1. PTSD and domestic violence
“There are a lot of questions that don’t get asked about violence against women,” Lucille Harper, the executive director of the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre, tells the CBC, which had asked Harper about the apparent murder of Shanna Desmond, Aaliyah Desmond, and Brenda Desmond by Lionel Desmond:
What we saw here clearly was a commission of violence against three women — a mother, a wife, and a daughter. Complicated by PTSD, but again, one of the questions we want to ask is, “What are the stories that we tell?”
I think in small communities, telling a story of PTSD — which is a very real story and needs to be addressed — is not the only piece of the story here.
I think that other piece, which is very difficult to tell ourselves as a community, is that it was an act of violence that resulted in the deaths of three women.
We have resources in our community for addressing that, but very often women who are experiencing disruptions in their homes, or violence in their homes, tend not to reach out for help as a first response.
They try to manage it, they try to quiet it, they try protect themselves and their children from that violence.
On Saturday, El Jones addressed domestic violence against Black women:
We live in a culture where Black women in particular have been conditioned to accept violence against us as normal. Where a mix of being told we deserve it, that we better take what we can get, that we are not desirable, that we are our pain, that to struggle is our destiny as Black women, has conditioned us to see abuse as just part of the deal of being a Black woman.
When we are represented at all, we are so often represented as the receptacles of violence. Our most popular cultural narratives, from The Colour Purple to Ike and Tina to Lemonade are about the abuse or trials we suffer from men. We are celebrated for being strong, for enduring. We are so strong we don’t feel pain, the slave masters told us. We are so strong we don’t have feelings, don’t need mental health care, can’t be vulnerable.
We also live in a culture where Black single mothers are blamed for the problems of the community. Where we blame shootings on single mothers. Where we call Black single mothers welfare queens. Where we say, maybe those women should stop having babies then. Where the “pathology” of the Black community is blamed on households without a father, and Black women are told if they raise a child without a father in the house, then everything is their fault. So is it any wonder then that Black women might be more scared of leaving their marriages than dying in them, when every message tells Black women that to be an unmarried woman is to be a shame and threat to the world?
We also come from strong traditions of “not washing your dirty laundry in public” as my mother would say, where community and family survival depended on not drawing attention to yourself.
How do we address violence in our communities when everything we do is scrutinized and treated as “evidence” of our pathology, our savageness, as “proof” of us being dangerous? How do we address violence when so much violence is done upon us by racism? And so we live in communities where violent men are celebrated, and where women are shamed. Communities where men “in the game” are allowed to take up positions in the community, but the women they exploit and victimize are stigmatized, gossiped about, and treated as “hos.” To be clear, the same things happen in white communities, to white women — but white women aren’t also burdened with protecting white men from racism.
How do we address male violence in our communities when we know that Black men are already treated as threatening and animalistic? And where Black women are treated as “angry,” “having attitude,” and “deserving it.”
The death of the Desmonds leaves us looking for answers. We’ll never get definitive answers to their deaths, but it’s important to ask the questions. Maybe we’ll have a better, if incomplete, understanding of the fraught relationship between domestic violence and PTSD.
Last Thursday, I put Lionel Desmond’s mental state in the context of his war experience:
War never ends. We think there is “victory” or at least cessation of battle, but the conflict continues on forever. There is never a victor; we are all victims. War reverberates, expressed as PTSD, suicide, alcoholism and drug addiction, broken families, wounded communities, skewed economies, perverted moral systems… for all of history. We are today still suffering the wounds of ancient wars not even recorded in our history books; more recent armed conflicts like the world wars, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan resonate more loudly.
Later that day I was contacted by three people who suffer from PTSD. Each told me they are not at all violent, and each pointed out that the literature shows there is no correlation between PTSD and violence. On Friday, I noted their comments:
Several people contacted me yesterday to say that PTSD doesn’t express itself in any higher levels of violence than is found in the general population. Of course, we don’t know what other mental illnesses Desmond may have had. It’s obvious in retrospect that he had a tortured soul.
I then reminded readers that limiting access to firearms to a mentally distressed person is a prudent measure:
[I]t’s a reminder to me that there are simple paths of harm reduction. One is that we should not keep firearms in the home of or otherwise accessible to someone who is potentially suicidal, and in this case homicidal. It’s sad how many people don’t take that simple step of removing firearms.
