Montreal's senior monthly since 1986

Feb '10

Columns

How to choose a real estate agent

You’re ready to place your home on the market and you need an agent. Here’s advice on how to choose a pro:

Referral

Speak to neighbours, family, and friends about agents with whom they have had dealings or check out which agents and brokers are active in your neighbourhood.

Compatibility

Interview more than one agent. Choose the agent who earns your confidence and makes you feel comfortable. Remember that your agent will represent you in the negotiations leading to the sale of your home, which should be accomplished with the least amount of difficulties and in the shortest timeframe.

Reality Check

If agents make promises that seem too good to be true, then you need to verify the claims. A good market analysis should enable you to determine a fair price for your home.

Support

An agent should represent his vendor through to the completion of the transaction, from the signing of the brokerage contract to the signing of the Act of Sale.

Ann Malka is an affiliated agent with Century 21 Vision and may be reached at 514-606-8784 or at annmalka.com.

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Signing a brokerage contract

Montreal realtor Ann Malka addresses some common concerns about contracting a real estate broker.

Who must sign the brokerage contract?

Your Deed of Sale and/or matrimonial regime determine ownership. Couples married without a notarial contract are governed under the regime of partnership of acquests, and must both sign the brokerage contract. Couples married with a notarial contract under the regime of separation as to property, when only one name is mentioned on the Deed of Sale, must also both sign the brokerage contract — one as the owner and the other as party to an Intervention of Spouse, indicating his or her assent.

Length of the contract

There is no minimum or maximum duration to a brokerage contract (except 60 days minimum in order to appear on MLS). When deciding on the length of contract to give your agent, consider the time of year and how long it will take your agent to properly market your home. Three to six months is the norm.

Inclusions/Exclusions

Prior to meeting your agent, decide what items will be sold with the property and what items you will be taking with you. Remember, things attached in a permanent nature are considered part of the property.

Pricing your home

Your agent should provide you with information on similar properties to yours that were recently sold, and those that are still active in your neighbourhood. The recently sold properties show you what buyers are willing to pay, and those still active make you aware of your competition.

Exclusive or MLS

Exposure is the key to maximizing the final sale price of your home. The Multiple Listing Service (MLS) provides information about your property to all the members of the Montreal Real Estate Board, as well as purchasers and realtors all over the world through www.mls.ca, at no extra cost to the vendor.

Disclosures

Be honest with your agent. If you know of any defects with your property, you must make your agent and purchasers aware of these problems in order to avoid legal disputes in the future.

Change of heart

Sometimes, no matter how informed and careful you are in choosing your agent, mistakes can be made. Most contracts can be cancelled at any time. Only those clearly marked “Irrevocable” are not easily terminated.

Ann Malka is an affiliated agent with Century 21 Vision and may be reached at 514-606-8784 or at annmalka.com.

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Why people are dying to have a mortgage

To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, nothing is certain, except death, taxes and a mortgage.

This thought comes to me during the spring of our discontent — tax season, coinciding with the arrival of The Senior Times real estate issue. The etymologically minded will have noticed that at least two of the three blights itemized above involve the departed. “Mortgage” literally means “death pledge” as it marries the Old French mort (death) and gage (pledge). The depressing idea underlining this word is that if the mortgagor fails to repay the loan, the property pledged as security is lost or “dead” to him or her.

I’m sorry to be the bearer of such cause for angst to mortgage holders, but to mitigate the pain of the word “tax,” I thought I might be able to eviscerate its sting by an etymological deconstruction of terms connected to taxation.

During the Middle Ages in England, taxes were exacted from underlings by the upper echelons of society. Among these servile dues were the merchet — a fine paid for marriage, the heriot — seizure of a family's prime beast on the death of the tenant, and the compulsory use of the lord's mill for grinding the family corn.

Not surprisingly “tax” as a verb took on the sense of “to take to task” by the 16th century and “to burden or prosecute” in the following century. “Income tax” was first introduced as a war tax in England from 1709 and occasioned this naive comment some years later: “The existing income tax should not be retained a moment after it is dispensed with.” Yeah, right!

While working on your income tax return you will no doubt encounter the nefariously wee word “fee.” Originally, under feudal law, this word referred to an estate held on condition of homage and service to your lord, who retained full ownership of the land. So although we might not be happy to pay a tax on services, we can take heart that the essence of the word was transformed as we moved from feudalism to capitalism. Originally, “fee” only referred to something owed to a superior as an obligation, whereas in the post-feudal period the word is more associated with choices available in the marketplace.

If you are exuding saline sweat and tears to earn the salary income tax is based on, you are etymologically correct. In Roman times, salt was so highly valued that soldiers were allowed a sum of money to buy salt, since salt was not easy to obtain and served the purpose of maintaining as well enhancing the savour of food. Later this money, called salarium, came to refer to the stipend paid to the soldiers. Hence, if you are indeed earning your salary, you are “worth your salt.”

If you are working your heine off to increase your purchasing power and fill coffers with goods and services taxes, take note of the original rapacious and disorderly meaning of the word “purchase.” The “pur” part is a variant of the innocuous French pour (for), but the “chase” element relates to hunting or wresting by force — in other words, obtaining an object by whatever means necessary. In Old French, an enfant de porchas did not refer to an adopted or “purchased” child but to an illegitimate one.

So, I hope this etymological perspective serves as a reminder to file your return by April 30th, and you need not feel guilty if you have attempted to lower your tax burden. Economist John Maynard Keynes claimed “the avoidance of taxes is the only pursuit that still carries any reward.”

Howard Richler’s latest book is Can I Have a Word With You? He can be reached at hrichler@sympatico.ca.

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Caregiving with dignity

Language for children should not be used for adults, regardless of any cognitive deficiency. Adults with care needs should be treated with dignity at all times. This includes the use of proper language:

  • Diapers – this is a word used to describe a product designed for infants and children who are not yet toilet trained. I cringe when I hear this word used around older adults. When dealing with individuals with incontinence issues we should not use the word diapers. Protective underwear, added under garments are just some examples of terms that are dignified and respectful.
  • Babysitters – are sitters for babies. This term should not be used for adults who are unable to be alone. Using words like companions or caregivers is preferable.
  • Activities – toys are for children. Although there are toys for adults it would be best to refer to these by their specific names ex: puzzle and not toy.

