Monday, December 30, 2019

There was no battle

My wife Vicki died of metastatic breast cancer on September 13, 2018.
Vicki didn't lose a battle with cancer, in the same way that a cyclist doesn't lose a battle with a truck.
No amount of "fighting" or "strength" or "bravery" could have changed the outcome. There was no "losing".
She lived, with hope, fear, & resilience until the inevitable end.
There is no one who wanted to live more than Vicki. She ached at the thought of not being at her youngest son's high school graduation next June, not seeing her children marry, not holding her grandchildren. If anything could have changed that, she'd have been the fiercest warrior imaginable.
Allow me to make this simple request: stop using battle metaphors to describe those living with, and dying from, cancer. They place a burden on those suffering. They make disease progression feel like failure.
Stop saying the patient "failed the chemo protocol" - in truth the chemo protocol failed the patient.
Stop telling people that they're strong, they can beat this. If they don't, was it because they were weak?
Stop telling people to keep fighting, when in reality they are facing incredibly difficult choices at the end of their lives about how to balance quality of life versus quantity. Urging them to fight puts pressure on them to continue treatment that is of marginal value in terms of life expectancy, but makes their final days full of appointments, procedures, drugs, and side effects instead of being able to spend time focused on the people they love, and things that bring them joy.
Battle metaphors give the false impression that a person can, through strength of character, affect the course of the disease, & suggest a moral failing on those whose disease gets worse. For the past 13 years, I've watched the most beautiful person I've ever known be consumed by guilt, wondering what she did to cause her cancer, or what mistake she made that caused it to come back after seemingly being cancer free for 9 years. She didn't do anything wrong, it was bad luck. That's all.
One of the greatest human fears is having no control over dire circumstances. For our own psychological protection, we delude ourselves into thinking we have power where we do not. You can't push back a hurricane. No individual can "beat" cancer simply by fighting hard enough.
What we can do, collectively, is work towards a better understanding of the process of cancer, learn about causes, incrementally develop better prevention & treatment strategies, and maybe, one day, find ways to save more lives. That's the fight that we all must join, with funding & resolve.

The Myth of "Beating Cancer"

The American Cancer Society ad that runs constantly on CNN makes me cringe.
"I used to have cancer. I beat it"
It's disrespectful to those at Stage IV, and those who have died.
Saying a person "beat" cancer implies that cancer can be overcome by personal effort, and conversely, it implies that those with incurable disease, or those who died, didn't try hard enough.
Treating cancer is like playing a game of solitaire: some games can be won, some never can be won, and some games that could have been won are lost because of decisions made along the way.
The thing is, sometimes you are faced with a decision on which card to play, and you have no information to guide you. You guess. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, and you'll never know if making a different decision would have affected the ultimate outcome.
Like Solitaire, in cancer you play the cards you're dealt. It's mostly luck, and a bit of skill, but sometimes winning is just not possible. No one can beat a hand that can't be won.
So let's stop talking about winners and losers, people who beat cancer and people who lose their battles. It's a delusion, a self protection mechanism, to deal with the terror of a deadly disease that is, for the most part, beyond our control.
In truth, some are lucky, and some are not. Changing those odds does not depend on the willpower or effort or attitude of an individual patient. The only way those odds will change, for everyone, is through a commitment to research and universally available, cutting edge care.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

What is net neutrality, and why should you care?