Rural people have guns for plenty of legitimate reasons. This is not an anti-gun rant. It’s a reminder that in the specific case of someone who is potentially suicidal, limiting access to firearms can save lives.
As I see it, this makes me no more anti-gun than taking the keys away from a drunk person makes one “anti-car.” Still, that comment earned me the wrath of gun enthusiasts on social media.
Later Friday, a good friend wrote to me. She agreed to allow me to publish her comments; I’m giving her the pseudonym of “Susan” and her boyfriend “Joseph,” and have removed other potentially identifying details of her story:
I feel the need to share my experience with you after reading your article this morning and also because sharing to one person is much easier than sharing to the masses.
Most people don’t know this, but I suffer from PTSD. It obviously does not stem from being in the military. I was in an abusive relationship for about four years which resulted in me being forcefully raped four times in one night by the man I had broken things off with. I don’t share the details of what living with PTSD is like. But I feel the need after reading the note that many people have written that PTSD does not make an otherwise nonviolent person violent. I adamantly disagree.
Only Joseph has ever really seen what the full force of my “episodes” have entailed as I work through the trauma that happened to me years ago.
Once, he good heartedly and flirtatiously came up behind me while I was in the kitchen, standing in the corner with my back to him, and because I had been cornered with no escape (I thought), I fell to the floor screaming and crying. I eventually ran to the next room and when he touched me to console me, I grabbed his leg and I punched him — over and over and over — yelling, “why are you doing this to me?! Stop hurting me.”
When I looked up, I saw my abuser’s face. In my brain, that was clearly not working properly, I was hitting him. I was defending myself. My abuser was attacking me and unlike that night, I was finally defending myself. When things finally calmed down and Joseph showed me the massive bruise on his leg, I had no memory of hitting him. I only remembered hitting my past abuser. But I knew in part of me that my abuser couldn’t have been there in our apartment. But he was. I looked him right in the face with my own eyes. Only he wasn’t. It was Joseph trying to comfort me, love me, and calm me down.
I have never physically lashed out on another human being in my life before that. Ever. Not even as a kid.
That is only one instance. Fortunately Joseph, I, and my doctor have created a safe plan for severe episodes. Where Joseph can help me without putting himself in harm’s way.
Notably, my trauma stems from assault. My physical reactions are defensive because I think someone is attacking me, not offensive. In the moment of a severe episode I am reliving my trauma. Everyone’s faces are the faces of my past. The room, the walls, the windows, the furniture, are all the setting from my past. I am in grave danger and I must protect myself. It is only after the episode had ended that all of that becomes untrue.
I can only imagine what that same reliving must feel like having been in the military. Having been trained to kill. Having access to weapons. Having been trained to “fight” and not “flight”.
Fortunately, in my case “flight” wins every time. I can usually prevent a severe episode once the anxiety kicks in if I can remove myself from the situation. I have an escape plan everywhere I go, and Joseph knows what “I need to go now” really means. It’s when I have no out plan. When I am stuck, that things get bad and I fight back or break down.
I once got cornered in a bar by a man who wouldn’t stop talking to me. He did nothing but talk. But I couldn’t escape the corner. I couldn’t get out. And by the time I got home half an hour later I was on the kitchen floor screaming, “stop everyone!” and to get away from me and stop hurting me.
I cannot speak from a medical standpoint, or from anyone else’s experience. PTSD is a beast. Constantly reliving your worst nightmares is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, or those that love them.
And you are right about suicide remorse. In my second attempt about five years ago I took some pills I had at home and called the ambulance on myself once they started to kick in. I fear to think what could have happened with a weapon in the house.
[The Lionel Desmond incident is] heartbreaking any way you put it. That said, my longest lasting thought continues to be: What if I go to a hospital for help and get turned away? I know how terrifying it is to be able to muster up the courage to say “this thing that sounds absolutely ridiculous to the average person is happening to me and I think I need your help.” It took me seven years and two suicide attempts to get help. I can’t imagine reaching out for that help and being turned away. It could leave a person pretty hopeless.
Susan is intelligent, talented, and successful professionally. I’ve known her for years, and she’s always struck me as one of the most collected people I know, in control of herself and the world she has built around herself. She doesn’t suffer fools, and yet is kind and generous to the vulnerable and weak. The disclosure of her PTSD comes as a complete surprise to me.
