My life as a political and human rights activist began as a transition from my life as a social entrepreneur which began as a tangent from my life as a pet owner. I broke this section into two parts to give it a full airing of the details. It might be a little much for some people, but I wanted to make sure I’m offering a complete version of what happened that lead me to my current place in life.
In the Summer of 2011, I was recovering from a workers injury that ended my electronics technologist career less than a year after landing the job. I had torn my right rotator cuff while trying to move a several hundred pound battery stack across a tile floor. Both shoulders were damaged, but my right arm was basically hanging off my body. I filed a workers comp form and received authorization for exceptionally strong pain killing medication. I chose to stick to just the anti-inflammatory medication and use pot for the pain as I healed. I was seen by a physiotherapist once and given Doctor’s orders not to do any heavy lifting.
This effectively ended my career with the tech company I was working with. Unable to risk having their project manager further injured, I was placed into a windowless cubicle and given a desk phone. All my work from then on would be tech support and paperwork. As someone who has always enjoyed hands on work, be it computer repair or planting trees, I was unable to adapt to life indoors behind a desk. I had to leave the company as the position I’d been placed in wasn’t what they’d hired me to do. I was left managing groups of repair teams who each earned more money than me and constantly called for advice. Unwilling to be forever squeezed into a windowless box, I left the company and spent the next few months fighting to obtain EI so I could finish recovering from my injury.
In October of 2011, I decided to get a pet dragon. I’d been introduced to Bearded Dragons from Australia through a friend who’d owned one. I’d been researching Australia independently because I’d heard that didgerdoo usage helps alleviate sleep apnea. That same week I saw a 75 gallon aquarium show up on Kijiji along with an ad from a local breeder who had a clutch of month old dragons he was selling. It felt like I was being guided towards having a pet dragon at that point, so I dove into the idea and went up to meet the breeder.
When he showed me a plastic tray with the few remaining dragons he hadn’t already sold, I was struck by how much they looked like tiny dinosaurs. Such tiny little perfect scales, intricate patterns and elegant feet. I put my hand in the bin to reach for one and they all scattered except for one. This little guy showed no fear of me whatsoever despite him being no bigger than my pinky finger. He just stood there with his head back and looked at my hand. This was Merlin and he became one of my most steadfast companions during the next two and a half years of my life. I didn’t realize it, but his influence would transform my life completely.
I drove out to Trout River the following day and bought the aquarium. Then I went to the local pet store picked up some lights and heaters and dry food. Next I brought everything home and set it up, leaving all the lights and heaters running through a full day/night cycle so I could check the temperatures. A little bit of research was required at this point to ensure I’d be able to create a good environment for little guy. If he didn’t have a warm enough place to sit during the day, he wouldn’t be able to digest his food. Once I was certain that the temperature and humidity ranges were suitable for a baby dragon, I drove up to the breeder and picked him up in a shoe box lined with my t-shirts for warmth.
I’d be sharing some pictures of his size for reference at this point, but even my family photos were seized by the RCMP when they took my devices. It’s funny how much value can be stored on one device, which can be unlawfully taken away and peered through by unknown people. They’ll be looking through photos of my nephew dying at 11 days old in a hospital shortly if they haven’t already. Sorry if it got a little dark there, but thinking about Merlin in a shoebox lined with a t-shirt reminded me of burying him the same way last year because I didn’t have the money to take him to a vet. All my pictures of him were taken when the RCMP seized my electronics to try to uncover a terrorist plot. I have a few on Facebook, but I took hundreds if not thousands of them. They’re being used right now to try to compile a psychological profile for someone who doesn’t exist.
Shortly after I got Merlin home and he was settling into his new surroundings, I was confronted by something I hadn’t fully prepared myself for when buying a bearded dragon. While adult bearded dragons eat mostly vegetables and a few bugs, baby Bearded Dragons eat mostly bugs. Tiny, wriggling, squirming, crawling, creeping bugs. Mostly beetle larva, crickets and another high protein species. Considering how far I’ve come and how much interesting research they inspired, I’m surprised at how revolted I was by them at the time. In retrospect, I’m not a big fan of most snakes or lizards either. I only jumped at the idea of a bearded dragon because… hey… I had a pet DRAGON.