Bathing is another area where we have to be sensitive to a person’s dignity. Many individuals who require assistance with bathing and or dressing are uncomfortable being naked in front of another person. There are ways to keep a person’s body covered while providing the needed care. If the individual is feeling uncomfortable they may become agitated and thus combative. Using specialized clothing that covers parts of the person yet allows for full bathing/showering will calm the person and preserve his dignity. Even properly placed towels can be used.

Celebrations – Birthdays, anniversaries and special occasions need not be ignored because your loved one is no longer able to remember these special dates. Families can continue to honor these times with cakes and goodies and specially chosen gifts for their loved one. Comfortable slippers, a warm shawl or wrap, costume jewelry, or an activity appropriate to that individual are just some ideas. A CD with old time familiar music, a DVD of old sitcoms such as ‘I Love Lucy’ or special musicals can be enjoyed by all.

These are just a couple of tips for preserving your loved one’s dignity and honouring them with celebrations of special dates. As a caregiver you will discover different ways you can adapt your caregiving to ensure the dignity of your loved one.

Comments and questions can be sent to bonniesandler@gmail.com and may be used in future articles.

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After the flood, sound the trumpet

Tales of destruction by flood are retold in nearly every culture, wherein the event is endowed with mythical qualities, an act of God that forces reflection on its victims. The devastating storm that flooded New Orleans is no longer news, but its aftereffects are still real to the survivors who are trying to pull their lives back together. Musical stories of that flood are told by two jazz musicians from the Crescent City — trumpeters and composers both — in their most recent CD releases.

For his Tale of God’s Will: A Requiem for Katrina (Blue Note Records), Terence Blanchard, the elder of the two trumpeters, was awarded a Grammy for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album. With Blanchard, the rhythms are recognizably New Orleans, starting with the march-like drum beat that opens the suite of pieces, announcing the requiem that this project presents. The title of the disc asks listeners to consider the storm as part of God’s plan — how else to explain the destruction and loss of life and home for so many? This must have been the reasoning behind the music, much as it is in the Old Testament story. Blanchard’s trumpet voice is compelling in its nuance as it dominates the varied textures of the compositions, some of which originally appeared in Spike Lee’s documentary film “When the Levees Broke.” Blanchard, one of the young lions from Wynton Marsalis’ generation, has scored many a film in recent years and knows how to create mood and meaning with sounds. Here his sextet (trumpet, saxophone, piano, bass, drums and percussion) is augmented in several pieces by the lush, yet subtle strings of The Northwest Sinfonia.

The tunes urge the acceptance of God’s will, as in “Ghost of Congo Square,” “Mantra Intro” and “Mantra,” mixed with clearly programmatic pieces like “Wading Through,” “In Time of Need” and “The Water,” and references to past storms in “Ghost of Betsy” and “Ghost of 1927.” Inevitably, there is also grief expressed in the blues laments of “Levees” and “Funeral Dirge.”

The younger trumpeter, Christian Scott, a couple of decades Blanchard’s junior, leads a smaller group, with sonorities that are more contemporary. However, the mood in Anthem (Concord Jazz) is equally reflective. The twelve pieces featured have titles that directly reference the flood, like “Katrina’s Eyes,” and the title cut appearing in two versions, “Anthem (Antediluvian Adaptation)” and “Anthem (Post Diluvial Adaptation)” — the first having a kind of ominous foreboding vamp that launches the quiet storm of melody and rhythm, and the latter featuring a lyrical commentary by rapper Brother J of X-Clan on the human struggle that was brought into relief by the storm and its aftermath. Through it all, Scott’s keening horn (he plays trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn and slide trumpet) is a lyrical, compelling voice addressing the drama that is both social and cosmic. He and his quartet (horn, drums, bass, and guitar) offer jazz with a contemporary urban beat, but with lyrical content that maintains a thread with tradition.

It is fitting that the trumpet is featured in these almost religious musical mediations. Considered by ancient people as the sound of the voice of God and used as a heraldic instrument to announce divine interventions, it is strikes a deep, resonating chord in the human soul.

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Model train show to benefit Sun Youth

Model train enthusiasts will want to mark the weekend of April 19 in their agenda because one of the biggest model train shows in Quebec is back at Sun Youth for the third year in a row. The show was originally started in 1990 and held at various locations including Marché Bonsecours and the Montreal (Blue Bonnets) Hippodrome. Since 2006, the event has been back in the Sun Youth gymnasium where it all started 18 years ago.

I recently had the chance to speak to the person responsible for creating this event. His name is Ivan Dow and he has been an enthusiast for many years. For Mr. Dow, model railroading is a great hobby because it involves multiple aspects, such as electronics, architecture, landscaping and design. It also involves some history since layouts are often created with a specific era in mind. Mr. Dow will once again be present at the model train show exhibiting his “Thomas the Tank” layout.

The show's organizer, the British Model Railway Club of Montreal, will exhibit a four-square-meter modular layout created by its team of nearly 30 Canadian and British expatriate enthusiasts. Sun Youth has worked closely with BMRCM's David Tozer over the past several months to set up this event. He notes that it offers collectors a chance to discover hard-to-find items and competitive prices by bringing together multiple vendors under one roof. There will also be activities organized for children, teens, adults and seniors. Guests will be able to operate some of the layouts presented and learn about the technical aspects of model railroading with the many clinics and demonstrations offered.

It’s all happening at Sun Youth Organization (4251 St-Urbain, between Rachel and Marie-Anne) on Saturday, April 19 from 10 to 5 and Sunday, April 20 from 10 to 3. Admission $8 adults, $6 seniors, $4 children under 18, free for children under 6. Since parking around Sun Youth can be problematic, free parking will be available at Home Depot (on Beaubien, between Park Avenue and St-Laurent Boulevard) with a free shuttle service to Sun Youth.

For more information about this fundraiser please contact Mr. David Tozer at 514-245-7691 or at tozerdd@sympatico.ca.

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Multitalented artist leaves her print everywhere

Myrna Brooks Bercovitch

Myrna Brooks Bercovitch is an NDG artist who excels in experimentation. She crosses over all forms of expressing visual images. She is a printmaker, painter, watercolourist, and pastelist. Her collage and mixed media pieces are presently on show in Agora Gallery in Soho, New York City.