Imagine you're going to try that great new restaurant on Elm Street tonight. You hop in your car and drive there, and have a great meal. Although the restaurant is new, business is booming. They're already talking about expanding, adding more jobs.
That's net neutrality.
Let's take net neutrality away:
You get in your car to go to the restaurant. As you turn onto Main Street heading towards Elm, you come to a gate. The man at the gate stops you.
"Sorry sir, you're not permitted to drive on Main Street."
"Why not?"
"Main Street is not included in your monthly driving package."
"Well, how much is it for me to add Main Street?"
"We don't sell just Main Street access. You have to buy the Downtown Bundle for $39.95/month."
"How am I supposed to get to Elm Street?"
"You'll have to go around by the lake."
"But that will take three times as long!"
"Yeah, that's why most people buy the Downtown Bundle."
"Can I take the highway?"
"Which driving package provider to you have?"
"Oh, sorry. Highway access is restricted to people who use Vroom."
You decide to go the long way, and finally get to the restaurant. It's great. But it's not very busy. It's too much of a hassle to get to.
A month later, you're at a dinner party. You see some old friends.
"Hey, have you guys tried the new place on Elm Street? The food is amazing."
"Well, we wanted to go, but I heard it closed down."
"Really? What happened?"
"Apparently the big corporate chain restaurant on Main Street was losing business to the new place, so they made a deal with the road company and had Elm Street closed down completely. Nobody could get to the new place, and even though their food was way better than anywhere else, they just couldn't stay in business."
"Oh man, that sucks."
That's what could lie ahead without net neutrality. Want Netflix? That'll cost extra. Want Facebook? You have to pay for a bundle that includes Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and MySpace. (MySpace? Is that even still a thing? Doesn't matter, you have to pay for it anyway.) Want to use gMail? You can't. You have to use your ISP's email system. Got a great idea for a startup? Good luck, because in addition to building a great service, you're also going to have to negotiate a deal with your ISP, and all of the already established big players you might compete with will have way more bargaining power than you.
Fortunately, in Canada we still value net neutrality. But so much of our internet traffic originates in or passes through the US, it is inevitable that we'll feel the effects of their decision here too.
Let's hope wiser heads prevail, and net neutrality rules are reinstated, before the internet as we know it is wrecked.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Hundreds gather to pay tribute to Yosif Al-Hasnawi

A heart-wrenching evening tonight, as hundreds filled Hamilton City Hall to pay tribute to Yosif Al-Hasnawi, a 19 year old who was murdered in Hamilton last weekend when he tried to help an elderly man who was being accosted by two young thugs.
There were moving tributes from members of his faith community, local politicians, the president of Brock University, and Yosif's family. I gave a short speech about the scholarship that is being set up in his name. Here's the text of my remarks:
I never had the privilege to meet Yosif. But like many of you, when I heard the news of his bravery, and his senseless death, I was angry and saddened. I wanted a way to channel my anger and grief into something positive. I wanted to find a way to show my respect for a compassionate young man, but also to find a way to say to Yosif’s family, and to the world, that this senseless violence is not who we are as citizens of Hamilton, and as citizens of Canada. I wanted to ensure that Yosif’s loved ones knew that for our community, Yosif was one of us, that he mattered, and that he will be remembered.
 As you know, Yosif was a first year student at Brock University. He was studying medical sciences, and dreamed one day of becoming a doctor. That dream was stolen from him, and his lifetime of helping others was stolen from all of us. We have established a scholarship fund at Brock University in Yosif’s memory. We hope this scholarship will help future students pursue their dreams in a way that Yosif was denied. The scholarship recipients will carry a little piece of Yosif’s spirit with them throughout their education, and on to their own careers helping others.
In just 3 days, we have raised well over $5,000 for the scholarship. We’ve had interest from across the country, and we expect many more donations to come in over the weeks & months ahead. If we can raise a total of $25,000 or more, we will be able to create a permanent, annual scholarship, so that Yosif’s dream can live on through future students year after year.
There are pledge forms at the table. You can also donate online. Details can be found at,, or All amounts are welcome, no matter how small. Donations over $20 will receive a charitable receipt for tax purposes. If you do pick up a pledge form, please take two, and take one to work with you on Monday and ask your employer if they would also be willing to make a donation.
We understand that money can be tight this time of year, and that many of you are generously donating to assist Yosif’s family with expenses so they can take his body to Iraq for burial. The scholarship fund will remain open, and donations are welcome at any time, so even if you can’t make a donation right now, please consider doing so in the future.
And whether you are able to donate or not, each of us can honour Yosif’s memory in our actions each and every day. When you see an injustice on your street, in your community, in your country, or around the world, don’t turn away. Step up, step in, and do what you can to make things right. If we each take inspiration from Yosif’s courage and take a little part of Yosif’s character forward in our hearts, he will have already made the world a better place.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A scholarship fund to honour Yosif Al-Hasnawi

On Saturday, December 2, Yosif Al-Hasnawi had just stepped outside his mosque in Hamilton when he noticed an older man being harassed by two younger men on the sidewalk. He stepped in to help the older man, and was shot by one of the assailants. He later died in hospital.