This idea was later overturned when I realized that instead of me having a pet dragon, Merlin was being granted a human slave. To keep a bearded dragon healthy, you have to have a rigorous feeding schedule. You should keep their tanks clean of their poops, but make sure to check them occasionally to monitor their health. You have to be able to offer quality greens and discern the high nutritional value ones like collards from the low nutritional value ones like lettuce. Not all greens are created equal. You also have to pick through your feeder insects to make sure you’re not feeding them insects that are too big and may cause impaction. This caused me more grief than anything else. I have no problems baiting a hook with half an earthworm, but darkling beetle larva looked so much like maggots I had an deep aversion to touching them. They seemed so unclean and unnatural, despite the fact that they are eaten as a staple food in a good portion of the world.
As Merlin grew into his full size over the next two years his appetite increased along with him. Live insects are surprisingly expensive and it got to the point where the cost of Merlin’s groceries was a approaching a fraction of my own. To offset this, I decided to try my hand at insect breeding on a small scale. I wasn’t completely comfortable with having insects in my home, but the ones I was working with couldn’t climb smooth plastic, so I comforted myself with the knowledge they couldn’t escape.
They say necessity and politics makes strange bedfellows, but never in my life prior to these events had I imagined sharing a home with a family of bugs. Mice, carpenter bugs, and the occasional earwig are expected when living in an older home, but I never thought I would willingly allow in a family of beetles.
I bought mealworms from the local pet store, gave them a quick rinse to wash the ever-present mites off, then let them pupate into beetles. I set the beetles in a new bin and gave them bran and carrots as a food source. Within a few months, I had a new population of feeder insects for Merlin at a fraction of the cost. I began to think of them as my indoor compost bin for the vegetables that we had left over from our meals.
After about a year of trial and error, I settled into a much cheaper daily routine of taking care of my dragon and enjoyed the presence of such an odd creature from the other side of the world. It was like have a little alien dinosaur in my home that followed my movements like a sunflower follows the Sun. Taking care of such a small and unique creature added a depth to my life that didn’t exist prior to the fall of 2011.
I spent the winter doing point of sale repairs and installations for a temp agency operating out of Ontario. They made a habit out of billing their customers much more than their employees were getting, but that’s the nature of these kinds of shyster agencies and their contracts and I still needed to earn enough to live on. I went back to physical labour the following Spring doing landscaping in Pasadena. My old Boss called me up and offered me the kind of work I enjoy out in the sun, so I couldn’t refuse. I spent a whole summer tearing down a forest of trees on his land, as well as replacing old wooden fences with new metal ones. Having spent the winter trying to bring my shoulders back into working order, this was exactly what I needed to do to be healthy, spending a lot of time working in under the Sun.
By the time the fall of 2012 rolled around, I’d done a decent job of transforming the landscape I’d been working on. I was still getting the occasional jobs working for the temp agency and my finances were in good order. I had stocks that were doing well and money saved in my TFSA. I had excellent credit and no outstanding bills. I was able to reapply for EI, although at this point I was basically getting less than a $1000 a month to live on.
As the winter settled in, I began to consider my options for work. I wasn’t interested in working for temp agencies for the rest of my life, and didn’t want to end up stuck behind a desk answering the phone. I started looking at the bugs I was raising and began to wonder if they might not give a clue to a direction forwards for my life. I knew that local stores were ordering them from outside Newfoundland, so I began to examine what would be needed to offer a local supply.
As I was trying to figure out what to do, my family was getting ready to experience a period of joy and tragedy. My nephew was born on November 10th, 2012 and it was a moment of exceptional happiness for the whole family. My parents came in and we were all so excited to see him and welcome him into our lives. We didn’t realize at the time how deeply his birth would shake our foundations.
The first moment I held him, shortly after he was born, I had a very mixed experience. As my brother passed him to me from his arms, joy and pride welling up in his eyes, I felt a sense of elation to see my little brother so happy at being a father. When I took his son into my hands though, the first thing I remember feeling was a stabbing pain in my left palm where I was holding him and then breaking out into a cold sweat. I still felt a feeling of joy at holding my new nephew in my hands, but it was tempered by a feeling of unease. At the time, I chalked the stabbing pain in my hand up to being unfamiliar with how to properly hold a baby and the cold sweat to anxiety at holding this fragile new bundle of joy in my hands.
I spent some time with the new Mommy and Daddy and my new nephew, then left them alone to get some rest, knowing I’d see more of them when they were released. They came home a few days later to a welcoming party that brought together both sets of grandparents to marvel at newest addition to their next generation.
