Blogging Hiatus

I have good news, and I have bad news.

The good news is that this week I am starting an awesome new job!

The bad news is that things have been so hectic that my blogging output has been low (read: nonexistent) for awhile now and will likely remain that way for the foreseeable future.

Thanks for reading! I hope to someday get back at it and hope you’ll be there too.




The Sovereign Uterus – An Update

Yesterday’s blog post turned out to be quite timely. Today, the Prince Edward Island provincial government announced changes to reproductive health services for Island women.

In a press conference this morning they announced that they had reached an agreement with the Moncton Hospital to provide direct abortion services to Island women.

Here is what is changing (as of July 1st):

– Women may call the Moncton Hospital directly to schedule an appointment for an abortion

– Women are no longer required to obtain a doctor’s referral or associated preliminary steps (presumably bloodwork, ultrasounds)

– A toll-free telephone line will be established so that women may call the Moncton Hospital directly and receive information about abortion services

– The government has pledged to make more information regarding reproductive health available online and at key access points

Here is what is not changing:

– Women are still unable to receive abortion services on PEI

– Transportation costs associated with traveling off Island to obtain an abortion are still not covered, though vague references to travel programs were mentioned during the press conference

Some thoughts:

– Eliminating the need for Island women to obtain a doctor’s referral and the associated tests is a significant step that should (I think) eliminate some key difficulties in accessing abortion services 

– Similarly, offering more information via Health PEI on how to obtain abortion services is a welcome step forward

– However, these changes still feel minimal. The most obvious barrier to access – the lack of services available on the Island – persists. 

– Throughout the press conference, politicians refused to speak to why abortion services will not be offered on PEI. This is deeply frustrating and suggests that they are more interested in appeasing the increasingly vocal pro-choice advocates than truly transforming reproductive health for Island women.

– Still, the PEI Status of Women is optimistic:

– I think the PEI Status of Women raises an excellent point – the fact that the newly elected government felt pressure to respond to citizens’ concerns regarding access to the full-range of reproductive health services is important and encouraging. In fact, Paula Biggar, the minister responsible for the status of women, acknowledged that she had read testimony of Island women who have sought abortion services. Although she didn’t reference it by name, it seemed clear that she as referring to The Sovereign Uterus project that I blogged about yesterday. So while their offer is not enough, it’s a small but meaningful step forward.


The Sovereign Uterus

I’m writing this blog post to share an important link to the following blog:

The Sovereign Uterus

In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada found that laws restricting abortion in Canada were unconstitutional on the basis that they infringed upon a woman’s right to “life, liberty, and security of person.” In effect, abortion became a legal medical procedure in the country.

However, like all health care, abortion is regulated by provincial authorities which means that in practice access to abortion can be restricted. Such is the case in my home province of Prince Edward Island. Although the provincial government will reimburse women for the cost of the procedure, associated costs (travel, accommodations) are not covered. Combined with an Island culture that perpetuates the stigmatization of abortion, the barriers to accessing abortion are significant and deeply entrenched for Island women.

The link that I posted above is important because it illustrates the ways – both subtle and overt – that abortion access is limited for Islanders. It also helps dispel several of the myths that cling to the abortion issue – namely that those who seek abortion are irresponsible youth too stupid to use birth control. The stories that are shared demonstrate that is not always – in fact, it seems to be rarely – the case. The women who have shared their stories are from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Some were on birth control that failed. Some lacked access to birth control. Some were in abusive relationships. Some were in healthy long-term relationships. Some already had children. Some knew they never wanted children. Some were young. Some were older. Some were immediately confident in their decision. Some struggled with it.

The value of The Sovereign Uterus project is that in addition to providing a safe space for women to share their stories, it highlights the fact that the decision to have an abortion is unique and personal. It also demonstrates how challenging it is for Island women to obtain this health care, and how unfair it is that they are denied treatment that women elsewhere in Canada are not. Because as their stories show, it’s not just that women have to drive a few extra hours to receive treatment, it’s that they may struggle to find a doctor that will offer the referral necessary to obtain an abortion off-Island . They are often treated poorly when seeking follow-up care on the Island. They are shamed by their fellow Islanders.

