…And the Stabbings Continue… What’s Really Going On?

I am an alumnus of the University of Calgary, having graduated from that school in 1973. Just a few days ago, I wrote about a school stabbing in Pennsylvania. Now, five young U of C students are dead—all stabbed to death, allegedly by a ‘friend’ of theirs.

CP Police TapeOf course, the irony is blatant—the alleged killer, another young student at the U of C, is the son of a 33-year veteran policeman in Calgary. I can’t help but wonder—could this boy possibly have been trying to send his father some kind of crazy, cryptic, unconscious message? How better to completely betray his law-abiding dad than to commit murder—5 times over?

Here in my beautiful, amazing city of Vancouver, there have now been two stabbing incidents in as many days as a result of domestic violence—one even involved a baby who was stabbed—and I just heard on the news that there was another stabbing, this time seemingly random, by a man in a Regina, Saskatchewan shopping mall.

What is really going on here??

A close friend of two of the University of Calgary boys who were killed called this latest tragedy “infuriating.” I couldn’t agree more.

Has all this violence gotten our attention yet? Has anyone you know been murdered yet, or murdered someone else? Does that actually have to happen—do we have to know the people involved personally—before we decide to rise up as a society and say NO! to the violence that’s all around us? What will it take to choose to stand up against it? What more has to happen for our eyes to finally open?

You may be wondering, “But what can I do? I’m only one person.” In my opinion, that’s a great question to ask. What can each of us do? What can YOU do?

As I wrote in my recent blog post about the Pennsylvania school stabbings, I don’t believe we can discount the impact that the violence surrounding us on a daily basis has, especially on young, fragile, or already-disturbed minds. We see it on our TV’s continually. It’s in the movies that we pay hard-earned money to go and watch. It’s especially in those brutally violent video games we turn a blind eye to—the ones that far too many of our children and grandchildren are already addicted to and play on an ongoing basis.

So—what are we going to do about this?

Well, maybe the first thing we all need to do is come out of our own denial and recognize that children don’t know how to emotionally process this kind of ongoing violence. When kids see people shot and stabbed on TV or in a movie or video game, they don’t understand that death is final—people don’t come back from that. We see this in the ever-increasing number of young children who find their parents’ guns in the closet, imitate what they’ve been watching by pointing it at their siblings or friends, and pulling the trigger.

Bang! Isn’t that fun?

They just don’t get it.

People with certain mental health issues don’t understand the finality of death either—while others somehow feel it’s their right to end another person’s life. It’s not. It never is.

But we keep watching the violent TV shows, we tune into the news programs that feed us nothing but negativity day and night in order to ensure their ratings, we sit through movies we’ve actually paid for, watching violent act after violent act, each often more brutal than the next.

And if we’re not irresponsibly buying these awful video games for our children ourselves, we’re at the very least turning a blind eye while they play them for hours and hours and hours.

We allow organizations like the NRA get away with deciding that background checks are not necessary for people wanting to buy a gun.

How on earth can we then, as a primarily intelligent society, ask the question, “How could this happen??”—when five innocent, promising university students are stabbed to death in cold blood? How can we be shocked and appalled when we hear newscasts about domestic violence—more and more often leading to innocent deaths?

How can any of us feel safe anywhere?

Rise up, people! Please—the time is NOW to speak your truth—if not now, when? How much longer will you choose to feel powerless when you actually are not?

Demand change from the elected officials who want your votes in the next election too. Stop keeping your TV on channels showing violent programming—and for heaven’s sake, stop paying money for these awful, ridiculously brutal movies! This only gives the producers of this endless drivel the encouragement to create more of the same. Let’s all be more self-respectful and take our families bowling instead, or for a picnic in the park.

That is, if we’re not afraid that someone with a gun or a knife might be waiting for us there.

Photo: From Calgary Herald video clip

More High School Violence: How Fed-Up Are You?

I don’t personally know Alex Hribal, the 16-year-old boy who recently decided to go on a stabbing spree in a Pennsylvania high school.

Those who do know him give the same profile of many of these other kids who have committed similar atrociously violent acts—saying that he is aloof, quiet, and has never caused trouble before.

But with premeditation, this boy walked into his school and began stabbing and slashing other students, as well as anyone else who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

What strikes me as even more crazy than Hribal’s seemingly irrational act, and all of the similar violence that has come before his, is the fact that authorities seem to be stymied about why and how this could occur.

Really?