Our joy was cut short when my nephew’s health took a turn for the worse. Despite repeat visits to a public health nurse regarding a jaundiced look he was presenting, they assured my brother and his wife that everything was fine. The last moment of peace we would have for a long time happened as they took him to the hospital to treat his jaundice with light therapy. By the time they’d arrived, his hold on life was beginning to fail due to an undiagnosed heart condition.
Affecting one in every thousand babies, my nephew had a condition known as a coarctation of the aorta. The blood flow to the lower portion of his body was suppressed by a tiny pinch in the lower half of his aorta that runs to his liver and kidneys. As those organs struggled to deal with the reduced blood pressure and building levels of toxins, his heart rate and blood pressure were increasing to try to raise the lowered blood pressure below the pinch in his aorta. This caused the blood pressure in the upper half of his body to increase and put too much stress on his heart. It could have easily been remedied in the womb through simple surgery, or with an injection that relaxes the smooth muscle walls followed by a minimally invasive procedure that opens up the pinch.
I know now that these symptoms are easily diagnosed from birth without any special medical equipment. Simply feeling the difference between the strength of the distal pulse at the wrists and the femoral pulse at the groin will identify the condition. It’s a simple test that takes moments and could easily save lives, but it’s not one of the current protocols for dealing with newborn babies in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Unfortunately, the doctor in the pediatrics ward where he was brought for treatment didn’t do this check either. He saw a baby experiencing a rapid decline in health and jumped to the conclusion that he was suffering from an infection instead of a heart condition. Despite being born in that wing days earlier, he couldn’t get immediate access to my nephew’s file which would have shown other symptoms of his heart condition, like his high heart rate at birth, and he might have reacted more appropriately. However, this information wasn’t readily available electronically and he treated him for infection instead, relying only on his initial assessment.
The first course of treatment when dealing with someone presenting with symptoms of an infection is to rehydrate them. Unfortunately for my nephew who was experiencing a cardiac crisis due to the inability of his kidneys to properly cleanse his blood and regulate blood pressure, this mistake would cost him his life. Increasing his blood volume without allowing his kidneys to restore the proper balance deepened his cardiac crisis, spiked his blood pressure further and ended up causing brain damage.
I won’t go into further detail on this matter, but in the week that followed my extended family travelled back and forth across Newfoundland and Nova Scotia to try to get my nephew some treatment. The hospitals we dealt with did a good job trying to come up with a million reasons why he’d suddenly taken ill. Genetic issues, infection, abnormal metabolism… they threw reason after reason at us until finally revealing they’d found the root of his heart condition. At that point the damage had already been done and he was barely clinging to life. He was removed from life support and passed on November 21st 2012 in the arms of his loving parents. I can’t remember crying that hard at any other point in my life. To see someone so innocent, so free of any of the sins of this world, snuffed out after momentarily bringing such joy into our lives… it struck me as a crime against God.
I wasn’t until after we arrived back home, the house still covered in welcome posters and banners from the week before, that I began to think over what had happened. At this point we knew he had a coarctation, which was treatable, but didn’t realize the magnitude of mistake which had been made that first night. I contacted some nursing friends of mine and explained what had happened. They confirmed that the last thing a baby experiencing a cardiac crisis should be treated with is saline. A baby’s blood pressure is a very delicate thing. They’re so very, very fragile. Once they’d injected him with the saline, that very first treatment offered to a baby they thought to be experiencing infection, he was done for.
I spent some time trying to explain it to my family members individually, but they were still largely in a state of shock. That all came to a head one night when my brother’s wife logged into her work email account and found a letter from an anonymous source at the hospital. They’d been trying to contact her for the past week. The letter explained that the cardiologist had made a mistake and that my nephew would have been perfectly fine and healthy had it not been for that error they were now trying to cover up.
After a period of confusion, I had to be the bearer of bad news and tell them what I’d learned. Imparting to them such a shocking truth after going through such a twisted experience was hard on the whole family. We were all still in a state of disbelief, but I couldn’t leave this letter from an anonymous person hanging in the air. The family was so upset that more questions immediately began to emerge about what happened. It needed context. My background in biology is more extensive than my family’s, so what came as a natural understanding to me was foreign to them.
We agreed not to discuss it further. This may be the only time I speak this openly on the subject matter. I just want to further clear the air and illustrate that doctors are just as fallible as the rest of us. They’re prone to the same errors of judgment when presented with incomplete information. And just as prone to denying making mistakes to save themselves and prevent their authority from ever being questioned.