“I’m thrilled that New York is going to display my work for a year. It wasn’t my first choice,” she says, “but I couldn’t get a gallery here to show my collages — I was trying for three years. Curators told me my work was ‘too New York,’ whatever that means, but I took their advice, and went (via email) south of the border.” Her mixed media work on trees was recently shown at Montreal’s Café Volver, and her art has also been shown at the Georges Laoum Gallery (formerly the Montreal Museum of Fine Art store).

Myrna was a long time associate at Gallery Shore on Monkland and at the Saidye Bronfman Centre where she headed the children’s and teens’ art department. She is presently teaching collage at Henri Bradet Centre in NDG, but her soft spot for The Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors still remains strong.

Kimono and Blue Rose (watercolour, ink)

“I ran the art program there for three years. I loved doing it because the people there learned so much. It was a great way to connect to so many who have always wanted to express themselves through art. As an animator there, my idea was to introduce them to various art forms, develop their curiosity and stimulate imagination. They explored sculpture, jewelry-making, stained glass, and painting.”

She did this with ease, for she’s an eclectic artist. Her pastels of flowers are as inspiring as her watercolours that lyrically portray women draped in kimonos. Her beautiful faces reflect the pensive thoughts of women who seem to rise out of antiquity. Pompeii and Athens come to mind.

Myrna has also taken her printmaking talents to others with her fossil graphs. “I select the plants. I do it with kids and adults. We use my own garden to get the plants and flowers. I grow the ones that leave dyes — begonias, delphiniums, irises — and I also incude the weeds. It’s so much fun.”

Striped Kimono, Striped Landscape (watercolour)

Indeed, this grandmother of five keeps branching out. She’s presently taking classical ballet dance lessons at Studio Biz four times a week — she’s been dancing since 1972. Nothing holds this spirited artist down. She’s even created stage and set designs for choreographers. Now she’s ‘dancing’ her way to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts with her pastel workshops. Still finding time to create mixed media illustrations for Shoshanna Bret Anisman’s children’s book, titled ‘My Grandma Doesn’t Wear a Helmet’, Myrna has just written her own book on the creative process. It’s surprising she finds alone time to paint for herself, but she’s had a lifetime of experience doing that. “From the time I was small, I used to communicate my dreams by escaping from reality through collage and drawing. I found solitude in this. My family was traveling a rocky road which affected me. Fortunately my creative spirit took over. I was lucky.”

Humble by nature, this renaissance woman has embarked on many different paths. After nursing for three years and raising three kids, she spent seven years at the Saidye Bronfman studying the very art forms she now teaches. In 1980, she started formal art education studies, graduating from Concordia University at the age of 42. Nothing stops her desire to learn, through good and bad times. They say what goes around comes around, and this woman rightfully deserves the rewards she’s now reaping. She’s won five international prizes for her drawings and prints, and to date, has been the featured artist in 18 solo shows.

“I am blessed because I get to do what I love create my own way and share it with others.”

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Grandparents and special needs kids

Grandparents want the best for everyone in their family, but especially their grandkids. Abby Kleinberg-Bassel is a Special Needs Consultant who welcomes questions from concerned grandparents, whose grandkids are displaying developmental problems.

“Usually grandparents have heard about me from other people who know about my work,” she says. “They're referred by their doctor, or friends, or they're just taking a stab in the dark. They call me and say, ‘I have a grandchild and I'm concerned because…’ and they might name Global Developmental Delay, Down's Syndrome, Autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, or Asperger's Syndrome,” Kleinberg-Bassel explains. “The bottom line is they are worried.”

Grandparents call because they see that something is wrong and their own children (the parents of the child) do not want to or cannot deal with the problem. Either the parents are unaware that anything is amiss or are unable to face the idea that something might be wrong. Sometimes, to Abby’s dismay, the grandparent informs her that the child’s paediatrician has advised the parents to ‘wait and see, maybe they’ll grow out of it. For her, precious time for early intervention is being lost.

“They want to know how to help without being intrusive,” she says. “I ask if they've told their children that they're contacting me, because there is the important issue of confidentiality. If the parents haven’t been told, I may advise the grandparents, but it does have to be the parent who contacts me to provide services for the child. I ask them if there has been a diagnosis of the child and then we talk about the services I can provide.”

Therapeutic services range from assessment, diagnosis and treatment in the areas of Speech, Occupational, and Physiotherapy, to Psychological services for assessment, behavioural programs, or one-on-one educators.

Kleinberg-Bassel provides support for the family and helps them obtain the government services they are entitled to. “When grandparents want to help, they need to know how to help,” she says. “For instance, if the child’s parents are willing, grandparents can come to the meetings and observe the sessions. They can choose to participate monetarily or by providing emotional support, or can give the parents a break, because they know how to be effective with the child when the parent is not around. Equally important is the ability to form a bond with the child, so there is the possibility of a positive interaction between the grandparent and the grandchild.”

She suggests grandparents

  • Be proactive by helping children find appropriate resources.
  • Be supportive because worrying and meddling will only increase the stress for the family.
  • Encourage rather than criticize, being forewarned that suggestions can be perceived as criticisms.
  • Be sensitive to the mood, the situation, the setting and the problems.
  • Let your children know that you are there for them.

Abby Kleinberg-Bassel has worked with young children with Special Needs and their families for 38 years. She says the earlier the child receives necessary help, the greater the results. “Research has shown that Intensive Early Intervention is critical in order to ensure making gains in the child’s development,” she says. The reality is that the earlier a problem is identified, the sooner appropriate services can be put into place to ensure your grandchild makes progress. The public system can assess the child, but the waiting period can be excessive — from six months to three years. If they do not want to wait so long, they can obtain private assessments and services for their grandchild.”

Abby Kleinberg-Bassel can be contacted at 514-313-2010 or 514-748-2193.

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What to consider when purchasing a property

For many Canadians purchasing a home is the biggest investment they will ever make. The majority of most Canadians’ wealth is tied up in the equity of their homes. One of the advantages of owning a home is that the gains on a sale are tax free under most circumstances. There is much to consider when purchasing a property. Look for a qualified real estate agent, one with references who knows the neighborhood you are interested in.

