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Pulamoo would like to see more students discover fun of rugby

Miramichi Leader
Wed May 6 2015
Page: B1
Section: Sports
Byline: Katie Smith

The game of rugby has had a bad reputation, likely since its beginnings in the 19th century. This might have to do with a match’s many tackles and hits – by players wearing little equipment.
The odd player might wear a scrum cap, but other than that, the often metal-studded cleats and a mouth guard are all that is required.
Rugby players rely on fitness and skill over padding and helmets, which is to say they not only learn how to tackle, but they also learn how to protect themselves.
And while the sport may seem barbaric to many, for those who play, it brings camaraderie, friendship, healthy competition and a constant striving for improvement. It becomes a lifestyle, an obsession.
One of the coaches of the Miramichi Valley High School Pulamoo boys rugby team said the stigma around the sport could account for the low numbers of players he sees coming into the high schools.
Tim Sullivan, who has been with the team for five years, said in the northern part of the province, support for rugby is fairly low, but said in Miramichi the support is decent.
“There’s a pretty good community, as you can see, a lot of people want to come back (to help),” he told the Miramichi Leader during an outdoor practice on Wednesday April 29. “We’ve got some players that have come back today just to be at practice, so there’s a strong culture with that and the school is excellent with us.”

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Members of the Miramichi Valley High School boys rugby team prepare to engage in a scrum during a recent practice. Photo: Katie Smith/Miramichi Leader

Sullivan said in the past 10 to 15 years, the sport’s popularity has grown in the Miramichi, but in other areas of the northeast, it’s been in decline.
“Bathurst used to have two teams, nothing now. There used to be some other stuff up in Richibucto, there’s nothing anymore. So it’s unfortunate that way. We’d really like to see it grow.”
Having a program in the middle schools would help get numbers up when the students reach high school, but it’s more than that, Sullivan said.
“It’s a slow process trying to convince people it’s not some barbaric sport with a bunch of brutes punching each other, and for whatever reason, that’s what people think it is.”
Sullivan said he doesn’t like to put expectations on any season but he feels confident in how the boys will do this year.
“For us, our biggest goal every year is to make the crossovers, to make the provincial semifinals. We want to get ourselves into a position for that, so usually that means being the top two in the conference. This year I think there’s only three teams in the conference, so the odds of that are usually pretty good.”
In his years as coach, Sullivan said there was only one year when the team didn’t reach its goal.
“We’ve been pretty consistent.”
Last year, the MVHS boys rugby team lost in the semifinals to Fredericton High School.
“Last year was definitely a rebuilding year, that’s how we looked at it,” said Sullivan.
Oromocto beat Fredericton High School in last year’s finals, and Sullivan said Oromocto often wins, and with good reason.
“They have a strong program and a great coach. They’ve always got good numbers and have two teams going. As soon as one guy graduates, another moves up. That’s what we’d like to get here.”
The high school’s team is made up of a large contingent of Grade 11s and a few seniors who will play a pivotal role this year, Sullivan said.
“The last couple of years we haven’t been able to get the 9s and 10s we’d like to, so that’s kind of the issue we’re trying to address,” he said. “As it stands right now, we like our team. We have a nice mix of guys who have been involved in rugby and like rugby. We have three or four guys who have played at the provincial level. We have some talent in here and some guys who have really helped the culture.”
One of the players Sullivan referred to is Grade 11 student Patrick Hache.

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MVHS boys rugby team captain Patrick Hache brings talent, skills and smarts to his game. Photo: Katie Smith/Miramichi Leader

Upon first glance, Hache looks like he’s a coach rather than a player.
Standing almost six feet tall and weighing about 200 pounds, the 17-year-old played on last year’s provincial under-18 team in the front row of the scrum, as a prop.
The scrum is generally made up of bigger players, like Hache, but for his high school team, Hache plays with the backs at number 10.
For those unfamiliar with the sport, a rugby team consists of 15 players – eight in the scrum (forwards), a scrum-half who feeds the ball into and retrieves the ball from the scrum and passes the ball out to the six back players (backs).
When a scrum is won, the scrum-half throws the ball to the backs, and the first player who usually receives that pass is the number 10.
Having a strong build and speed is ideal for a number 10, but it also takes brains, and as Sullivan said of his team captain, Hache has it all.
“He’s the general out there. He can read the field and tell the guys where to go.” Hache said he’s happy in either position.
“I kind of like the backs because there are not a lot of backs who are closer to my size, but I do like the forward pack because I like being in close.”
To add to his playing advantage, Hache also wrestles (which helps with tackling) and does competitive powerlifting, which he said is, “just for fun”.
Powerlifting is good for rugby, he said.
“A lot of it’s explosive, compound lifts and squats.”
Hache also used to play basketball, but gave it up.
“I thought it would be better to train for rugby because it was the only sport that really meant a lot to me and that I did well at,” he said. “It’s definitely my favourite sport.”
Unlike many students who start high school, Hache was introduced to rugby at an early age because his sister, Jillian, used to play in high school.
“She was right into it, she’s not a very big girl, either, but she’s tough. She really got me into it. When we were younger she’d want to go outside and want to hit me.”
He said his friend’s involvement in the sport also piqued his interest.
“Me and my buddy, his older brother played and we’d kind of just practise in the yard and I got interested in it.”
Rugby has brought a lot to Hache over the years.
“A lot of good friends, I got really close with the team. It’s something to really look forward to and work hard for and train for.”
Hache said he would love to see more boys from the younger grades getting involved, and to convince them not to be afraid.
“A lot of the Grade 9s are convinced that if you’re not big then you can’t play, but I try to tell them there’s a position for every size. It doesn’t matter if you’re small; it doesn’t matter if you’re big. If you’re small, you’re probably quick and you’ll run the ball; if you’re big you’ll be taking on the little guys. I try to put them in a position where they feel confident.”
He said the decline in interest from Grade 9 students is disappointing.
“There was so much interest in my Grade 9 year, we had 25 guys out. Not all of them stuck with it, but we still got at least 10 guys who have kept up with it.”
As for this season, Hache is feeling good about lies ahead.
“I think this will be a really good season for us. We’ve had a pretty good group since Grade 9. I think if we’re going to do good or go anywhere, this is the year. We still have a good chance next year, but I think we’ll make an impact for sure this year.”
The team is also coached by Todd Beck, Jason Dedam and Rob Murphy, Sullivan said.
“They’re the ones bringing the majority of the knowledge and experience. They’ve got lots to share. And having Rob imported from Ireland helps too,” he said laughing.