Although I am confident in my pro-choice stance, I have hesitated to write a blog post on the subject. I worry that it will upset people, especially people I care about. But as I read through the submissions to The Sovereign Uterus, I felt moved to write about how angry I am that women in my home province are hamstrung by personal politics and consequently denied access to a medical procedure that their country has deemed legal. It’s an injustice that must be corrected, and I applaud the creator of The Sovereign Uterus and its contributors for speaking out.

Read these women’s stories. They matter.

Adventures in Ann Arbor Book World

I had such a book-ish weekend – it was glorious. Saturday was spent browsing various local book shops including Litterati Bookstore, which is absolutely gorgeous and has great staff reviews, and Motte & Bailey, where my better half is a regular.

Sunday was spent at the Ann Arbor Antiquarian Book Fair and even though I only browsed it was lovely. Interesting things spotted at the Antiquarian Book Fair:

  • A SIGNED copy of To Kill A Mockingbird. Signed. By Harper Lee. Only $1500 USD. Oh, to be made of money.
  • A beautiful first edition copy of Pride and Prejudice. The second most expensive book that I handled at a price of $1000 USD.
  • A binder full of famous autographs. Including Elizabeth Taylor and Neil Armstrong.
  • So much Tolkien. I think nearly every book had copies of his books and yet I don’t think I saw the same cover twice.
  • I met a bookseller who spent summers on PEI and whose relative worked in costume design for Anne of Green Gables – The Musical. I was SO excited. Plus he had two books signed by The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards which was pretty cool.
  • A copy of Love signed by Her Literary Highness Toni Morrison. It was only $75 and I was so tempted.

A Canadian in America

As a Canadian living in the US, the question I am most frequently asked by friends on either side of the border is some variation of “What’s the biggest difference between Canada and the US?”

I have found this a surprisingly difficult question to answer. It’s something I’ve reflected on quite often and yet I still can’t point to ONE thing that represents the BIGGEST difference between Canada and the US. Sure there are plenty of little things, like the fact that these silly Americans keep confusing Smarties and Rocket candy and referring to toques as beanies. But when asked this question I inevitably scramble for an answer and know that my inability to come up with something illuminating is a disappointment to both myself and the person asking.

If anything what I find most interesting, and most frustrating, is the fact that both Canadians and Americans often fail to appreciate the fact that the neighbouring culture is not homogeneous. I know this is an obvious point that is easy for most people to accept but for some reason that hasn’t stopped intelligent people from asking the question. I suppose it’s only natural to seek a tidy understanding of another culture, especially as it relates to your own. Unfortunately, I have yet to uncover a parsimonious answer that would reveal the crucial distinction between these otherwise similar countries. It will probably come to me the moment I publish this post.

If anything, it is something that Canadians and Americans have in common that has struck me the most. Both often fail to appreciate the significance of regional differences in the other country. For example, the answer to the question “Is the Canadian climate the same as Alaska’s?” is that well, it depends on where in Canada. Come to think of it, it also depends on where in Alaska you’re referring to. Similarly, the answer to the question “When you moved to the US, were you immediately struck by how obese everyone was?” is no, not really. Especially because I initially moved to Colorado which is one (if not the) fittest American state. And yes, I really have been asked both of these questions.

When asked nearly anything about Canadian or American culture, climate, or politics, my answer is consistently “Well it depends on where in [insert relevant country here] you’re referring to.” It’s not a very satisfying answer and it’s dripping with the academic’s go-to response to nearly any query (“it depends” or “well, it’s quite complicated”). So to play along, I will answer some of the Canada vs. USA questions I have been asked most frequently, nuanced analysis be damned.

Yes, Canada is cold. But the border separating Canada and the US isn’t a climate force-field and while it amuses me to refer to my homeland as “The Land Beyond The Wall” the truth is that average provincial temperatures are likely similar to the average temperatures of the state that province borders. For instance, Washington state and British Columbia province are rainier and milder than New England and the Maritimes. Funny how geography and meteorology coincide like that. (Note: being super northern, the territories are something of an outlier. But even then, the climate is a bit more diverse than “all cold, all the time.” Though it’s still pretty damn cold from what I understand.)

