What about Occupy?

By Ashley White

Occupy Canada marked the end of their winter hibernation with their Occupy Parliament event in Ottawa on Saturday, May 5.  While RCMP officers lined the gate that leads from the lawn to the front doors of Parliament, a group of Vietnamese protesters from Montreal and Toronto gathered to support the release of political prisoners and a smaller group of about 100 Occupiers gathered at the south end of the lawn to fight for….?  Well, I wasn’t sure.

I was out of the country for 2011 and it was difficult to make sense of the Occupy movement from afar.  I took RPH to the event to see about two things:

  1. What is the unifying theme of Occupy Canada’s actions?
  2. Do people seem to get what income inequality (which is the ostensible raison d’être of the global Occupy movement) means for people’s health?

I spoke with one of Occupy Canada’s founders, Derek Soberol – who was later arrested during a march to the American Embassy – on both issues.  For Soberol, the call to action was clearly around accountability and election fraud.   These are of-the-moment issues of the Canadian body politic.  The event’s speaker, Dr. Anthony J. Hall, Professor of Globalization Studies at the University of Lethbridge and author of Earth into Property: Colonization, Decolonization, and Capitalism, reiterated both of these in a verbose and raging outdoor lecture in the strong May sun, while RCMP officers looked on.

Dr. Anthony J. Hall, University of Lethbridge Professor of Globalization Studies

The idea that the Harper government is illegitimate resounded throughout the planned speeches and the ‘open mic’ part of the event where protestors were invited to speak to the crowd.  It is clear the 2011 federal election was not waged under transparent, nor fair, terms and it does seem that large, terrain-shifting bills, such as C-31 and C-10 (which is now part of a hefty and incoherent crime omnibus bill), are being pushed through Parliament with barely-if-at-all due process by the Harper government.

And the protesters weren’t just a motley melange of dread-locked college kids surrounded by puffs of cannabis smoke, and old school members of the flower power generation.  This woman – a long ago immigrant from Germany – is also very alarmed.  She warns, “I can see democracy being weakened by the day.  Most of my Canadian friends think I am exaggerating when I say ‘don’t think it could not happen here’.  It can happen here.  Wake up!”  She goes on to address issues of media control and the links between big business and the current federal government.  Her tone and narrative are worth a listen.

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Introducing Citizen Sane

By Heather Lynn Groot

Why Citizen Sane?

While my predilection for puns has naturally influenced my choice in naming this blog, I can assure that my intentions do go deeper than mere wordplay. The film Citizen Kane is often regarded as a game changer for the film industry. I would like this website to help improve the model of public health in the same way, while at the same time providing an enjoyable way to consume and disseminate ideas for change.  In this sense, I use the word “sane” not to mean free of any illness of the mind, but rather as a qualifier for the way I hope to approach public health topics. I want to offer sober analysis of information and a healthy positive way for the public to access and understand the vast and often disparate news items, research, and opinions that make their way to the public eye, as well as help raise awareness and understanding of information that may not be as easily accessible or very enjoyable to read.  I want this to be an investigation, a discussion, and a platform to offer information on issues that affect the health of individuals and societies as a whole.  I am full of more questions than answers, and this blog is my attempt at answering my own questions about public health, as well as some of yours. Let’s dig into the data and become investigators of our health as a whole community.  There are many Rosebuds to discover.


Digging In: Food Security as a Pillar of Radical Public Health

by Mackenzie Berg

Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it. – Alan Perliss

The other day, I was sitting in a café looking out to a soggy view of the Puget Sound and feeling rather morose about the State of Things in the World. I posted a lamenting status update to Facebook that was more rhetorical than answer-seeking: “How can we dismantle systems of structural violence when they seem to be reinforced at every turn by our political and economic systems?”

The answers I received were a mix of (appreciated) cynical snark balanced with rallying statements of support for what I think of as radical, yet pragmatic, grassroots-level change.  These statements are ones which I begrudgingly had to agree with because they made my own solution – fleeing to a shack in the desert – seem less heroic.

Food security and nutrition security are two key arenas of public health that I think about frequently in relation to structural violence and radical change. More specifically, I think about how we cannot afford to be simplistic or reductionist in understanding and engaging with our food systems, because in avoiding their complexity we avoid the means to legitimately, holistically improve them.

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“We’ve told three lies”: When our visionaries take one step back in order to leap forward.