Yosif was the oldest of 5 siblings. He was a first year student at Brock University, studying Medical Sciences. He dreamed of becoming a doctor one day.

Yosif was also a talented athlete, accomplished in boxing and basketball.

The community has lost a fine young man, senselessly killed while trying to help someone he had never met. We've lost someone who wanted to make a career of helping others.

To honour Yosif's memory, a scholarship in his name has been established at Brock University. Please consider donating to the scholarship fund to help keep Yosif's memory, and the ideals that guided his life, alive.

Donations over $20 will receive a charitable tax receipt.

To donate to the scholarship fund:

Donate online at 

In the box "Please select the designation of your gift" choose "Other", then in the box "If you selected Other, please specify the designation of this gift."   type "Yosif Al-Hasnawi Memorial Fund"

By phone at 905-688-5550 ext. 4190.   

Cheques payable to “Brock University” with “In memory of Yosif Al-Hasnawi" in the reference line can be mailed to:

Development and Alumni Relations
Brock University
1812 Sir Isaac Brock Way
St.Catharines, ON 
L2S 3A1

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Looking Back on 50 Years of Music (Reminiscing, or the Rantings of an Old Man?)

A lifelong friend, who happens to be a very talented professional musician, posted on Facebook his list of 10 albums from our teenage years that made a lasting impression on him, and invited his friends to do the same. I did, as did many others.

Reading all these fantastic lists has made me nostalgic. Heart of the Sunrise from Yes - Fragile is playing in my living room right now, and I expect that over the next few days, every album in my list, and lots in other people's lists, will be heard coming out of my speakers, my headphones, or my car. But its also got me thinking about the role of music in culture, when we were teenagers, and now. For us, music was a passion, a big part of your identity, and it defined your tribe. There were metalheads, new wave kids, punks, goths, etc. You could tell just by looking at someone what kind of music they liked. Your group of friends probably all liked the same types of music. When you met someone new, one of the first questions you'd ask is "What kind of music do you like?"

Today, however, that seems lost. While I really struggled to get my list down to 11 (I couldn't manage just 10), in 30 years I can't see today's teens having the same trouble. I have 2 teens, and one who is 20. In my house, they've all been exposed to music. They all play multiple instruments, and all 3 won the music award at their grade 8 graduations. But I bet they'd be hard pressed to come up with 10 albums from 10 different artists that really mattered to them. They might be able to list 10 they like, but the passion wouldn't be there. I don't know for sure what's changed. There's much more competition for time, with video games, the internet, the 500 channel universe and Netflix. Record shops are all but gone. Music buying, when it does happen, rarely involves a trip out of the house. Radio seems to be a medium that only those over 30 listen to. Streaming, YouTube & downloading have made every song instantly available, but less valued. Even the technical process of listening to music has changed: my friends & I would debate the specs of the latest Technics receiver vs the new Pioneer. My kids will listen to music through the speakers on their iPhones. It sounds terrible, and they don't care.

But the music itself has changed too. Maybe, as my kids will tell me, I'm just old, and I don't get it. But I have a lot of trouble picking out the Bowie or Zeppelin of today. Which of today's artists will still be listened to 30 years from now? And I don't know which is cause and which is effect. Is music disposable because people don't care? Or do people not care because music is disposible?