In the months that followed, I withdrew from my previous activities. I had a period of introspection and spent my last Christmas home in Labrador. We setup a special Christmas tree in our backyard for the nephew that was no longer with us. From then on, Christmas trees will always remind me of him.
After a few months of withdrawn grieving I decided to get my life back on track. I was still working with the temp agency, but also interested in starting my own business. I approached the local community development corporation with my idea surrounding insect production several times during this period and was rejected or ignored each time. I kept working on the idea and early in the Spring a friend asked me for a ride up to Canadian Tire to buy some fertilizer for his plants. I offered him a sample of what my mealworms were producing and the rapid results amazed us. I went back to the drawing board and began thinking up a plan to pair this fertilizer source with organic agriculture. It offered a means of establishing a business that created value-added products with no wasted byproduct. Everything that went into the business came back out as a higher value product, I just needed to formalize the idea.
In the summer of 2013, following a few weeks of meetings with the Navigate Entrepreneurship Center, I had the business concept fleshed out. I submitted it for review by Service Canada and the local community development corporation. It took 3 months for them to finally approve the idea. Total time trying to get into the process to be able to work on my business plan? 10 months.
During the approval process I met Misha and we’ve been almost inseparable ever since. It’s been a difficult road for us as so much of my money has been invested in an idea. The lack of local development opportunities has been stifling progress and leaving us struggling to make ends meet, even without exceptional circumstances arising to cause further conflict.
Shortly after being approved for self-employment assistance in November, my old apartment developed a leak in my roof over my bed due to a failed renovation that left heat pouring into my attic. Experiencing a complete disruption in my home life, my sleep apnea took over as my most pressing health situation. Having an absentee landlord who only bought the place from my previous landlord to earn some cash, he had little interest in spending money to keep the place livable. When I raised the issue as something that couldn’t be waiting on until spring, he served me with an eviction notice. Unwilling to deal with a landlord that would just shirk his responsibilities and wait until I moved out, I took the eviction as offered and moved out, letting him know on Christmas Eve that I had vacated the place. Dick move, I know, but I had just suffered through over 3 weeks of unhealthy sleep and was looking forward to getting some proper rest. I still paid full rent for the month of December.
Moving into the new place was a whole new experience. I had space to start up a lab in the basement, which led to me germinating my first marijuana seeds to experiment with. Prior to this I’d only been working with mint, which was great for tea but not much else. As a plant with a much more rapid growth rate, I’d hope that experimenting with cannabis would teach me how to grow a variety of plants indoors. If my current indoor garden is any indication, it has done that job quite well.
While all of this was new business planning and development was on-going, I had an older project brewing in the background coming to fruition. I’d been researching seaweeds as a source for a mitochondrial enhancer for oxidative stress related illnesses. In May, a quote from a movie inspired a whole new direction into my research that showed the compounds I was researching had played a well-established role in ancient medicines practiced around the world. I used this new knowledge to create a brief YouTube video to complement an earlier one and set up a Thunderclap to try to raise awareness on social media. I spent two weeks campaigning to build up supporters for the campaign and, to be perfectly honest, it came to nothing. Few people cared enough to bother reading the material, so it simply fell by the wayside for most. If you read back far enough in the blog, the information is all still available.
The Thunderclap was my first step at transitioning into from social entrepreneurship into activism. It was also the week that Merlin passed on suddenly. It was a very difficult few weeks. Not as difficult as when my nephew died, but it was still distressing to watch Merlin rapidly get ill and die practically in my hands. I buried him in June and planted some sunflowers over him to keep him company. I planted a little lilac tree over him last fall. I don’t know if the little tree has taken to its new environment, but I’ll be tending it once the snow melts.
The next step in my transition into activism happened a month later, but was shaped by time spent with Misha. She’s spent a portion of her life in Ukraine, so she brought me a unique perspective on the situation that was absent from Canadian news outlets.
While CBC was cheering on the fall of the previous Ukrainian government at the end of February, she was warning me that the people seizing power were those she’d previously identified as far-right extremists. The actions of the new government following the coup illustrated that mentality quite well as they cracked down on dissenters in Eastern Ukraine and tightened their grip on power.