It is important to understand how mortgages work. Talk to several financial institutions and/or a qualified mortgage broker. Pay attention to mortgage ratios (the ratio of your total mortgage payment to your total income). Do not forget to factor in your debt load.

Remember to get preapproved before you purchase. The process is quick and easy and facilitates the sale.

Make sure you are aware of your financial details.

Understand the impact of your credit history.

Create a budget that incorporates your mortgage expense plus any other unforeseen expenses that may arise including your existing financial commitments

Have questions ready regarding the property you wish to purchase.

Verify what similar properties have sold for in your neighbourhood of choice. There are many resources online that can provide this type of information.

Once you find a property that you feel is acceptable, determine your offer. Be prepared to negotiate and try not to go over budget.

Purchasing a property can be a very emotional time. Seek counsel from others that you trust.

For non-residential property or for rental or commercial properties, one must be aware of the impact on disposition that capital gains may trigger. In addition there may be recapture of depreciation that will add significantly to the amount of tax that must be remitted on disposition. One is best advised to speak to one’s accountant or tax professional in order to clearly understand if this investment is suitable.

Finally, it is recommended to insure the mortgage so that in the event of sickness or death, the obligation to the lender is taken care of. There are many ways to procure this insurance, either through financial institutions or through simple term life insurance which offers guaranteed rates of 10, 20, or 30 years. There are many advantages to purchasing the insurance with an independent life insurance broker:

  • You choose the beneficiary.
  • The premium does not change for the term of the insurance.
  • If you elect to refinance your mortgage with another institution, your insurance is portable and there is no need to reapply.
  • Policies are available that insure well beyond the age of 70.
  • The amount of the insurance will never decrease.

Ivan Cons can be reached online at imcfinancial.ca.

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A balance of flavours perfected at Anancy

When Anancy's George Grant found Jamaican chef Dave Holness out of 150 applicants to cook up authentic Jamaican dishes for his 3-month-old dream restaurant, he was ecstatic. Holness trained at Jamaica’s HEART Institute, was the executive chef for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and garnered cuisine kudos in Grand Cayman. Now Montreal diners can enjoy his palette-pleasing creations at Anancy Restaurant. Holness has refined Jamaican dishes, creating a balance between herbal input and taste bud appeal for the public up here. My dining companion Dale Newton and I were surprised by the recurring ‘lightness’ in our choices — each devoid of grease and pungent spices.

We started with the chicken soup. Pumpkin seasoning with thyme added flavour accent to the fabulous string bean-shaped dumplings, potatoes, carrots and chocho (similar to small shallots). This soup was my thumbs-up favourite. Dale went crazy over Anancy’s conch fritters. She last sampled such treats in the Bahamas. Rumour ranks these fish cakes as aphrodisiacs, but we didn’t attribute our love of main meal selections to these awesome appetizers. Still, my amorous sentiments were heightened when I bit into the jerk chicken. Wow! It was so tender — utterly pleasing with its Holness balance of seven herbs. I tasted ginger, garlic and pepper, and spied pimento and bits of red and green pepper, but the rest remained a mouth-watering mystery. Dale chose ackee, a yellow veggie resembling a cooked egg yolk in taste and texture. It was exotic. Salty cured cod pieces added great flavour.

I snuck one of the dumplings that go with ackee’s tasty salad mixture. They were sensational — like a donut without the hole or the sweetness. In fact, I quickly became an Anancy dumpling addict, stuffing myself with ‘festivals’ as they are called — three are on the menu as extras. I allowed Dale the last one. She found festivals exciting. I replaced dessert with Blue Mountain coffee. Dale sipped chocolate chai tea — a perfect finale for our Jamaican feast. All we needed now was a beach to stretch out on. There was, however, a waterfall cascading down the glass at the entrance. Art-filled terra cotta walls enhance the warmth. Incredibly affordable, Anancy is a treat on all accounts!

Anancy is located at 6587 Somerled. Info: 514-486-2629

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Hillary jeopardizes Democratic win

It is remarkable that the two candidates running for the Democratic nomination are so strong they risk weakening their own party. Imagine another three months of trench warfare between Senators Clinton and Obama. The collateral damage for the Democratic party is that this slugfest can only help Senator McCain now and in the general election next fall.

Because she is behind in so many categories – elected delegates, popular vote, states won – the New York Times has concluded Mrs. Clinton has no more than a five per cent chance of winning the nomination at the convention in Denver next summer.

So is it any wonder calls are increasing that Clinton should sit down, review her situation and bow out. Among others, the distinguished Democratic Senator Leahy from Vermont has urged her to do just that.

But Senator Clinton, displaying uncommon energy, resiliency and resolve, has made it clear she is staying the course at least until the primaries are over in early June. Even her critics admit she has every right to do so.

So what would it take for Senator Clinton to win? For starters, she would have to pull ahead in the popular vote to balance her second-place spot in number of states won and in pledged delegates. Unfortunately for Clinton, almost nobody who has done the math thinks that she can win the popular vote without re-votes in Florida and Michigan.

Mrs. Clinton is more than 700,000 votes behind in the popular vote. With 10 states and territories still to vote (including Pennsylvania which she will almost certainly win), perhaps another six million votes could be cast if turnout is very high.

To get the lead in the popular vote, she would need to win 56 percent of all the remaining votes – or well more than 60 percent of the votes outside of North Carolina and other states she is expected to lose. So far, though, Mrs. Clinton hasn’t won 60 per cent in any state except Arkansas, where she had reigned as first lady.

So any way you slice it, Mrs. Clinton’s chances of winning the popular vote are negligible. And without the popular vote, she is toast. In view of that bleak prospect why does Mrs. Clinton stubbornly insist on soldiering on? Her own people say she’s not a quitter and she will hang in right through the convention. Her critics are not so kind. Some say her real strategy is to destroy Mr. Obama’s chances of winning the general election so that she can compete again in 2012.

Meanwhile, the big winner of this Democratic fist-fighting is Senator McCain. A recent Gallup poll found that 19 percent of Mr. Obama’s supporters said they would vote for Mr. McCain in the general election if Mrs. Clinton were the nominee. More startling, 28 percent of Mrs.Clinton’s supporters said they would defect to Mr. McCain if Senator Obama were the nominee.