Do they not have any idea of the kind of non-stop violence that kids are watching on TV these days? What about the movies our children pay good money to see, often money that parents give them—in good faith—to go and ‘have fun’? How many people choose to ignore the horrendously violent video games so many kids play, sometimes hour after hour after hour, day after day? Have you watched the news lately and seen the horrible aggression that occurs every day, somewhere in the world? Could it be that we, as a society, wonder where Hribal’s violence is coming from when we turn a blind eye to what so many of our children are really doing?

Okay, I can hear the naysayers already, some who will respond to this blog post, saying I’m overreacting or that I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’ve gotten used to those kind of comments—and I know that they will likely be coming from the ones actually watching these vicious—and in my humble but strong opinion—completely unnecessarily violent TV shows and movies, and playing these insanely brutal video games, all chock full of gratuitous violence. Deep in our heart of hearts, as a collective society, how can we be surprised by this kind of over-the-top violent behavior from our kids when we allow them—our leaders of tomorrow—to be fed on this these ‘killing sprees’ in the various forms of media day in and day out?

Now I know there are many people who watch senseless violence without going out and committing acts of overt aggression. But I also know that covert acts of aggression can be damaging as well. Violence, it appears, begets violence—we see this with the issue of bullying all the time. And the aggression we’re all exposed to each day, even when we try to stay away from it, often creates emotional and mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression in many of us, often leading to excessive anger, hostility, and suicidal and homicidal ideation in people who aren’t emotionally and mentally healthy.

And, of course, it’s especially traumatic when it hits us where we happen to live.

Even with all those beautiful little children who were shot to death at Sandy Hook, the NRA still maintains its stance that everyone deserves and has the right to own a gun, and that no background checks need to be done in an attempt to weed out those who are not emotionally stable.

Huh??

Even after that devastating shooting at the Aurora movie theatre where the guy dressed up as the Joker from a Batman movie, or the more recent Fort Hood shootings, we are still pleading ignorance—preferring instead to wring our collective hands and ask, “How could this happen?” We still, as a collective audience, slap down our 10 bucks to go see incredibly violent movies—thus enabling the filmmakers to continue to make them. We keep our TV’s tuned into shows like The Black List and NCIS and Hawaii 5-0, giving the Powers-That-Be in television land the idea that we condone this senseless violence. Why wouldn’t they think we’re asking them to give us more of the same?

Just as with widespread drug addiction, climate change, pipelines, and rampant sugar addiction leading to obesity, illness and premature death, we need to open our eyes to this issue too—and not keep telling ourselves the rational lies that enable this violence to continue.

If we don’t, it may be your child next time, either stabbed or shot—or actually doing the stabbing and shooting.

My questions would be: What if we stopped buying it? What if we stopped watching it? What if we encouraged our kids to stop glorifying this violence too, by spending more time with them doing other things? What if we voted with our wallets? What if, as in the great movie Network, we raised our united voices together and said “We’re fed up, and we’re not gonna take it anymore!”

And what if we began to do this before any more of our kids kill or get killed?

Photo: cnn.com

The Portland Hotel Society: If It Looks Like a Duck and Quacks Like a Duck…

Maybe—just maybe—it’s actually a duck?

I just couldn’t let this story go by without writing about it again. The long and short of it is that the higher (no pun intended) authorities of the Portland Hotel Society (PHS) and several of their own Board of Directors are stepping down, as ordered by the BC Government, in order to avoid receivership.

So what does this mean? Well, according to the government, in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, PHS received a cool $21 million in funding. Of that money, we are now being shown that $2.8 million was spent on administration costs and a whopping $15.3 million on employee-related expenses, with an astonishing $358,724 spent on staff travel expenses—such as going on holiday to Disneyland. What??

(For more information, please go directly to the article.)

I simply cannot wrap my head around this!

And all of this was going on while so many of the people they claim to have served in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) lived the miserable life of active addiction, often in cockroach-ridden premises, scrounging for food—and anything else that could feed their addiction—in dumpsters in DTES alleyways.

Sure, that shows how much they really care about their clients.

I heard Mark Townsend, Executive Director of PHS (including the safe injection site, Insite), being interviewed on TV the other night. He seemed quite proud when he stated that PHS hadn’t spent any taxpayer money doing this—as if that somehow made it okay. He appeared to have no shame or remorse at all as he admitted that the money spent on such selfish foolishness came from ‘private donations.’ Even if that’s true, even if none of my money or yours funded those trips to Disneyland and beyond, how must the private donors feel about this—and how soon will they open their coffers again to fund legitimate programs for those who desperately need them?