Once Ukraine had conducted their formal elections under the guise of ‘trusted’ Canadian election monitors, the new President quickly legitimized the civil war between West and East Ukraine by declaring the dissidents to be terrorists. He declared a resumption of hostilities against the dissident/terrorists on July 1st, 2014. Canada Day. The Canadian Federal government cheered him on. After studiously ignoring politics for several years, I found myself horrified by the fascist and tyrannical tendencies that were now being displayed by the Canadian government.
As July progressed, other issues began to emerge. In the Middle East, the situation between Israel and Gaza was becoming ugly. Atrocities against children committed by extremist elements from both sides led to the resumption of rocket attacks and an escalation towards war. Like seeing a train wreck in slow motion, I watched both situations in the Middle East and Ukraine with great trepidation. The two situations then converged surrounding a very unlikely series of events that seemed too well-timed to be coincidental.
On the 16th of July of 2014, four children were killed on beach in Gaza. They were killed in full public view of people staying at a nearby hotel and the event drew outrage from media outlets stationed in the area. Israel announced a humanitarian window for the following day to grieve the loss of the children, but kept massing their infantry forces along their border with Gaza. As the humanitarian window was closing on the following day, MH17 was shot down over Eastern Ukraine. While media attention turned to the downed plane and the chaos that was ensuing in Ukraine, Israel launched their all out attack on Gaza.
Some people might not understand the level of brutality used in Israel’s war last summer. They think that all nations have a ‘Right to Defend’, but ignore the fact that the section of the UN Charter they’re using refers to the ‘Right to Defend Responsibly’. This refers to accepting responsibility for civilian deaths in a conflict situation. Accepting responsibility for war crimes committed by overzealous soldiers and for public figures that openly incite discrimination and genocide. Accepting responsibility for training soldiers that no longer see their neighbors as living beings worthy of their respect.
To illustrate the brutality of the conflict, I’m going to discuss some of the munitions used. The rockets launched by Hamas forces are basically homemade. They don’t have a very extensive range and their explosive power is limited. They’re a little scary when they’re aimed at you, but in the last conflict they simply weren’t effective at all. Israel has their ‘Iron Dome’ rocket defense system that lets them shoot down incoming rockets. Gaza has no such defense system.
While Israel has access to some of the most advanced weaponry on the planet, including nuclear weapons, I’m only going to look at a single type of munitions they used for comparison, explosive unguided artillery. Bombs launched like bullets from the ground that have a 300 meter kill radius on open terrain. Used in a city setting, that kill radius becomes much larger as explosive forces bounce off buildings and down city streets. While Hamas launched over 4000 largely unsuccessful rocket attacks against Israel, the IDF launched over 34,000 rounds of explosive artillery alone. This doesn’t count any form of missile or jet attack and also disregards the cluster munitions that were known to have been used in the conflict. It just compares the effectiveness of Hamas’ largely useless rocket brigade against the overwhelming violence of the Israeli response. To call this a case of overkill is to make the understatement of the century.
What came as a greater shock as all this was emerging was Canada’s stance. While we’ve traditionally been seen as Peacekeepers in the region, we abdicated that responsibility publically and sided with Israel. 9/11 was cited at the time as one of the reasons, but the truth is Canadian’s reason for supporting this war is more closely rooted in fear, bigotry and islamophobia.
On the 17th of July, as the world seemed to be descending into chaos with CBC ignoring the deaths and funerals of the four Gazan children from the previous day, I began trying to figure out Canada’s position. I was introduced to a propaganda video released by the Conservative Party to their Israeli supporters on the 16th of July that made me realize how involved Canada had become in instigating this conflict.
In the video, our current Prime Minister and then Foreign Affairs Minister advocate directly for war and genocide. He advises confronting the ‘dark forces’, a dangerous thing to say to an audience of predominantly white people. The quotes used in the propaganda video are taken from his speech before the Knesset earlier in the year. During that same speech our Prime Minister spoke of a ‘sophisticated language of hatred developed in the modern world for use in polite society.’ He used this threatening doublespeak to criticize the Arab delegation present, angering them to the point of leaving. Even back in January of 2014, he was angering and dividing people on racial and religious lines.
Flash forward to July and his same words are again being used to reinforce the idea of settling religious and political differences through force of arms. To me, this was so un-Canadian and wrong I had to speak up. The following weekend I typed up a transcript and analysis of the video, along with a list of charges. I brought it to the local RNC and requested they file charges.
Thus began my life as an activist.
My next post will cover how my forays into political and human rights activism resulted in my detainment on the 4th Floor the Western Memorial Regional Hospital for 6 days.