In addition, each Democratic candidate is inflicting wounds on the other, wounds the Republicans will rip the scabs off come the general election next fall. Mrs. Clinton says she would have walked out of Obama’s church given the hateful comments of his minister. She also said both she and Senator McCain are qualified to be commander in chief, pointedly omitting Senator Obama. The Obama campaign underlined Mrs. Clinton’s big fib about fleeing sniper fire in Bosnia.

Granted, tempers may cool by November. But dragging out the contest only deepens wounds and reduces time for healing. In nine of the last 10 presidential elections, the nominee chosen first ended up winning the general election. And if the Democratic nominee has been crippled, that would hurt Democrats running for other offices as well. When Mrs. Clinton goes down to defeat how many of her Democratic friends will she take with her?

I freely confess that up until the beginning of this year I supported Hillary Clinton for president. And, if despite all the odds, she is still selected and elected, I think she would make a good president. But I have now concluded that Senator Obama might make a great one. His speech on race relations was the best since Bobby Kennedy in 1968. He has special appeal for young people. He would put a new face on America in the world of nations.

Hillary has waged a gallant campaign. She could have a brilliant future in the Senate. But I believe the time has come, for the sake of her party and for her own sake, for Hillary to gracefully bow out.

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A different kind of seder

The vast majority of Jews in Montreal, like the vast majority of Jews all over the world, are preparing to celebrate Passover. For two consecutive nights they will gather at the seder table to recount the Exodus story. As they observe one of the most fundamental traditions in the Jewish calendar, they will exalt God for the role he played in the deliverance of Israel from slavery in ancient Egypt.

A small minority of Jews, however, will be gathering for a very different kind of seder. These are the Jews who declare: “If the exodus from Egypt occurred, then it means that God intervened in the world. If the story is true, he took it upon himself to hurl plagues upon the Egyptians and part the seas for the Hebrews. Well, if he could involve himself directly in the affairs of humanity in ancient times, then why not in modern times? Why not at Auschwitz?”

The answer for these Jews, of course, is that there were never any plagues hurled nor seas parted. The Exodus story is literature. God did not act at Auschwitz because “God” is and always has been a human-created idea. These Jews, typically known as secular humanists, adhere to Jewish culture and values while ignoring (and when necessary disproving) the superstition of a divine force in the universe.

Secular humanistic Jews hold that the ancient fable of liberation from Egyptian captivity ought not take precedence over the twentieth century’s stark reality of German genocide. Accordingly, for some of them, the proper role of a seder is to remember and honour the six million who perished in the Holocaust.

For one night they put aside the Hagaddah of Passover, and replace it with the Holocaust Hagaddah. The history of anti-Semitism, the advent of the Nazis, the strangulation and annihilation of European Jewry, the complicity of a bystanding world — all are retold in the Holocaust Haggadah.

Participants in this seder do not recline comfortably at a sumptuous feast. Rather they sit on a bare floor in ragged clothes and partake of icy bread. As they tell the terrible story, they reconstruct, in infinitesimal microcosm, the plight of the six million. They do it to remember in a symbolic way the immeasurable horror of the Holocaust.

After the murder of the six million, infers the new Haggadah, it is unacceptable to go on as before. The enormity of the crime commited against the Jews demands nothing less than a fundamental alteration of custom. It requires, in the service of fitting remembrance, reformation among the Jewish people.

Such reformation is not only appropriate, but increasingly necessary. Everywhere in the world Holocaust denial is a growth industry. How can the Jews send a message to history and create a beacon powerful enough to remind all of posterity that the Holocaust happened?

They can do it by radically updating a basic component of Jewish ritual. This is the message of the Holocaust Haggadah, and eternal intent of the Holocaust seder.

Michael Carin is author of The Future Jew and may be reached through the website www.thefuturejew.com.

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Graffiti artist throws you into your own imagination

For most people, the word "graffiti" is synonymous with vandalism, street gangs, young punks and hoodlums lurking in alleyways. This presents barely a fraction of what graffiti encompasses. For Dawson College graduate Peru Dyer, graffiti art is his career, his passion and his way of life.

Peru was born in Lima, Peru, where he spent his first 16 years. As a boy, the graffiti he saw in his hometown left deep impressions, and prompted him to began exploring and researching other graffiti artists. When asked what it was about it that attracted him, he says, "The movement and colour combination in graffiti was only the hook for what was to be a lifelong journey into the exploration of shape and form."

He describes graffiti artists as a close-knit community. Through his craft, Peru met people from all around the world who not only shared his passion for it, but shared values and moral understanding on numerous issues. He recalls staying with strangers who took him to their secret spots to paint, decorating abandoned factories and forgotten train tunnels. It is not lost on this community that their work is often seen as little more than defacement of other people's property. "Most people see graffiti as the media has portrayed it — an eyesore and waste of tax dollars," he says, and not as it can and should be: "as a protest against endless advertisements no one asked to have thrown at us... [or] as a statement to call attention to a growing class division."

Peru has exhibited his work in galleries throughout Europe and has created a career in muralism, but confesses that even though he can get paid to paint a mural, he still enjoys going out at night to illegally beautify an alleyway. "Some feel safer walking through that alley. Some stop and get something beyond our understanding from it," he says. Becoming a respectable gallery artist is often frowned upon by graffiti artists, seen as "selling out". "But it's a good way to pay the fines when we get caught!" he says.

To wrap up our interview I asked Peru what kind of message he's trying to convey through his art. "After ten years I've learned that today's youth need guidance from the people they look up to. I am doing my part by devoting my expression to spiritual matters and to social injustice. If I can take you away from your daily routine and throw you into your own imagination, even for a second, then I can die a happy man."

To view Peru's graffiti art, visit celphexploitedart.com

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Bialystock, a sad town in Poland

From Vilnius we moved on by train to Bialystock. We were on our way to Budapest, where we had a plane to catch for Israel. We planned to go back through Warsaw and take a train from Warsaw to Budapest. Then we would spend two weeks in Israel. We decided Bialystock would be a good place to spend a day or two. We had grown up hearing the name although we had no family roots there. We were interested in seeing another Polish town, one where many Jews had once lived and flourished.

Bialystock is a town that looks like the heart has been cut out of it. It's pleasant enough. There are cafés and a modern hotel right in the middle of town. There are pretty streets and people living out their lives in peace, but the town is too quiet, too calm.