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Entrepreneur uses know-how to help improve people’s lives

Miramichi Leader
Wed Jul 1 2015
Page: B6
Section: Business
Byline: Katie Smith

A young entrepreneur from Miramichi is designing a bionic knee brace that could change the way people with an injury or permanent disability get around.
Bob Garrish and his business partner, Chris Cowper-Smith, co-founders of Spring Loaded Technology in Halifax, are working on making the world’s first knee brace that has an exoskeleton-level powered hinge built into it, which will store the user’s own kinetic energy and release it when it’s most needed.
The project has already received some noteworthy attention. Garrish, 33, and Cowper-Smith, 31, received the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) 2015 Young Entrepreneur Award on June 22 for the turning point project, Bionic Boost, winning the grand prize of $100,000.
The brace, similar to a carbon-fibre knee brace someone receives after receiving a knee injury, has a carbon-fibre frame that straps to the user’s leg and bends and straightens with the user’s knee, Garrish said in an interview with the Miramichi Leader.

Featured imageBob Garrish models the bionic knee brace he helped create and develop. Photo: Submitted

“But the difference is that if you were to crouch, our brace would actually help you get back up, or if you go down a staircase it would support your weight,” he said. “It’s actually tuned to the user’s weight. It’s extremely strong.”
The mechanism is strong enough that a 250-pound person wearing one could have one non-working quadricep and still be able to crouch down, tie their shoes and stand back up.
It is entirely mechanical, so there are no batteries or power sources required for the brace to operate, and it’s lightweight and small enough to be worn under clothing, said Garrish, who is a graduate of James M. Hill Memorial High School and the son of Barry and Ginette Garrish of Napan.
“The strapping it on was one of the trickiest parts of development because to lift you back up, this essentially has to put your entire body weight on the back of your leg,” he said. “So figuring out how to do that in a way that didn’t hurt the user and that it was still comfortable was huge.”
Garrish and Cowper-Smith met in a course at Dalhousie University in Halifax aimed at teaching people how to make startup companies, a course which included students from all different backgrounds and areas of study.
During the course, they were partnered up with another student, a hockey player, who wanted a powered knee brace because he thought it could make him skate faster.
“And so that’s how it got started. We started looking into it and there’s like 110 years of people trying to patent the same thing and trying to do it different ways and it never worked. I thought, ‘Oh sure, I can fix that,’?” he said, laughing.
Garrish said the thing he and his business partner are most excited about is how this device is going to change people’s lives.
“Recovery is one area where it certainly can help, but the one we’re really excited about is people with a permanent quadricep weakness from injury or other disease, or people who have neurological disorders that cause loss of muscle control, like multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy.”
For many of those people, who have lost the ability to crouch down, their world starts at their waist, Garrish said.
“You can’t even bend down and tie your shoes. If you can’t tie your shoes, you can’t go to the grocery store, you can’t leave the house without anyone else’s help. You instantly lose the outside world and need a caretaker for something as simple as losing the ability to crouch and stand back up.”
Garrish, who underwent knee surgery himself six months into starting the company, said he learned a lot during his recovery.
“As soon as you have one of those injuries, you learn stuff that’s really not obvious,” he said, adding going down the stairs with a knee injury is “terrifying.”
“If someone has a knee that can fail, one, this can support their weight, but two, if they have a knee that’s unstable, this will also catch them when they start to fall.”
Thanks to the BDC Award, Spring Loaded Technology will be able to go to market this fall with the brace, something Garrish said wouldn’t have happened until at least early 2016 without the funding.
The money will be used for new rapid carbon-fibre and composites manufacturing equipment to boost production and keep costs down, so the brace will be affordable and accessible to users.
Nearly all of the parts are made in the Halifax facility, Garrish said.
A lot of this stuff, we actually designed the manufacturing process and built the machines we used to make the parts,” he said. “We’re not only doing it here, but we’re doing it at a cost where we can still make money and hit the price point we want to so that people can afford this.”
Affordability has got to be part of it, Garrish said.
“Initially, we’ll probably be doing a crowd-funding campaign like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, just because we’ve had so many individual users contact us,” he said. “We’re confident we can sell directly to consumers to start without going through distributors and that lets us control the price point.”
Garrish said the cost they are aiming for will be more expensive than an off-the-shelf knee brace, but cheaper than buying a custom knee brace.
“We’re essentially selling you an automobile for less than the price of a new bicycle,” he said. “We have to make a nice knee brace to put this on, so we’re effectively selling you a nice knee brace that happens to make you twice as strong for less than the price of a nice knee brace.”
In the end, Garrish said he isn’t in it for the money.
“I could be making a whole lot of more money designing weapons. Man, I could design a great missile,” he said, laughing. “This will pay off, but the business you choose, we’re definitely in this one because we think it’s something that really matters.”

