a mask, so what if it might help protect cancer patients and the elderly. And that makes all the difference.

Just the essentials…

I understand why the lockdown occurred. Covid-19 rates skyrocketed in Ontario and hospitals were scrambling. Children’s wards were closing, with children being shunted sometimes hundreds of kilometres away to the nearest Sick Kids, while adults took their place so the adult wards could be turned into covid wards. Nurses who had worked with infants for several decades were suddenly caring for eighty year olds and space was running out. Something had to be done.

But this is what happens when a province elects someone solely because they’re collectively mad and the person in question is “not a politician”. They voted in Dumb from the “Dumb and Dumber” team of Ford brothers and got this result.

In the beginning Ford closed all the playgrounds across the province then, faced with the uproar of millions of parents, quickly opened them again within the first 24 hours. He also gave the police carte blanche to stop any car or pedestrian at will and ask them where they were from and where they were going. Police departments immediately posted notices saying they were not following this permission and that one fizzled as well. It was the non-essentials ban that stuck.

The theory is simple. If you’re only buying the basics then you’ll be in and out quicker and have less time to spread or catch covid. But what are essentials? Obviously food, baby supplies like diapers, toiletries, kitchen stuff (garbage bags, tin foil, saran wrap, and wipes), and pet supplies. Oh, and with summer approaching, gardening supplies. But what else? Nothing according to Ford.

Blackie started taking pain medication a few days after the lockdown started. She gets one pill divided in two for morning and afternoon, which means I need to put her afternoon food in a storage container in the fridge until 4pm. The only problem is my storage containers are narrow and deep. I could just go to Dollarama for a couple more but storage containers, which are designed to keep your food fresh and ready to use, aren’t essential. Neither are clothes, which means there’s going to be some naked kiddos in the next few weeks when they go to try on last summer’s clothes and absolutely nothing fits. You can buy a can of soup but you can’t buy the can opener to open it nor the pot to cook it in (I guess if you were born rich and have kitchen staff you wouldn’t even think of kitchen “essentials”). You can buy as many chocolate bars as your heart desires (and wallet allows) but you can’t buy a candle to soothe your soul. No sun hats, no sunglasses, no books. Mental health experts are extolling us to invest in ourselves to lift our moods. Try out different crafts… pamper with scented candles… decorate with pretty artificial flowers. All non-essential. All not available. Ford’s health experts said to make sure people had access to safe outdoor activities – so he closed the provincial parks. They suggested he reopened them. They’re still closed.

lockdown clothesThis is a ban that excessively impacts the poor. We talk about curbside pick up and online shopping as if that were available to everyone but it’s not. There are many people who don’t have a computer. Many who have a cell phone but have a cheap company with unreliable service. Or have a very small data plan that runs out before the middle of the month. Or have no data at all and they’re only online at McDonalds or Tim Hortons or any other place with free wifi. And there are still people who don’t even own a cell phone. I don’t have a car so curbside pick up isn’t an option (although I can manage to grab an item at Pet Valu) but I can order online. But what about the people who can’t do either? Someone commented recently on Facebook that The Children’s Place was excellent for buying children’s clothes online and I’m sure it is. But, honestly, someone who’s shopping the discount rack at Walmart is not going to be able to afford The Children’s Place. The rich go on Amazon or Wayfair or The Children’s Place or Bata or Indigo while the poor look at barricades and strips of plastic. There’s only one group truly being affected by the ban and none of Doug Ford’s friends are in it.

No, wait, there’s two groups. There are also the people working behind the counter and dealing with all the people who just want a pair of socks, or a spatula, or birthday candles for their four year old. I’m sure all those people really wanted those items and had really big feelings about them but the staff are not the ones who set up the ban, nor are the they ones enforcing the rules. Not even the manager, Karen. I’ve heard of people not just screaming at the staff but screaming at them, throwing money, and taking the damn spatula on their way out. What are the staff going to do with the money? They can’t even enter the spatula into the cash register. You’re mad at Doug Ford, remember? Not 21 year old Sarah who’s saving up for college. She doesn’t even know him.

The ban was supposed to be finished on the 28th and has been extended to June 2nd. I truly hope it’s over then and I can browse the kitchenware aisle and decor aisle in peace and pick up a 24th birthday card for Colin. Covid cases are dropping and people are lining up to get vaccinated. I got mine exactly four weeks ago and most of my family are done as well. Only two weeks and two days to go (not that I’m counting or anything). Hopefully we can get our clothes, books, spatulas, and birthday cards in peace. Hopefully the covid rates keep dropping. And hopefully we vote Ford out next June. Maybe, in the meantime, someone can make him a picture book detailing what things are essential to us ordinary folk just in case.