Seventy thousand Jews lived in Bialystock before the Holocaust. There was a town square where they traded, whole neighbourhoods where they lived, a fish market, a massive synagogue. Now there is a lot of empty space.

We took a tour with young lady who knows all about the Jews who once lived here. She is not Jewish but she is interested in how our people lived and died in this town. She and her friends do their best to look after the cemetery which is on the outskirts of town. There is hardly a gravestone that has not been desecrated. We walk through the shambles, the tombs stretching out in their jagged shapes as far as the eye can see. She tells us that the "neighbours" have stolen as many grave stones as they could carry to be used as foundations for the apartments they have built in the area surrounding the cemetery.

The children of these Jews, buried on these grounds, cannot look after their graves. They are the victims of the Nazis and they have no graves. She takes us to the site of the synagogue. On one night, the Nazis forced 2,000 Jews into this synagogue. Then, they set fire to it. They tried to climb out of the windows. They were pushed back in. Men, women, and children, burned alive.

We stood on the site of this synagogue. It is in an apartment complex. There are gardens for children to play. There is a twisted structure, a memorial to the 2,000 who perished here where we are standing. How can we be standing here so peacefully? Where are the ashes? Where are the graves? The memorial has some graffiti on it. No different from Vilnius, we think.

It's hard to know what to feel.

We walk along the main street. In one of the windows of a tourist shop we see paintings of Chassidic men counting money by candlelight. Men wearing prayer shawls counting gold coins. I enter the shop. I ask the man behind the counter if he understands what he is selling. "You Jews caused us trouble for hundreds of years. What do you want from us now?" I leave the store. I am angry, can't speak, don't know what to say, what to feel, what to think, except: They still hate us. We're gone from this place, we're all dead here. What or whom do they hate?

We walk through streets of wooden houses. She tells us these were once the houses of Jews. They are to be torn down to make way for a new shopping centre. This was the site of the fish market.

Bialystock is a sad place. There is a heaviness here. It is everywhere.

We have a quiet dinner at the hotel. We try to pretend we are tourists. But what we have seen is never far from our minds.

Why have we come? We have come to bear witness to the dead, to those souls who died in that torched synagogue. But we will not go back to Poland. It is enough. It is too much.

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My family in Havana

I have kept a secret from many of you for the past three years — I have another family. They are in Havana, Cuba, and I have just returned from my 5th visit with them.

Almost hidden from view on a narrow street in Old Havana at Acosta and Picota streets is the Adath Israel Synagogue, an Orthodox Jewish community. Most Jewish visitors to Havana do not realize that there are actually three synagogues housing three distinct Jewish communities in Havana, representing the Conservative, Sephardic and Orthodox branches of Judaism.

The main Jewish community centre, housed in the Conservative synagogue in Vedado, serves the largest community. It includes a Sunday School and its leaders are responsible for youth programs, and arranging exit visas for Cuban Jews wishing to emigrate to Israel or take trips to Israel such as March of the Living, sponsored by the Joint Distribution Committee. They are also well connected with Jewish communities in the US and Canada, in particular the Canadian Jewish Congress.

My favorite community is the Adath Israel, or as it is known in Spanish, the Communidad Relgiosa Hebrea Adath Israel de Cuba. Yakov and Yamilet, a young married couple who are leaders of the community — Yakov refers to himself on documents as the treasurer, shohet (ritual slaughterer of Kosher meat) and cantor — have always welcomed me as family and allowed me to distribute much-needed cash donations and clothing, toiletries, and toys directly to their members. This way I know exactly who is receiving what I have brought. Over the times I have visited, I've learned shoe size and special needs for clothing and medication. Each time I visit, I try to improve the way I give out what I have brought. This time, I contributed $100 towards a Purim Party (Purim is a Jewish holiday celebrated in March) and with Yamilet's help, prepared 150-200 gift bags, each with a piece of clothing or underwear or toiletries for more than 60 children.

In the past I have collected cash from my friends here and given it out to people hand to hand along with clothing and toys. This time, I concentrated on clothing and toys.

The community is also a meeting place for Jewish seniors who eat breakfast at the synagogue as well as a snack in the evening after services. One day I bought ice cream for everyone at the evening services. It cost me $24 to serve a big portion of strawberry or chocolate ice cream to over 60 people — a good investment in bonding!

Speaking of bonding, while we in North American Jewish communities suffer from assimilation through intermarriage, Cubans who marry Jews are converting to Judaism in record numbers and enjoying the feeling that a close-knit community brings for their chidren and their extended families. So when you help "a Jew" in Cuba, you are helping many others who are not Jewish. With the Jewish population of Cuba at 900, it's difficult not to intermarry!

The average monthly salary in Cuba is approximately $12, and for pensioners it is closer to $8. From this, people are expected to pay 50 cents for a bar of soap,  $1.20 for toothpaste, $3 for shampoo, and for clothes, the prices are very similar to Canada. So you can imagine how much my friends appreciate a new piece of clothing, a toy, a bar of soap, shampoo, or a piece of costume jewellery.

Since 1990, Jews have been allowed to practice their faith and their culture openly and freely. They do so with a joy and enthusiasm that I have never seen in countries where Jews have always had this right. Holidays are celebrated with passion and pride. On Purim, as is the custom, the children of the congregation dressed up in costume and were treated to a clown and puppet show. These are almost ordinary occurrences for our children and grandchildren, but to see the rapturous looks on the faces of these children is to understand how much this community means to them.

My friends have asked me why I go back so often. Perhaps if you look at my pictures, you will understand. Or perhaps you will have to see for yourself. The next time you're planning a trip to Varadero, change your plans to Havana. It's a city full of culture and beauty. Here you will meet real people and begin to understand how they live. Try to bring more than a few small toiletries for the maids. Below is a list of what you could bring and distribute to people at the Adath Israel and to other Cubans that you meet or befriend outside your hotels.

Next issue, I will try to provide more information on the cultural activities and sights Havana has to offer.