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Filipino man says sacrifices worth effort

Miramichi Leader
Fri May 15 2015
Page: A1
Section: Main
Byline: Katie Smith

Nothing worth having in life comes easy, as the saying goes, and for one immigrant living in Miramichi, the act of sacrifice is all too familiar.
Joel Ligad landed in New Brunswick from the Philippines in 2010, looking for work and a better life for himself and his family.
With little work in his native land, Ligad often travelled to Taiwan for months at a time, working various contract jobs. But because of Taiwanese laws, migrant workers can only work there for a maximum of nine years.
Wanting a more sustainable way to earn money, Ligad knew he needed to head west.
“Here, there’s a good life. From our perception, Canada is a great country,” Ligad told the Miramichi Leader in a recent interview. “That why we were aiming to go to Canada.”

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Joel Ligad is excited to be reunited with his wife and daughter. Photo: Katie Smith/Miramichi Leader

After looking into making the move, Ligad discovered there was a need for caregivers in Canada, so he returned to school and enrolled in a caregiver program. It wasn’t until after that he learned the jobs for men in that field were few and far between.
“But then my friend told me that even if you’re not a caregiver, Canada still needs employees.”
With this in mind, Ligad applied to come to Canada via Taiwan because there are fewer applicants who apply from there, so he would have a better chance of getting to Canada.
“So I said, ‘OK, I’ll just go for any job, as long as I’m here in Canada,’ and I just submitted my resumé to the agency, and it’s up to them (to place me somewhere).”
It was soon time to head to his chosen new country, which was a mix of emotions for Ligad because, while on the one hand he was leaving to find a better life, he also had to leave his wife and unborn child behind.
“When I left, she was pregnant,” he said, adding he has never had the chance to hold his baby in his arms.
Ligad’s first job in Canada was in Richiboucto at a fish plant, but because it was only contract/seasonal employment, and because immigrants are required to work for a full year in a full-time position before they apply for their residency, he wasn’t able to apply for his.
Eventually he landed a job in Miramichi as a Subway employee, and after a year of full-time employment, he was eligible to apply for his residency.
In April, the 36-year-old Ligad was finally granted permission to live in Miramichi, a permission extended to his wife and daughter.
It’s been five years since he’s seen his wife, Conchita, and has never once met his daughter, Summer, who turns four in June.
He is able to communicate with his family via computer over Skype, but Ligad said his situation has been challenging.
“It’s hard. A lot of people don’t know. You work at Subway, you face different kinds of people, you smile. And sometimes people don’t know what your life (is about),” he said. “It’s hard, wondering if (my family) are OK and how things with the baby are going. It’s very difficult.”
But things are about to look up for the family because Ligad is heading to the Philippines this month to visit with his family and friends and will bring his wife and daughter back to Canada with him.
“I’m so happy that finally all of the sacrifices are worth it. You finally get what you want if you keep on pursuing it.”
Apart for five years, Ligad will soon have his wife and daughter under one roof, something he says is worth more than anything else in the world.
As Ligad started talking about his daughter, he paused and looked away as his eyes filled with tears.
“I can just remember the first time she said, ‘I love you, Daddy,’?” he said, his voice cracking. “I’m just happy.”
Ligad say he draws strength from his family, and they keep him going.
“My family motivates me. I’m doing this for them, so that’s why you can’t stop. Even though you are here alone, there can be problems with work or personal, but you can get through it.”
Ligad said his wife has been strong through this whole process.
“She’s OK. I owe her a lot for taking care of my baby. It’s really hard. She’s just alone. I’m not there for her every time the baby got sick. I owe her a lot for my baby.”
And once he has her back in his life permanently, Ligad said he won’t leave them again.
“I told my wife, ‘I can’t promise you an easy life, but the most important thing is that we have each other.’ I told her, ‘I’m not going to leave you anymore. Whatever happens, I don’t care, as long as we have each other.’?”
Ligad is not only going to see his wife and daughter when he goes home, but he is also planning on surprising his mother and two brothers with a visit because it has also been five years since he’s seen them.
“I didn’t tell them I’m coming. I just told them I got the residency and I told them that before my wife and my daughter will come here, they will visit. So they are expecting my wife and my daughter to visit them, but not me.”
Ligad said he has joined the Point Church and has met a lot of wonderful, supportive people through that, which has helped curb the loneliness of living here without his family.
“The church helped. I (met) people in the community, and some of them have helped me. They are really nice people,” he said. “If there’s a Thanksgiving, I’ll go to their house with their family. That helps a lot.”
The Philippines, which is made up of more than seven thousand small islands, is a country that enjoys a tropical climate, so the idea of snow is foreign to Ligad’s family.
“My daughter, every time we talk on the Internet, she will ask me, ‘Can you show me the snow?’ The good thing is, they will come here in the summer for an easier transition because where we come from, it’s so warm there.”
Snow or not, Ligad said in the end, all that matters is that he and his family will again be reunited.

“I am so happy.”

A red tide washes over Canada

I can once again say I am proud to be Canadian. The country spoke, and our collective voice was heard.

After nearly a decade in power, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government was defeated.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals won a majority government, earning 184 of the possible 338 seats in Parliament.