Yes, generally speaking Canadians love hockey. However, I personally know a decent number of Canadians who do not like hockey. I also know plenty of rabid American hockey fans. Have you seen the Chicago Blackhawks fandom? Those crazies are everywhere. (Said with love, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa are both on my fantasy hockey team.)

No, not all Americans are gun enthusiasts but yes, some of them are. I haven’t looked recently at data on how opinions regarding gun rights break down regionally but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were stark geographic divides. Beyond regionalism, I have also noticed that opinions regarding gun rights vs. gun control tend to be more complex than most Canadians realize. I know where I stand on a personal level but as a matter of public policy I find it a very tough issue to parse through. I don’t want to get into that debate here (at least not now) but I will say that living in the US has given me a new perspective on just how complicated the issue is.

Yes, some milk in Canada comes in bags. It’s not that big of a deal. And yes, when I see milk in a carton in the US I am able to correctly identify it as milk.

Yes, American politics is nuts. The dysfunction in Congress is real and makes a lot of people from both parties want to bang their heads against a wall. But gridlock and partisanship are pretty standard in modern democracies and it’s built into the system of checks and balances that underpins the American political system. I’m not saying that voters shouldn’t push for productivity. I’m saying that those Canadians quick to criticize the US should remember that our political system is also far from perfect. Also, both countries have regional differences (keeping with the theme here) that make governing effectively quite tricky. Red states vs. blue states. Quebec. Alberta and Texas oil. Like I said, it’s a bit nuts trying to resolve all of those issues.

No, Canadians do not eat poutine all the time. Not even in Quebec. Similarly, the American diet does not consist exclusively of hamburgers.

Yes, everyone loves maple syrup. Or at least they should.

Remembrance Day

It is fitting to write this blog’s inaugural post on Remembrance Day. For the past several years I have been a student of international relations, war, and conflict. The academic study of these subjects is pragmatic and so the horrors of war are often pushed out of view in favour of utilitarian analyses of tactics and strategy. This isn’t a bad thing. Until such point that war is eradicated (and you’ll have to forgive my cynical opinion that such a point isn’t exactly imminent) it will be necessary to think and strategize about war and the way it is conducted.

However, this doesn’t mean that we should neglect the human element of war. Remembrance Day provides us with an opportunity to remember that it is human beings – our friends, families, and fellow citizens – that are charged with the task of executing the policies and strategies devised by others. In most cases these men and women are asked to risk their lives in order to carry out their duties. In many cases they pay the ultimate sacrifice.

The human element of war extends to the other side of conflict as well. The asymmetrical nature of 21st century conflicts means that civilians consistently bear the brunt of violence. Those who study war from a distance, like myself, have the good fortune of examining the consequences of warfare without living them. It can become too easy to think in terms of collateral damage, in terms of outcomes. Remembrance Day offers the chance to reflect on the experience of war as best we can.

This year I am thinking of three things in particular:

The fact that without the brave members of World War II’s Allied Forces, and the Canadian Forces specifically, I would not be here today. My grandparents lived in the Netherlands and their hometown of Nijmegen is situated close to the German border. It was the first Dutch city to fall under occupation. My Oma still has the small notebook in which she collected the signatures of the soldiers who stayed at her father’s inn after they had liberated her city and her country. They immigrated to Canada in 1952 and my mother was born a Canadian citizen. So was I, and so was my brother and my sister.

Photos below of Oma and Opa, 1947.

Oma1947 1948. My parents on Toos's 21st birthday

I am thinking of the families of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and how peculiar this Remembrance Day must feel to them.

And I am reciting in my head In Flanders Fields. We had to memorize this poem in elementary school and I’ve never forgotten it. It’s beautiful and haunting. I do, however, have one disagreement with the author. One line reads “to you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high.” This line has never sat well with me. With all due respect to Major John McCrae, I do not think the hands that he describes have failed. Nevertheless, it is our responsibility to accept the torch and never forget.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Major John McCrae, May 1915

[Updated November 11, 2014: added photographs.]