  • What to bring:
  • small toys from the dollar stores including hair bands and ponytail holders
  • small toy cars (nearly new or new)
  • socks, underwear and bras
  • sneakers and sandals for all ages, new or nearly new 
  • t-shirts, shorts and skirts (only light summer wear) for all ages, new or nearly new
  • colognes, costume jewellery, sewing supplies, small pieces of material for doll making, soaps, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and dental floss (ask your dentist for samples)
  • samples of medication from your doctor — in short supply are blood pressure medication, syringes, and pain medication of any kind.

If you have these things to donate but can't make it down to Havana yourself, please bring them to The Senior Times offices at 4077 Decarie Blvd. (corner NDG Ave.) or call our office at 514-484-5033. I'll be sure to take them on my next trip to Havana and they'll go directly to the hands of people who need and deserve our support.

Contact Adath Israel at adathisrael@enet.cu.

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Winter past and winter present

It's April and by now spring should have sprung. Even devoted snow lovers must feel enough is enough! I believe that Mother Nature keeps sending the world strong messages to stop destroying our planet. It's hard to blame the government for the winter wonderland that outstayed its welcome this year. We can't even let off too much steam at the city administration for the slow snow removal. However, their outrageous idea to impose an additional tax for this essential service is unacceptable. Last year we had practically no snow and it should all balance out!

Returning from my winter break I could hardly find my front door.

Mountains of snow had hidden it from view. I quickly recognized that I must plan my agenda according to the weather report and prepare myself to be a prisoner in my house once again. This will cause me cabin fever and severe snow rage!

I kept thinking about Hans Christian Andersen's sad fairy tale about the poor little matchgirl trying to sell matches in the bitter cold, dressed in rags, with no shoes, no gloves, hungry, frightened and watching a fat family behind a lit window, carving a roasted goose stuffed with prunes and apples. The next morning she was found frozen to death, but with a smile on her face. I did not have a smile on my face listening to the howling winds around my house. It sounded like the orgasmic outbursts of a bunch of unruly cats and I quickly put on Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream to drown it out.

When we came to Canada from England in 1951 the winters here were more severe than they have been over the last few years. I remember watching our little boy playing in deep snow, and pulling him on a sled on Mount Royal. A rich relative pointed out that I did not have a proper winter coat and presented me with her old skunk fur. It weighed a ton but kept me warm. However, whenever it got wet it stank and this has taught me to identify an uninvited skunk hiding underneath my porch. On a walk with my little dog during "skunk time" I carried a tin of tomato juice just in case we should get caught in the spray!

There was a heavy storm in 1971 when we couldn't get home from work but managed to find a room in the lovely old Windsor Hotel. We had a lot of fun together with other good-natured storm victims. The same happened during the ice storm of 1998. Why does it all seem so much worse now and no fun at all?

For the elderly the winter months present serious problems. Inadequate public transportation, long line-ups in the ERs, and the frustration, isolation, and general lack of courtesy and respect doesn't contribute to a feeling of well-being.

I fervently hope that by the end of May the snow will have melted, that there will be no floods, that we shall see a green blade of grass and perhaps a confused snowdrop or crocus showing its face.

I can't wait for some soft, short and sweet April showers to get caught in. I shall enjoy every raindrop with a smile and sing.

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Butterfly watching at the Botanical Gardens

It's hard to believe they're bugs and even harder to believe that without them we're lost. Flamboyant, enchanting, mysterious and delightful, some with a wingspan greater than a man's open palms, they live out their short and glorious life in an artificial universe — right here, in the land of sleet and snow.

This year's Butterflies are Free exhibit, in its 11th year at the Botanical Garden of Montreal, will feature for the first time over 90 species of butterflies native to Africa, Central America and Asia. Until April 27, visitors can see about 2,000 butterflies at any given time, with up to 100 newly hatched butterflies released each day.

"In a natural environment, you would never see so many butterflies or so many species all at once," says the Garden's communications officer Francois Ouellet. In his two trips to Costa Rica, he came across only two such exotic creatures. "This environment is man-made, but it's spectacular."

Displaying countless iridescent hues, the butterflies emerge from their temporary tombs — their cocoons — gathering the strength to fulfill their mission to survive as a species.

The breathtakingly beautiful markings on their wings are not purely aesthetic, but also weapons of self-defense, warning potential predators of the butterflies' toxicity.

Their Latin names are impressive: Caligo eurilochus, Morpho helenor, Ideopsis juventa... but a child's imagination will respond more to common names like Clipper, Wood nymph, Owl butterfly and the Great eggfly bolina.

"Butterflies are ambassadors," says Pierre Veilleux, one of the Garden's technicians. He explains that while people fear what they do not know, the sheer beauty and fragility of these winged creatures awakens their curiosity regarding other insects as well. "Butterflies create a reconciliation between the human and insect world."

Veilleux's job is not easy. He must receive and maintain the cocoons, carefully packed and transported in temperature-controlled conditions, and see them through their life-cycle, releasing an allotted number every day.

He guides groups of schoolchildren through the greenhouse, pointing out which plants the butterflies feed on. He must also replenish these as needed, keeping "backup" plants ready. "Some of the plants may be beautiful, but they may be sterile. The butterflies know the difference."

The insects in the display were purchased from several butterfly breeding farms that provide economic support to communities while offering protection to wildlife. One such supplier, "Kipepeo" in Kenya is maintaining a forest of over 40,000 hectares with over 250 butterfly species.

Through Veilleux's presentation, visitors come to realize the profound interdependence of all living things and the importance of preserving biodiversity. "When the children understand which plants the butterflies need to survive, they realize they need to protect plants too," Veilleux says. "First comes respect, then the urge to protect."

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Seniors “cautiously optimistic” following consultations

Marguerite Blais, Quebec minister responsible for seniors (photo: Kristine Berey)

From her more than 30 years in radio and television, Marguerite Blais, Quebec minister responsible for seniors, knows that seniors' issues are not the most popular of topics. She says keeping her program on the reality of aging running in 1979 — something she managed to do for 6 years — was a real challenge. "Nobody wanted to hear about that," she recalls. "It would have been good then to adapt society to aging. They thought 2000 was far away, but it was not."

Now in her ministerial role that she says fits her "like a glove", she is determined to give the seniors the attention they deserve. Last August, in an unprecedented gesture of genuine respect, Blais brought the government to seniors across the province in a series of public consultations on seniors' living conditions. From last August to November, accompanied by retired McGill social work professor Sheila Goldbloom and Dr. Réjean Hébert, dean of the Faculty of Medicine of the Université de Sherbrooke, Blais asked seniors in 26 cities to express their needs and their concerns.