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While Trudeau won 54 per cent of the seats, he actually only received 39.5 per cent of the popular vote. And if I learned anything about math in school, that’s not isn’t a passing grade, nor is it a majority. However, because of our first-past-the-post electoral system, his party formed just that.

I had to go to the voting station more than once to cast my ballot this election, because I had to have someone vouch for me. It took a bit of work, but in the end I was finally able to exercise my right and cast my vote for the candidate I felt best reflected my views. Ok, that’s not really how it went down. The truth is, I voted for the candidate that would remove the Conservative incumbent, thus giving the Harper camp one less seat at the table. Strategic voting; that’s where it was at this election. Hopefully our new prime minister will keep his word and reform our electoral process so that next time you can vote for the person you think will best serve your district, and have that vote represented in Ottawa.

But I digress.

What I found interesting during the election results was in the district I currently reside. It came down to the wire, but the NDP candidate defeated the Conservative incumbent by a mere 285 votes. And considering this district of Kootenay-Columbia spans a whopping 64,000 kilometres, that’s a pretty small margin. This riding showed me that every single vote counted. I’m glad I made the extra effort to have my say.

It’s hard to know what the next four years will bring. If our new leader stands by what he’s promised, then I’m kind of excited to see where we end up. We said we wanted change, and we got it, right?

Or did we?

Maybe we just flip-flopped back to the “other” party once again. I mean, it’s been a Liberal or a Conservative government since the beginning of Canada’s story, and defeating a party after a decade is sort of how it goes here in “the true north strong and free”. The Conservatives have been in power since 2006, but the Liberals were in power for more than a decade before that.

What will Trudeau do about our electoral process? What about implementing the recommendations made by the TRC and the inquiry into the murdered and missing Aboriginal women and girls? How is he going to handle the recent and highly-secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement? Will any of his campaign promises come true?

The question remains, is Justin Trudeau the change we craved, the change we think we need. Or was he just our best chance at ousting Harper?

I guess only time will tell, but for now I’m going to ride this wave of hope, for however long it lasts.

Political candidates discuss Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations

The issue of reconciliation with First Nations people is on the radar of most of the political parties as the fall federal election continues.

In recent interviews with The Free Press, the four main candidates for Kootenay-Columbia discussed his respective party’s policy on the implementation of the 94 recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

Candidates picCandidates from left: Bill Green (Green Party), David Wilks (incumbent Conservative MP), Wayne Stetski (NDP) and Don Johnston (Liberal Party). Photo submitted.

In June, the TRC – a component of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement whose mandate is to inform Canadians about what happened at the residential schools – presented a report to government indicating the findings of a six-year investigation into the abuses that took place over the course of about 150 years. The last school closed in 1996.

Justice Murray Sinclair, Ojibway-Canadian judge and chair of the TRC, spoke in Ottawa on June 2, calling what happened at the residential schools a “cultural genocide”.

Part of the recommendations is an inquiry into the more than 1,000 missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls from 1980 to 2012.

The four candidates running in Kootenay-Columbia offered their thoughts on the recommendations for an inquiry. Conservative candidate and incumbent MP David Wilks said that whatever the public may think, investigations into such cases are ongoing and in the jurisdiction of the RCMP.

“There have been so many inquiries done already. When we talk about missing and murdered Indigenous women – this is a sad story in every case – in every case. There isn’t one that isn’t. But, a lot of them, as brought out by the RCMP, are solved. They do solve a lot of them, and they are able to investigate them and they are able to bring it to conclusion.”

Yes, there are still cases that remain unsolved, and despite what the public might think, the RCMP continues to work on solving them, Wilks said.

Wilks, who served as an RCMP officer for six years in Golden, said the way he looks at it is, “the RCMP and other police forces investigate every missing person” and that the issue shouldn’t be looked at as solely an Aboriginal issue.

“Let’s broaden it – missing and murdered people. The problem is that there are some that are just very, very difficult to solve,” he said. “I don’t think when it comes to missing and murdered Aboriginal peoples that it’s fair for the government of the day – whether it’s us, the Liberals the NDP or the Greens – to say ‘what are you going to do about it?’ Well, I don’t know what I’m going to do about people that murder people. I don’t know what I’m going to do about that, because some of them you’re going to solve, and some of them you’re not going to solve. That’s the criminal element.”

As far as the RCMP’s involvement into the inquiry goes, Green Party candidate Bill Green said he thinks part of the answer to moving forward on the issue of reconciliation is better funding for the RCMP, which he said is in need of more resources.

“The government has cut resources to the RCMP. Apart from the security intelligence functions of the RCMP, they need more resources. But, clearly, there has to be a systemic overhaul with the RCMP and it’s not so much a criticism as it is a  ‘let’s find a way forward’ for the RCMP to become responsive to real threats of security – to Aboriginal people and Aboriginal women in particular – in many parts of Canada.”

In other words, the Green Party believes in reconciliation and wants to work with the First Nations, and having worked with Ktunaxa Nation Council Green said the issue is “very important” to him.

“I think it’s absolutely about moving forward together, but it’s about reinventing Canada as a country that’s a partnership with First Nations,” he said, adding it’s about working together.

“First Nations are universally saying there has to be a Royal Commission into the missing and murdered aboriginal women, but [you have to be] willing to engage with First Nations at that level – which is how are we going to find joint-submissions to this – and that’s one of the reasons why I think we have to change the government.”