By Ashley White

When one has hit upon – or stumbled, whatever – their own version of meaningful, substantive work, one also usually finds for themselves visionaries in the field to look to as mentors.  Because we know thatattachment to the labour force is a social determinant of health, meaningful attachment, then, requires things like: leaders, opportunities for innovation and positive deviance, and trails half-blazed (pardon the pun).

For me, Mark Haden has been one of these visionaries since I first met him in 2008.  He’s a Vancouver drug educator, among many other things, who has changed his mind – and his presentations – on how to do drug education to adults and youth over the past 25 years.  In the video below, in an interview filmed and produced by the  Canadian Drug Policy Coalition’s Heiko Decosas for the CDPC’s Blog, Mark outlines three lies that have typically prevented the general public from engaging in meaningful discourse on drug use.  Without good information, we can’t have good dialogue and we can’t build smart policy.  The lies? Misconstruing the harms of drugs, not explaining the harms of prohibition, and not explaining the potential benefits of drugs.

Mark is making a real difference.

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Seniors Get It On Safely in Florida

By Ashley White

An independent collective of professional sexuality educators, researchers, authors, trainers, counselors, and therapists have gotten together in Florida to address the significant rise (over 70%) in sexually transmitted infections experienced among seniors.

Safersex4seniors.org is getting the message out in an open, sassy and living way.  Seniors have sex too, often with more than one partner in a short period of time, and may hold different views about protection than the Gen-Yers.   The organizations latest promotional video, shown below, boasts clothed senior couples posing a la Kama Sutra to raise awareness.

At least we don’t have to worry about Seniors and contraception.

The end of the journey to safe, regulated markets for sex work? No. It’s more like a stop-over.

For me, it’s been a passionate and outspoken six year crusade to improve the human rights, safety, and dignity of Canadian sex workers.  For others, it’s been decades.  For some, the issue is just beginning to register as mainstream.  On Monday, March 26, 2012, there was yet another exciting stop-over in a journey that has yet to reach an end.

I was up at 5:45am and sitting across from Rick Cluff at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) at 6:40am to discuss the constitutional challenge to Canada’s Prostitution Laws in Ontario.  Justice Susan Himel struck down three laws relating to sex work in September of 2010:  Keeping a Common Bawdy House (Section 210), Living off the Avails (subsection J of Section 212), and Communication for the Purposes of Prostitution (Section 213).  This was a historic victory for Canadian sex workers as these particular laws work both individually and collectively to prevent sex workers from taking safety precautions while engaged in an exchange of sex for money – an exchange which has NEVER been illegal in Canada.

Working at an indoor location, rather than on the street, is much safer and this is backed up by reams of evidence, both qualitative and quantitative. Working indoors means that sex workers have better control over their working environment including having someone else present if anything goes wrong.

The Living off the Avails law was enacted, in part, to protect sex workers from exploitative pimps.  In reality, this law can apply to ANYONE who receives financial support from a sex worker, including her partner or her children.  This law also prohibits sex workers from hiring individuals to provide additional safety such as security guards, drivers and receptionists.  I would also point out that there are violent, exploitive men living off the avails of women in a variety of professions – the financial exploitation of women is not restricted to the sex trade. Continue reading

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Plans to Close Thistletown

By: Ingrid Giesinger

Somehow it seems fitting that my first post to Radical Public Health is about one of my first teaching experiences.

Thistletown Regional Centre, located near the Kipling and Finch intersection in the NW of Toronto, serves children, adolescents (and their families) who are dealing with complex mental health, behavioral and developmental challenges.[1]

In 1995, plans to close the centre, initiated under the Rae government, were thwarted by parental pressure. These plans are back on the agenda, under the McGuinty government[2].

The current plan to close Thistletown follows a very similar plan to that proposed under the Rae government, transferring the responsibility to community programs. Many children end up at Thistletown, because the community agencies were not able to serve them in the first place.

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The Tricky Business of Reducing Risk

The Tricky Business of Reducing Risk: Canada’s drug policy pits evidence against ideologues

Megaphone Magazine, Vancouver’s street newspaper, takes a look at drug treatment vs. harm reduction in the downtown east side.

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A New Way to Talk About the Social Determinants of Health

A New Way to Talk About the Social Determinants of Health

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that the term “social determinants of health”, while accepted in academic circles, did not resonate with their funders or the community organizations they work with.  This report documents their work developing a new way to talk about the social determinants of health, “Health starts where we live, learn, work and play.”

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We need to treat ‘million-dollar’ patients better

We need to treat ‘million-dollar’ patients better

Globe and Mail health columnist André Picard describes why Canada needs to provide better health care services to individuals with complex health needs.

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