The response was positive, with over 4,000 people expressing their views. Groups working on behalf of seniors presented 267 briefs, and 3,375 calls and emails came pouring in.

The completed report on the consultations, Préparons l'avenir avec nos ainés, (soon to be translated) confirms what many already knew — seniors want to remain independent and do not wish to be segregated or discriminated against. When they do need care, they want to retain their dignity and the right to a decent quality of life.

Sheila Goldbloom is satisfied that seniors were heard. "The results of the consultation are reflected in the budget."

On March 19, when Blais unveiled the government's response to the report, she announced several immediate and long-term measures that addressed the most urgent issues, including more funding for home support, help for caregivers, better training for staff and improving the food at long term care centres. Next year, an action plan to combat abuse and neglect will be released and both private and public senior residences will need certification by January 2009. As well, a campaign will be launched to combat ageism, in French on television and in English on the radio, acknowledging seniors' contributions. Far from being a burden to society, seniors' volunteer work represents about $3.1 billion a year and their tax contribution stands at $2.2 billion a year, based on a 2006 study.

Blais is the first to say that these measures are only a beginning and believes that the welfare of seniors is everybody's business. "We have to do things every day to make sure seniors have a voice," she said. The government will be working closely with community organizations advocating on behalf of seniors, Blais said. "They are important partners."

Information kiosks and telephone access to services to seniors are in the works, with a Carrefour d'informations being planned in conjunction with the Cummings Centre sometime next year. "We are pushing for anglophone seniors to have services in their own language," Blais said.

Helen Wavroch, executive director of the Réseau Québecois pour contrer les abus contre les aines (RQCAA), a group that works to prevent elder abuse, hailed the government initiatives. "This is a minister who has managed to make things move," she said. "I felt there was, for the first time, a definite will and desire on behalf of the government to correct some of the wrongs that exist in the senior community." She disagrees with those who claim the measures didn't go far enough. "I know what Minister Blais has accomplished. She had to negotiate with her counterparts in government and get the other ministers involved in actions concerning seniors. Now that the ball has started to roll, it can't go back. That's what excites me."

When asked if he was happy at the announcements, Norbert Rodrigue, of the Association Québecoise de défense des droits des personnes rétraitées et pré-rétraitées (AQDR) answered "I cannot be unhappy." But he added that the issue of abuse and neglect is a great challenge that must be met.

Diane Lavallée, Québec's Public Curator responsible for the protection of 11,500 citizens who are incapacitated and have no family, and for the support of 11,200 legal guardians of other non-autonomous individuals, felt the announcements clearly demonstrated the government's intent to improve seniors' quality of life. But Jacqueline Racicot, in charge of communications for the Public Curator's office, says it's important to remember that not all those who are unable to care for themselves are seniors. "All private residences, including those that house and care for persons who are not necessarily elderly but are incapacitated must also follow the strict criteria for care and housing."

Herb Finkelberg of the Cummings Centre said that the Centre's interactions with Blais were extremely positive. "We remain cautiously optimistic and we'll be following the issues very closely."

In various capacities Blais has advocated for seniors, youth and the poor for many years. She has also written two books on the culture and history of the deaf community. When asked what struck her most at the close of the consultations, she answered, "I learned that we don't love enough." To the suggestion that society's lack of compassion is nothing new, she says, "Yes, but I'm in a position to say it louder."

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Iraq war deserters merit sanctuary

Some 40 years ago, then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau opposed the U.S. war in Vietnam and, like many Canadians, was openly sympathetic to the thousands of young Americans who crossed the border into Canada to evade the draft. Trudeau said at the time, "Those who make the conscientious judgment that they must not participate in this war … have my complete sympathy, and indeed our political approach has been to give them access to Canada. Canada should be a refuge from militarism."

Those were heady days and the Vietnam War had galvanized the young around the world into a spirit of revolt. Canada then received from 50,000 to 100,000 Americans, draft dodgers and deserters alike. The draft is no more, but similar issues of conscientious objection to an illegal war have now come to the fore with the arrival of an estimated 150 American soldiers in Canada in search of asylum. The question is, should those who signed up for service in the U.S. Armed Forces and gone AWOL be granted refuge?

Many who first supported the U.S. invasion accepted the fact that the war was illegal but believed what is now known as trumped up evidence that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling Weapons of Mass Destruction. The world now knows this was a fabrication. Others believed the U.S., as sole super-power was being the world's police officer in ridding the Iraqis of its murderous tyrant, Saddam. But knowing now how badly the post-invasion was mismanaged, it is perfectly reasonable on a moral level that those who enlisted have seen the horror of it all and are being asked to redeploy for a third and fourth tour of duty can legitimately refuse to take part in an illegal war and occupation.

With a civil war raging, at least 90,000 Iraqis killed, possibly many more, and more than 4,000 U.S. military dead, is it not legitimate for soldiers to reject the effort and renege on their contracts on moral grounds? Canadian courts in dismissing refugee claims in two cases have set aside the issue of the war's legality. Justice Anne Mactavish of the Federal Court wrote in the case of Jeremy Hinzman in 2006 that the legality of the war "is not before the court and no finding has made in this regard." The Supreme Court of Canada has refused to hear appeals in Hinzman's case and that of deserter Brandon Hughey. His lawyer, Jeffry House, noted that in 1995 the Federal Court granted refugee status to a deserter from Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, accepting the argument he should not be compelled to take part in an illegal war. The difference, of course, is that deserters returning to the U.S. face court martial, dishonourable discharges and possible jail terms of five years or so, while an Iraqi deserter forced to return home would have faced torture and death.

Former prime minister Jean Chrétien wisely led a government that refused to participate in the U.S. led invasion and subsequent occupation. In so doing he signaled Canada's unease with the justification, moral underpinning, and dynamics of what is now a bloody quagmire. As such, we regret the Harper government is so supportive of U.S. policies that it will not emulate Trudeau's example in showing the moral and political courage and progressive leadership to challenge American policy by offering refuge to U.S. draft evaders and war resisters on moral grounds. They deserved it then, they deserve it now.

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