NDP candidate Wayne Stetski said he also believes in reconciliation, and said there’s another step to take.

“I truly believe that treaties will move all of us forward, together, I really do. So I’m not afraid of treaties,” he said. “Absolutely, reconciliation is important. And I think there’s a better future in British Columbia with treaties.”

Having spent a couple of his younger years in a residential school in the North West Territories, Stetski said that, even as a child, he noticed a difference between the way the priests and nuns treated him and his brother – the only two Caucasians children in the school – compared to how the Inuit children were treated, adding said that might have been where his interest in Aboriginal rights began.

“We’re all just people, in the end, and that’s how I felt in kindergarten and Grade 1, you know? All my friends were Inuit, so I really have never felt differences, I guess, between races and cultures.”

Like Green, Stetski has worked with the Ktunaxa Nation Council. as the mayor of Cranbrook, where he sat on the Treaty Negotiation Committee representing municipalities with the Ktunaxa, the federal and provincial governments.

“I really do believe in reconciliation, personally,” he said. “What [federal NDP leader] Tom Mulcair has said is basically we’ve got to start over with a new model. He said he’s going to set up a new committee structure with the prime minister as part of that to make sure that the decisions that the federal government [makes] around different things consider

First Nations and their impacts in terms of what we’re doing.”

Stetski said the NDP also support a national inquiry into the missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

“For the life of me, I cannot figure out why the federal government would not do that,” he said.

Liberal candidate Don Johnston, like two of his running mates, worked with the Aboriginal community when he was with Indian Affairs.

The Liberal Party, he said, is committed to implementing the recommendations by the TRC, but is also committed to working closely with First Nations leaderships.

“With the leaders of First Nations as equals at the table to resolve these conflicts, but also to have those conversations with the provinces, too.”

Johnston said his party will recognize the rights Aboriginal people have, “that have clearly been recognized by the Supreme Court and clearly recognized in the constitution”.

But moving forward isn’t what the Conservatives are doing, he said.

“There was a lot of hope after they made the apology for the residential schools, that maybe there would be change.”

But then, during the TRC report in Ottawa in June when Sinclair made a plea for an inquiry into the missing and murdered Indigenous woman, Bernard Valcourt, minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, remained the only person seated as the audience erupted in a standing ovation.

“He failed himself, and he failed Canadians,” Johnston said.

If Canadians take a hard look at where Aboriginal children are today, they will see the disadvantages those children face, he said.

“And anybody that sits in front of you and tells you that Aboriginal children born on reserves in Canada right now have the same likelihood of success as you, they’re either stupid or they’re Conservatives,” he said, adding he made that joke intentionally. “There’s lots of smart Conservatives, but the reality is, we’ve got issues that we’ve run from for so long, we can’t run from them anymore. And the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has focused that so we can finally understand it.”