2. Racial profiling
“[A]ccording to information released by Halifax Regional Police, black people are three times more likely to be the subject of a so-called ‘street check’ than people identified as white,” report Phlis McGregor and Angela MacIvor for the CBC:
The data released to CBC News under freedom of information legislation shows that 36,700 individual people were checked over 11 years, some on multiple occasions.
Of those, 4,100 people were identified as black. That’s equivalent to nearly one-third, or 33 per cent, of Halifax’s black population.
While a far greater number of white people were checked over the same period — approximately 30,000 — those interactions only account for roughly nine per cent of the city’s white population.
Records kept by Halifax Regional Police also indicate that people identified as Arab or West Asian are 1.9 times more likely to be stopped by police than white people.
The data also shows that nearly two-thirds — 61 per cent — of people checked had no prior criminal charges.
3. Examineradio, episode #95
This week we speak with regular Examineradio guest Paul McLeod. Formerly a local journalist with Allnovascotia and the Daily News, McLeod later went on to become the Chronicle Herald’s one-person Ottawa bureau. He now covers American politics in Washington, DC for Buzzfeed. The 2016 presidential election was his introduction to the world of US-styled elections. He may never be the same.
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4. Welcome to our new robot overlords
Ken Johnson wants to put 1,000 robots in the ocean, reports Chris Lambie. Johnson and other scientists want to use a new robot to help them learn how climate change is affecting the oceans and their fisheries.
This article is behind the Examiner’s paywall and so available only to paid subscribers. Click here to purchase a subscription.
1. CEO compensation
“You’ve been lapped,” writes Stephen Kimber:
While you were tossing out the tree and packing up the last of the Christmas ornaments for next year, that whirring whoosh of wind you heard was one more of Canada’s highest paid CEOs zipping past you, Flash-like, on the cash fast-track through 2017.
By 11:47 a.m. on January 3, the first working day of the new year, Canada’s 100 highest paid CEOs on the TSX Index had already “earned” on average as much as the average Canadian wage earner will make during the entire year.
This article is behind the Examiner’s paywall and so available only to paid subscribers. Click here to purchase a subscription.
2. Health transfers
“Health transfers crept back into the news this past week with a call by the majority of provinces for a meeting between the premiers and the prime minister to settle the issue left hanging after the pre-Christmas dust-up involving health and finance ministers,” writes Richard Starr:
It’s hard to predict how things will turn out, but what we’ve seen so far does not reflect well on the Trudeau Liberals.
[T]he issue dates back to 2011 when the Harper government announced it would cut the rate of increase in the health transfers to three per cent from six per cent next April 1. The provinces want to keep the transfer at six. For years the planned cut was a big issue for provincial governments, health care workers and opposition politicians in Ottawa.
During the 2015 election campaign the NDP – with some hedging – promised to keep transfers at six per cent. Trudeau was cagier – while he did not commit to six per cent, the party platform promised to negotiate a new health accord with the provinces and territories, including a long-term agreement on funding. The platform also promised “an immediate commitment” to put $3 billion over four years into home care.
The media have also been willing to parrot a line the Liberals borrowed from the Harper government. The contention is that because some provinces have kept health spending flat the last few years (mainly by suppressing the wages of health care workers) while federal transfers have increased, health dollars are being diverted into other programs. This ignores the fact that for most of the years covered by the 2004 accord, increases in health spending by provinces exceeded the six per cent growth in the federal transfer. And Ottawa-centric reporters have also [been] quick to jump on a Finance Canada update purporting to show that federal finances are in tatters.
In any event, the feds are depicted as the responsible ones, holding the line on spending and forcing efficiencies in provincial health care systems. But there is another way of looking at the scenario, and it’s right in the Liberal platform.
Ah yes, the platform, the roosting chickens referenced earlier. While his finance and health ministers were misplaying “let’s make a deal”, Trudeau was in another part of town misremembering history. In an interview, Trudeau told the Canadian Press that the Liberals had campaigned on holding health transfers to three per cent and were just “staying faithful” to their election promises by playing hardball with the provinces and territories.