While the current state of music, the music business, and the role of music in culture makes me sad, I can't help feeling eternally grateful that I grew up in a golden age of music. For those of us now in our 40s, 50s & 60s, we experienced something magical. From the grandeur of Emmerson, Lake & Palmer to the social rebellion of the Sex Pistols, the style of New Wave to the angst of grunge, the songwriting brilliance of Lennon & McCartney to the instrumental virtuosity of prog rock. We were there, through the dumb luck of being born at the right time, and I can't help but smile at my good fortune.

I have to go now. I need to turn over the LP.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Should Hamilton's Integrity Commissioner Also Provide Legal Advice to Council?

The latest in the never-ending controversy surrounding Hamilton's LRT project centres around a legal opinion sought & received by Council from lawyer George Rust-D'Eye. Council and/or the City apparently asked Mr. Rust-D'Eye for an opinion regarding a possible motion to hold a referendum on the LRT project. Council presumably wanted to know if such a motion were permissible, and if so what legal effect such a referendum might have. Exactly what Council asked, and what opinion was given, is unknown, as Council has kept this information confidential pursuant to solicitor client privilege. (This suggests that Council and/or the City is the client, otherwise they could not assert the privilege.)

Mr. Rust-D'Eye is a recognized expert on municipal law in Ontario. He maintains a successful private practice in Toronto. He is also Hamilton's Integrity Commissioner and Lobbyist Registrar.

As pointed out by Howard Elliott in an editorial in today's Hamilton Spectator, Mr. Rust-D'Eye was not acting in his role as Integrity Commissioner when he provided this opinion. Rather, he was hired and paid by Hamilton Council as a lawyer to research a point of law and provide an opinion. He's a private lawyer, and this was a business transaction. Mr. Rust-D'Eye reaps a personal financial benefit from being hired to do legal work for Council, and he presumably hopes that he will be hired for more such work in the future. Therein lies the difficulty.

Under Hamilton's Integrity Commissioner By-Law, the Integrity Commissioner has the power to conduct an inquiry into the actions of City Councillors, and determine whether or not there has been an infraction of the City's "Code of Conduct or other procedures, rules or policies governing the member’s ethical behaviour". The By-Law gives the Integrity Commissioner the power to decide whether a complaint is "frivolous and vexatious", and if he decides it is, the complainant's $100 fee will not be refunded. If the Integrity Commissioner finds that there has been a breach of the rules by a Councillor, he has the power to impose a penalty - a reprimand and/or a suspension of the Councillor's pay for up to 90 days.

In other municipalities, penalties are imposed by Council, upon the recommendation of the Integrity Commissioner (see, for example, subsection 160(5) of the City of Toronto Act). In Hamilton, however, the power to impose penalties has been delegated to the Integrity Commissioner (subsection 20(1) of the By-Law). This is an important distinction, as it places the Integrity Commissioner in a quasi-judicial role. The Integrity Commissioner has the power to investigate, compel evidence,  make decisions and impose penalties.

Given the quasi-judicial role of the Integrity Commissioner, it is, in my view, problematic that he accepts business from Council beyond his role as Integrity Commissioner. Having a separate business relationship with Council when he is also charged with impartially reviewing their conduct creates a possible conflict of interest or perception of bias.

By way of analogy: Say you had a dispute with your car dealership. You and the dealer agree to put your dispute before an independent third party to decide who is right. The dealer suggests that the dealership's lawyer act as the third party. Would you agree to that? Or would you fear that you might not be treated fairly given the lawyer's business relationship with the dealership?

Or imagine that a bar in a small town is frequently charged with serving alcohol to people underage. Because it is a small town, they always end up before the same judge. One day, the bar owners approach that judge and offer to pay her to do some legal work for them. Should the judge do it? Or should she decline, on the grounds that entering into a business arrangement with someone who is frequently in her court would undermine the perception of her impartiality?

Have Mr. Rust-D'Eye's dual roles as Integrity Commissioner & private lawyer for Council in fact affected the integrity of his work in either role? I don't know, and I do not have any evidence that it has. But the fact that the question can be raised, given the potential conflict of interest which arises, suggests to me that it would be better if the City did not have any outside business relationship with its Integrity Commissioner.