Pro-choice advocates want more access to abortion across New Bruswick

Access to certain medical services can be challenging throughout the province, especially for those living in rural areas, said one concerned woman who wants to see abortion and reproductive services brought to Miramichi.
Rebeka Frazer-Chiasson, who worked for two years doing community development in Miramichi and now runs a farm in Rogersville, believes in a woman’s right to choose to terminate her pregnancy.
Frazer-Chiasson said it can be hard for women to make the trip to another municipality to access services.
“Access is really challenging everywhere in New Brunswick but even more so in rural areas when you consider distance and transportation is a challenge, especially for lower income women,” she said. “But I think that it’s a problem everywhere in the province. It’s a discussion we have to have province-wide, but also a recognition that most of our population is in rural areas and really spread out amongst each other. That’s definitely something that we should be addressing whenever we talk about abortion services or reproductive justice is how we can get it in rural areas.”
Support groups are hard to come by for women dealing with the issues surrounding abortion in Miramichi and women might find it difficult to connect with other women for support, she said.
“If it (abortion services) was happening in Miramichi, or if there was access (at) the hospital, there’s all kinds of support groups, whether it’s for dealing with death or loss or cancer,” she said. “When it’s not in your community, it can be hard to connect to other people.”
Frazer-Chiasson said while it is very important to be surrounded by a supportive family and friends, having an actual organization to turn to is crucial.
“I have a strong family tie and family backing and I think that’s what a lot of people go on in small towns and in the Miramichi, but we have to recognize that is definitely not everyone’s reality, and (we need to) create opportunities and tools for people who don’t have that kind of support,” she said. “And obviously with abortion and reproductive justice, even if you have a strong family tie, it’s not necessary that they’re going to support you in that decision.”
Having worked within the community, Frazer-Chiasson said there are women with whom she would feel comfortable talking about issues like abortion.
“But there’s nothing that I know of that’s a support group or somewhere that you can go to that’s specifically about reproductive justice and access to abortion.”
Currently, two hospitals in the province offer abortions are the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton, an hour and a half drive away, and Chaleur Regional Hospital in Bathurst, about 50 minutes from Miramichi.
Both hospitals are operated by the francophone Vitalite health authority.
Last month Horizon Health Network president and CEO John McGarry announced that come April, the Moncton Hospital will be the only hospital in the anglophone health authority that will offer fully-funded abortions services.
Jessi Taylor, spokesperson for the Reproductive Justice of New Brunswick, a collective of individuals from across the
province dedicated to ensuring publicly funded and self-referred abortion is available in the province, said she doesn’t understand Horizon’s decision to offer the procedure in a centre that already offers the service.
“They’re going to be opening in Moncton where there’s already abortion services, instead of a place like Miramichi which has no services at all,” she said in a phone interview from Fredericton. “While there are a lot of abortions done in Moncton, those using the services are largely people coming from everywhere else in New Brunswick.”
A letter McGarry wrote to doctors in the province was leaked to the media last month where he said there was a need to balance access with cost, being accountable to both patients and taxpayers.
“I have come to the conclusion that, in this case of uncertain sustainable volumes, we can best reconcile all interests by making a decision on a single site. That site will be The Moncton Hospital.”
McGarry also said the Moncton Hospital has a committed clinical team of, at minimum, four physicians and said that offering the service at one hospital rather than three with save his company a minimum of half a million dollars a year.
“We cannot afford that capital cost. Operational costs in one site will be only slightly affected by placing all three projected volumes together.”
A poll released in January shows that New Brunswickers are split on whether or not they believe a woman has the right to terminate a pregnancy.
The recent Corporate Resources Associates Inc. poll reported that 48 per cent of the province believes a woman can have an abortion within the first trimester of pregnancy.
Limited access can cause long wait times, and since an abortion must be performed within a certain time-frame, this could pose issues for some women, Taylor said.
“If a woman needs to wait to get in to see the doctor to have an abortion, but the wait time makes it so she is into her second trimester, or 13.6 weeks, they won’t perform the procedure. At that point you have to go out of province and pay out of pocket.”
And it’s costly, she said, adding at the Clinic 554 in Fredericton, which is where the old Morgentaler clinic was located, abortions cost $700.
Taylor has some suggestions about making better access for Miramichiers, adding that hospitals are already hooked up with the necessary equipment to perform abortions, since the equipment required is the same that’s used during an emergency miscarriage, so she thinks doctors should be trained on that equipment.
“The department of health needs to pressure Horizon into opening more services in more places, but they also need to get rid of the rule about refusing to fund services in clinic settings,” she said. “Clinic settings are way cheaper and they’re way better for patients and providers alike. We have clinics and we have resources and we have equipment, but they’re just refusing to use it. Miramichiers deserve better.”
Frazer-Chiasson thinks there is a double-sided rhetoric surrounding the issue of reproductive rights.
“We’re talking about wanting to increase women’s participation in community life or economics or definitely in politics, but we’re not talking about what the challenges might be and how access to our reproductive justice is definitely a challenge and something that has to be addressed if we truly want greater female participation.”
Perhaps talking about these issues can take away some of the taboo or stigma some women face if they do in fact choose to terminate their pregnancy, she said.
“I’ve never seen anything around pro-choice here. I would like to talk more with the people who I know are pro-choice in the Miramichi about the “culture of silence” and why this is,” she said, adding people might have different opinions if they talk about it in a different context. “If people are given the opportunity to think about it differently and have access to a different language than what they’ve grown up in, they (might) feel that it makes sense, and think, ‘yeah sure, I feel that I or women in my life should have control over their bodies and those decisions’.”
Miramichi is far away from having any sort of pro-choice rally, she said.
“But maybe we’re not that far from at least getting more people to talk about it. There’s probably way more conversations happening than we think.”
The Miramichi Leader has placed interview requests with both Horizon Health Network and the Department of Health.

Concerns around physician-assisted death

Canadians now have the right to choose death over suffering. Well, sort of.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Canada overturned a ruling that will now allow for physician-assisted death in Canada. While this might seem like a step in the right direction for those in favour of euthanasia, there is still some concern around the ruling.
In the past when the issue of euthanasia came up, I always took the stand where I think people should have the right to choose death over suffering.
Now that the prohibition of assisted-death has been deemed unconstitutional, and now that Canadians are one step closer to being able to opt for death, I am no longer sure where I stand.
Let me explain why.
The idea of assisted suicide has long been debated in this country, with Canadians begging the question, is it sometimes ok for people to die by their own hand or by the hand of a doctor?
The ruling states that only physicians are allowed to carry out life-ending measures in the cases of competent adults who “clearly consent to the termination of life” and who “has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.”
Seems straight forward enough…right? Not so much.
As it stands right now, a lot can be left up to interpretation. Who is considered a “competent adult”? Is that based on age or on mental capacity or a mix of the two? What do they mean by grievous, or severe? What one person considers severe might not be the same as another person’s definition. What kind of suffering is considered “intolerable”? Again, this could differ from one person to another.
Does this ruling take into consideration patients who suffer from mental illness, who are in a constant state of despair and anguish? While this might not necessarily come out as physical pain, they are in intolerable pain nonetheless.
The Supreme Court has postponed the effect of the decision for one year, which is to say Parliament has one year to craft legislation to go in place of the old legislation that banned physician-assisted death.
I fear this new legislation might be rushed, seeing as though Parliament goes on summer hiatus from late-June to late-September and once they are back, they will be preparing for the fixed election date of Oct. 19.
This issue, one would suspect, would want to be dealt with before a (potential) change in leadership as it is not likely an issue politicians will want to discuss while campaigning.
Last fall, my uncle was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that spread throughout his body and there was nothing that could be done to help him.
He spent the last few weeks of his life in the hospital, waiting to die. He couldn’t eat so had feeding tubes. He lost a lot of weight as his health deteriorated significantly. It started to look like he would eventually end up starving to death.
I remember being really angry that he and his family had to go through this, waiting for the inevitable to occur, while he suffered in a cruel manner, clinging to what can only be described as a poor quality of life.
Luckily, if that word can be used in such a terrible situation, his wait ended before too long. But not everyone passes so quickly and are thus forced to suffer and endure a terrible quality of life for long periods of time.
If death is inevitable, why should a patient be forced to suffer? Should that person not be allowed to be relieved of their misery and suffering?
I still tend to lean on the side of yes, we should be allowed to choose death over suffering.
On the other hand, questions come up: What if a person has given their consent to a doctor that they want to die, but at a later date changes their mind but at that point they don’t have the capacity to express this?
And then what if a physician abuses the whole concept of assisted suicide, taking liberties into his or her own hands and ending the life of their patient, falsely claiming it was what the patient wanted?
To take it to the extreme, what if physician assisted-death becomes a common practice as a way for government to save on health care costs? Because it’s much more expensive to keep a patient on machines under constant care than it is to simply remove them from the equation.
Failure to draft clear legislation could result in similar issues that have come out surrounding the abortion debate.
In 1988, the Supreme Court struck down the Criminal Code laws allowing abortion and to this day, no standards have been set and each province has a different approach to the issue, where some provinces allow abortions and other do not.
Whatever the final legislation says, it has to be incredibly thorough and clear and there needs to be transparency from the doctors and the government for each case where assisted-death is carried through.