Obviously, Trudeau needs to re-read the platform, especially the part where it said that after years without discussions between first ministers (my italics) on strengthening health care it was time to “restart the important conversation and provide the collaborative federal leadership that has been missing during the Harper decade.” Threats from Morneau, emotion from Philpott and forgetfulness from Trudeau don’t equal collaboration. Plus, the platform sure makes it sound like the “important conversation” was supposed to take place among first ministers.
And although the platform didn’t say it, the conversation has to include the topic of money.
3. Domestic violence
Chronicle Herald reporter Brett Bundale went on paternity leave just before her union went on strike. She’s now returned “to work,” which is this case means writing for the strike publication Local Xpress:
In early December, Toronto neurosurgeon Dr. Mohammed Shamji was charged with the first-degree murder of his wife, also a doctor. In the days following the shocking discovery of the body of Elana Shamji, 40, in a suitcase near a Toronto-area highway, it was revealed that Shamji had been charged with assaulting his wife more than a decade earlier but that the charges had been dropped.
Then in the early hours of New Year’s Day, Halifax police arrested Maroun Diab, the husband of Nova Scotia’s immigration minister, on charges including assaulting, choking and uttering threats against his wife. Lena Diab and two others have been identified as the alleged victims.
Neither case has been proven in court.
This week, the bodies of a former soldier struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and three members of his family were found dead in what police say was a murder-suicide. Lionel Desmond, a veteran of the Canadian Forces, had sought treatment for his condition, and admitted on social media to being over-controlling of his wife.
While all three cases are vastly different with unique circumstances, they are similar in one way. All three wives — a family physician, a provincial cabinet minister and a nurse — were educated and successful.
4. Cranky letter of the day
Our local MP Wayne Easter has introduced a Private Members Bill in the House of Commons that declares Charlottetown as the Birthplace of Canada.
Our founding Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald must be turning in his grave at this proposal.
The Conference of the Founding Fathers in September 1864 in Charlottetown was an important prelude to later meetings that sculpted our original constitution, but the Island formally opted out of these discussions in early 1865, following the Quebec Conference of October 1864.
The Island government fought to stay out of Confederation throughout the years 1865 to 1867, notwithstanding pressure to join from the British government, Macdonald, Maritime neighbours and the Government of Canada. But the Island was determined to stay out, much to the frustration and annoyance of our first Prime Minister.
Anti-Confederation sentiments of Islanders ran high right up to 1873, when financial pressures resulting from the railway fiasco eventually forced the provincial government to seek terms of entry.
P.E.I. reluctantly joined Canada July 1st 1873, six years after its birth, and nine years after the initial discussions took place in Charlottetown.
Moving forward to 2017, the 150th anniversary of Canada’s creation, our local politicians proudly proclaim Charlottetown as Canada’s birthplace, including the use of prominent billboards and motor vehicle licence plates as advertisements. P.E.I. was not involved in our nation’s birth July 1st 1867, so its place of birth could not possibly be Charlottetown. Even an Act of Parliament cannot change this.
John Palmer, West Covehead
Board of Police Commissioners (12:30 pm, City Hall) — the chief will present his proposed operating budget for fiscal year beginning April 1.
North West Community Council (6:30 pm, Bedford Hammonds Plains Community Centre) — here’s the agenda.
No public meetings.
Senate (3pm, Theatre A, Tupper Medical Building) — the Senate review of the academic relationship between the University of King’s College and Dalhousie University is on the agenda, as is an update on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission… but that update on the super-special elites who went to MIT, which was promised for the December Senate meeting that was snowed out, has disappeared. Maybe it’ll come up in Question Period.
In the harbour
3:45am: Cosco Prince Rupert, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for New York
5am: NYK Romulus, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Rotterdam
7am: Vera D, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Lisbon, Portugal
10:30am: Cape Flattery, bulker, moves from Irving Oil to Pier 31
5pm: NYK Romulus, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
11pm: Thorco Liva, cargo ship, arrives at Bedford Basin Anchorage from Portsmouth, Maine
The Arca 1, a bunkering tanker (that is, a tanker that fuels other ships), was en route from Quebec to Shelburne yesterday when its engine failed; it ran aground just north of Sydney Harbour at around 10am. The military sent a Cormorant helicopter and two Coast Guard ships, and six crew members were safely evacuated. As of this morning, the ship is still stranded, but is not leaking oil. Here’s the location:
Busy day today. Don’t call.