And from what I currently understand, even though the guilty are resigning, the PHS programs will remain intact—so I’m guessing this means that crack pipes will continue to be sold out of vending machines in the DTES for 25 cents a pop, and that the remaining PHS staff will still be teaching alcoholics how to make their own booze.

And if I’m not mistaken, you and I will continue to be paying for that.

But who’s paying for what isn’t the real issue for me, and I want to take this opportunity to clarify my position. After my recent blog post about the PHS, many readers accused me of not believing in harm reduction. (Crack Pipe Vending Machines: The New Kids on the Block.) That is simply not the case. I do believe in harm reduction. As an Addiction Therapist with over 20 years working in this field, how could I not understand that there is a place for harm reduction on the addiction recovery continuum? Those of us who help people with addictions need to meet them where they are to begin with—but, in my opinion, always with an eye on how we can move addicts into recovery, rather than keeping them stuck in what the PHS considers to be harm reduction.

Is it harm reduction to teach an alcoholic how to make alcohol? Of course I understand the reasoning behind such a program—that it’s better for alcoholics if they don’t drink mouthwash and other harsh toxic products that contain alcohol. I personally and professionally know how sick people can become from addiction and I don’t want anyone to have to suffer like that. I’m into holistic health, from every possible angle—but by not encouraging detox and treatment and instead selling clients crack pipes for a quarter, I do believe we are hurting and not helping in the long run.

Clearly, many of the PHS’s other decisions haven’t been so terrific either, as we are now finding out.

I’m hoping that whoever takes over for Townsend—and for his other cronies who believe in their own sense of righteous importance and entitlement—will look again at these programs with clearer eyes and sharper minds. I truly hope we will soon see some positive changes in this long-running DTES agency that has served a lot of needy people.

I deeply hope they stop the enabling and actually begin to provide the long-term help that their addicted clients so desperately need.

Rob Ford and Jimmy Kimmel: A Shameful Travesty

I have written about Rob Ford before, discussing with compassion how unhealthy I believe he is in a variety of ways—what it must be like to be his wife and children, how enabled he’s surely been to have developed into this kind of person who appears to be totally incapable of seeing himself clearly.

Although I admit I was curious about what would transpire when he and Jimmy Kimmel met face-to-face in front of the hot lights and unforgiving cameras of TV land, I can’t say that I was exactly looking forward to watching what became nothing less than a horrific gong show when Rob Ford was a guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live on Monday night. But I can say that I never expected to see what I witnessed going on between them.

Ford & Kimmel

Why Rob Ford chooses to put himself in situations like this is something I’ll never understand. By making decisions like that, he is practically begging to be abused and ridiculed—and to that end, Jimmy Kimmel delivered, in spades. I was appalled at the utter glee with which Kimmel put Ford down, blow after blow after blow in the space of about 20 minutes or so. And how did Ford react? Exactly as he always has, in that sheepish 5-year-old-little-boy-behaving-badly way that he must think somehow endears him to the public at large.

That kind of immature conduct does not endear him to me at all. Not even close. In my opinion, it always makes him look ridiculous.

By now, we all understand that Rob Ford is a sick man, in any number of ways. His various addictive behaviours, from food to alcohol to lying and yes, perhaps to crack, appear to not even begin to crumble the façade of a man who desperately needs help with some pretty clear physical and mental health issues. His arrogance and entitlement only make him seem even more reckless, especially in light of the fact that he is—as he reminds us constantly—a paid public servant.

He truly has become a joke over these past months. Not very many of us are laughing anymore as we observe this man’s self-respect disintegrate time and time again before our eyes. Is there any hope at all that he might someday choose to do some inner work and become healthier? It’s anyone’s guess at this point. I do hope he doesn’t keel over and die first.

So when Kimmel invited Ford to appear as a guest on his talk show, sharing the bill with Gonzo from Sesame Street, most of us knew that nothing good was going to come of this. But what actually transpired was, in my view, unbelievably awful—more so than I could have imagined.

And Jimmy Kimmel should be ashamed of himself.

In this day of anti-bullying campaigns, when we are wearing pink tee shirts and working so very hard to teach kids (and some adults too) that bullying is never okay, Kimmel virtually salivated at each opportunity to knock Ford down yet another few pegs. He asked him nothing but embarrassing questions and showed the same humiliating footage that the world has already seen many times over. Although Ford should have seen this coming, doing his best to prevent himself from going through this yet again—such as not appearing on the show in the first place, perhaps?—he didn’t seem to be all that uncomfortable or distressed by it, which speaks to his lack of emotionally healthy balance.