[Originally published in the Miramichi Leader on Feb. 15, 2015]

Let’s talk about mental health

They say what we don’t know can’t hurt us, but sometimes, what we don’t know is precisely what hurts us. And just because we can’t see something, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Mental Health week isn’t until May, but it’s an issue we should be openly talking about year-round.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association website, one in five Canadians will personally experience mental illness in their lifetime.
The site also stated that it is estimated that 10-20 per cent of Canadian youth are affected by a mental disorder or illness, the single most disabling group of disorders worldwide.
And sadly, only one in five children in this country who need mental health services will receive them.
So why is there still so much stigma around mental health?
When I was first diagnosed with a mental illness, I felt embarrassed, ashamed and angry.
I didn’t trust doctors, I didn’t believe in medication, and I was scared of what people would think of me.
I used to hear of people on antidepressant medications and think, “Suck it up, it’s all in your head”.
I refused to even consider that psychology and psychiatry were legitimate areas of study, for no reason other than I just didn’t understand the nature of mental illness.
For more than 15 years, I lived a life where my moods would swing drastically up and down, often several times a day.
Despite having friends, teachers and doctors suggest there might be something wrong, I thought I was fine, just perhaps a little more emotional than the average person.
After several failed relationships, loss of friends and growing tension in my family, I still didn’t think there was anything wrong with me.
A couple of years ago, I was beginning to spiral out of control. I was trying to make sense of my life and came to the conclusion it wasn’t worth living. Rather than seek help, I choose a path filled with self-destruction.
Then one day my best friend sat me down and said she was scared for my life. For some reason, her words hit home and for the first time in my life, I believed I needed help.
I went to see a counsellor and she recommended that I be put on anti-depression medication. I saw my family doctor and he concurred and put me on a drug.
For a few months, I felt a bit better, though I was no where near out of the woods. So I decided to stop taking the meds and tried to battle my issues on my own through living a healthier lifestyle, cutting out the indulgences, and focusing on trying to feel better.
Several more months passed and I was starting to feel that horrible anxiety and depression all over again. This time I went to see a psychiatrist.
After reviewing my files and speaking with me, he diagnosed me with bipolar disorder, what used to be called manic-depression.
I was put on a mood stabilizer and an anti-anxiety medication, which I protested at first. My psychiatrist said I had no reason to feel ashamed about my diagnosis. He put it to me in a way I could make sense of it. He said if I was diabetic, I would be put on medicine to treat the disease. Then he said that having a mental illness is no different – if I wanted to feel better, I needed to regulate my brain chemistry. I did and slowly started to feel more “normal”.
I was coming to terms with the fact that I was sick and that I needed medication to sustain a functional existence, even though I wasn’t fully on board with the idea of taking pills to feel better.
I would self-adjust my medication, albeit a terrible idea, and my moods would fluctuate. I came off one drug altogether because I decided I was fine. Then I would only sometimes take the mood stabilizer, and loved how I would feel – I would feel high, euphoric, unstoppable. I barely slept for days on end, flying high, but then I would crash and fall into a debilitating depression. One day, I decided I couldn’t take it anymore and I contemplated suicide. But the end of that day, it was no longer “if” I killed myself, but rather “how” I’d do it.
For once, I decided to make a good decision and rather than harming myself, I went to make an appointment with my psychiatrist, whom I’d stopped seeing months before because I thought I was OK.
The receptionist took one look at me and told me to wait in the waiting room. She found one of the mental health nurses who took me to her office and talked with me, then went and got my doctor.
I had a meltdown, but I was in a safe place. It was the worst I’d felt in years, but it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I realized, that was my rock bottom and I had somewhat of a breakthrough.
The doctor adjusted my medications and told me I have no choice, I have to take them, which I have been doing religiously, along with regular counselling and yoga.
And after all of those years of living in a cloud of anger, sadness, loathing, confusion, and extreme highs, I can finally see clearly.
It is so important to seek help when you feel something isn’t right in your head. We can’t see mental illness, but it affects so many people. A lot of us, myself included, were scared to seek help, scared of what the doctor might tell us, and scared to take medication because we didn’t know how others would react to it. For me, the key to coping was communication.
Talking to my friends and loved ones about what I was dealing with, so they, in turn, knew how to deal with me.
It’s been a long road, a long struggle, but I can say with good faith I’m here today, happy and healthy, because I sought help for my mental illness.

[Originally published in the Miramichi Leader on Jan. 22, 2015.]

A Look Back on 2014

This year has all but come to an end, and if you live on Prince Edward Island, you are probably more than a little sick and tired of hearing about 2014. This year marked 150 years since John A and friends marched down Great George Street and into Province House where they came up with the idea of Canada. Though commonly referred to as the Birthplace of Confederation, I like to refer to PEI as the Conception Place.

The province did more than enough to mark the occasion, with millions upon millions of provincial and federal money thrown at this anniversary (one wonders what they will do when it’s actually Canada’s 150th birthday?) With our unemployment and poverty rates at an all-time high (and to say nothing of the fact women are still basically second-class citizens without any access to safe abortions and/or other women’s health care), it’s hard to understand the reasoning behind this never-ending, over-priced (lame-ass) celebration…but I digress.

For me, this year was anything but a celebration. I fought (and often failed) the urge to indulge in self-destructive extra-curriculars, was diagnosed with a mental illness, lost my job, had horrible luck with men, and worst of all, lost three wonderful family members. It’s been a year of certain hardships that I’d rather like to forget.

But through all the dark times, there was always a light that shone, however dimly. And it wasn’t until I really started to reflect on my year that I realized out of every bad moment, a silver lining showed its face.

My impulses/addictions were all tangled up with my mental illness – but with the help of the right cocktail of medications, therapy and most recently, yoga, I feel better than I have in years – in over a decade, really.

The loss of a job forced me to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life (I had to once again ask myself what I wanted to be when I grow up) and will be starting a new job in the new year in my field of choice.

The men I saw might not have treated me great, but I definitely sent out negative vibes that would attract such creatures. I now know what I want and what I’m worth and how I deserve to be treated.

Even the loss of my two uncles and my aunt had its share of positive moments – our family was brought closer together, and the love and support was very present. I’m grateful for those who remain and will make an effort to get to know them better.

Amidst the more difficult times, there were many high points – again, these were buried pretty deep in a pile of crap, but they were nonetheless there.

I got my first car! This is pretty insignificant indeed, but it gave me freedom that only wheels can bring you.

I found out my true friends and have tried to become a better, more attentive friend to them. They stuck by me through it all and I’m so ever grateful.

I got to know my cousin and her son a whole lot better, and this was the best part of my year for sure. In fact, I became a lot closer with all of my family and realize how lucky and fortunate I am that these wonderful people love me unconditionally.

I made amends with those I’ve harboured resentment towards in the past, and that’s been so rewarding – hate just consumes you. It really is better to let the past go; to leave the baggage at the door, walk on through and embrace the present with a smile on your face.

I think years like this come about to test our resolve. If we don’t totally break from it, we come out stronger and better.

I have to say that I don’t regret anything that has happened this year. Had you asked me that a few months ago, I would have had a much different response. But it was what it was and I’m grateful to have made it through. Now for Christmas, my favourite time of year to spend with family and friends.

A very safe and Merry Christmas to all. Welcome new traditions and embrace the old ones.

I can’t wait to see what 2015 has in store!!

Cheers, friends.

Katie

Wagon Blues: A Traveling Installation

Travel and displacement changes our physical and mental boundaries and one Quebec artist will bring this concept to life this summer during the fourth annual Art in the.

Visual artist Christine Comeau is interested in the idea of nomadic lifestyles and incorporates this idea into her work. On August 23, Comeau will bring her living canvas project to the streets of downtown Charlottetown. Her piece, Wagon Blues, is a choreographed tableau vivant, a performance installation about the wanderings of a small community of nomadic creatures, half-human, half-animal, dragging their caravans and luggage around the city and who are “both curious and frightened by the discovery of this strange world.”
Comeau, who received her MFA from Laval University, said artistic residencies and art festivals like this one are an integral part of her practice.
“They combine art, travel and passage,” she said via E-mail earlier this month. “As human beings we discover the public space as a medium for very different forms of interaction.”
For her piece, the Montreal resident said she and her participants will wear connectable clothing that can be fastened together so they become one unit as they move about town.
“Bound by the ties, my movements are affecting the movement of my companions,” she explained, adding the volunteers can conceal their identity.
“It allows them to experience their alienation from themselves,” she said. “Alienation is also a feeling of being different from others.”
Wagon Blues is being curated by the Confederation Centre Art Gallery as part of the Centre’s mandate to not only promote local art, but to promote art from across the country as well. This is one of three pieces from Quebec to be featured this year.
The Centre’s curator, Pan Wendt, said he first saw some of Comeau’s work at an underground art festival in Montreal and liked how colourful and abstract it was. As co-coordinator for Art in the Open, he thought her style would be a good for the festival.
“In a way, the main interest for Art in the Open is pieces that are ephemeral,” he said, explaining that such sculptures are mobile and temporarily connect to the body.
“Imagine a tent with wheels and the canvas is physically attached to the performers and there will be a caravan of weird presences,” he said. “It’s abstract, it’ll be kind of confusing to people who will be distracted by the moving installation.”
Nomadism shakes things up, and brings to the public the dynamics between strangers through the medium of art, Comeau said, adding she is excited to be part of this summer’s festival.
“To be somewhere else, to reinvent my daily life elsewhere, to stroll, to lose myself in cities’ labyrinths, to wait, to meet people, to invite them to take part in my parades or my interventions, she said. “All these movements and these gestures are majorly important in my existence, as well as in my artistic approach.”
For more information about Art in the Open, visit artintheopenpei.com.