And Kimmel was relentless. If they had been in a boxing ring together, it would probably have been a cleaner fight. For him to have picked on someone as clearly dysfunctional as Ford, in such nasty and brutal ways, over and over again during their segment, is to me nothing short of extreme, ruthless bullying.

What kind of message does this send? Can Kimmel possibly see himself as any kind of positive role model in the world of ‘entertainment’—or any other arena, for that matter?

We’ve all known for a while how stubbornly unwilling Rob Ford has been to take responsibility for his own creepy, awkward antics, both public and private. We are used to this by now and most of us understand that only a person who is emotionally and mentally compromised behaves like this.

But Jimmy Kimmel—a comedian whose job it is to make people laugh and forget their troubles for an hour?  Who knew what an offensive, repugnant tyrant he could be?

Someone needs to send him big box of pink tee shirts.

The Sad Story of Alex Radita: How Many More Children Have to Die at Their Parents’ Hands?

Sometimes I really don’t understand this crazy world we live in—or the rules we implement that make it even crazier.

I am simply appalled that a 15-year-old boy who was starved, abused, and deprived of medical attention—all at the hands of his parents—was allowed to live with them in the first place.

Some of you may have heard Alex’s very sad tale, as it’s had a little (way too little, in my opinion) coverage on the news lately. The bulk of this horrible story took place in Calgary, but it actually began in the Metro Vancouver area many years before.

When Alex Radita was five years old, his family lived in Surrey, BC. He was diagnosed with Diabetes 1 but was left untreated because his parents claimed they did not trust that diagnosis. In 2003, he was apprehended from his home by Surrey Child and Family Services due to the brutal consequences of severe malnourishment, as well as the neglectful lack of treatment for his diabetes. In 2005, a clearly misguided judge ruled to have him returned to his parents.

The rest, as they say, is history: this poor boy was so badly neglected and abused that he died ten years later, in May 2013.

How could this have happened?

This is, of course, not the first time a child has died due to mistakes made by both our judicial system and the Ministry of Children and Family Development. MCFD has unfortunately botched too many of these kinds of cases, returning children to parents who were—to say the least—unfit, and there have been far too many deaths of innocent children as a horrifying result.

One death like this is too many, don’t you agree?

These travesties need to stop. Much more attention needs to be paid when children are apprehended by social workers paid to know what they are doing. What if judges started to actually trust social services instead of thwarting their often valiant efforts to do a job that most of us would never want to do ourselves? I’m not suggesting that these cases should not be thoroughly investigated—I just think we need to believe more in the responsibility we entrust to them.

rodica-and-emil-raditaBut my real point here is to shed some much-needed light on how little emotional and mental preparation is required in order to become a parent. When we want to get our driver’s license, for example, we study a manual and take a written test to earn our learner’s permit. Then we spend time learning how to drive only when a licensed person is in the car with us.

If we want to become doctors or lawyers, we also need to study and pass tests. If we’re nurses, teachers or therapists, we’ve done the same in order to receive the proper qualifications. This is the way it’s done for many occupations—and this is how it should be.

But what about becoming a parent—certainly the most important and challenging (and some would say thankless) job anyone could ever do? How do we prepare for that? Do we study and pass a test that deems us fit to have a powerless little one in our care often for the next 18-20 years, and sometimes even longer?

No—all we have to do is, well, have sex, to put it bluntly. No hardship there, right?

But does it really have to be that way? What do our children need from us?

What if we raised our societal bar and actually trained people to become better parents? What if they were strongly encouraged—and financially supported—to learn about their own upbringings so that they could let go of their potential triggers and not make the same mistakes their own parents made? What if they finally understood that their untreated addictions and mental health issues could scar their amazing children for life and, in some cases, kill them? What if it became mandatory to take some parenting courses before all the trouble started, as opposed to after—what if we turned the tide and became proactive instead of shamefully reactive?

What if we cherished our children enough to do this for them?

When will we, as a society, finally understand that the vast majority of us can’t just become parents with no training and do a positive, effective, healthy job, even when we really want to? It’s not that we won’t ever make mistakes even with training—no one is perfect. But with required education and counselling, the consequences of those mistakes would very likely be much less potentially devastating than they were for poor Alex.

Why didn’t anybody cherish him enough?

Photo: cbc.ca