A forum for comments on FASD, sharing, life challenges, politics and other things that bother us. By GrampaBrian, FASD Advocate (AKA Brian Philcox)

The Great Leap Forward: A Manifesto for Canadian Survival

Nothing lasts forever: no person; no product; no system; no dogma; no nation. Only those who evolve will survive. In order to grow, we must change. It’s OK to have rituals, but as the environment evolves, they must modify too. Granted, sometimes reality sucks, but there is no point moping over things that we humans can’t change. Our success, not to mention our survival, always depends on what we can change and when we do so willingly and with enthusiasm.

Canada sometimes seems like some sort of anomaly. We have evolved differently from the US in many ways and differently from the way the nation-states of Europe evolved. However, historically, there are many parallels. European colonizer/settler groups came to this part of North America looking for a different, if not better life than they had in the old country. Through arrogance, hubris or simple ignorance, these newcomers assumed that they were natural superiors to the local inhabitants and found it relatively easy to overcome the aboriginal peoples with new diseases and superior technology. When the British took political power over the French colonizers, historians referred to this power shift as The Conquest. The attempts to obliterate the native populations – and there were many different kinds – was basically cultural genocide. Obviously, these programs (pogroms?) were botched and we now have 3100 First Nation (FN) Reserves across the land now called Canada. Although there are some language group connections among some tribal nations, there is a wide diversity of custom, style and belief systems among them.

Recently, and not for the first time, an Indigenous Reserve has used the occasion of the development of an LNG pipeline in northern British Columbia to block the main road through their reserve, to tell the RCMP (the BC contracted provincial police service) to get off their land and for the pipeline company to cease work. In sympathy with the Wet’suwet’en Nation in BC, a group of Mohawks in Ontario near Belleville at Tyendinaga Reserve blocked the main CN and VIA rail lines. More blockages popped up on rail lines around the country with many volunteers from outside the First Nations communities. For over two weeks, all cargo and passenger traffic were shut down across Canada to the disruption of the Canadian economy. Although courts had issued injunctions to cease and desist from these blockages, police and politicians have been reluctant to use forcible arrests of the blockers for fear of creating standoff crises where individuals could be wounded or killed.

The political comparison of these FN territories to recalcitrant clan chiefs in the Highlands of Scotland or barons in medieval Europe who decided to buck the authority of their kings of the day may not be accurate. However, when First Nations want to be recognized as sovereign states and will only deal with Canada on a nation to nation basis, there is a formidable dynamic at play. Some of the hereditary chiefs at Wet’suwet’en insist on dealing only with the Prime Minister on a nation-to-nation basis. Yet, there appears to be no consensus among the various chiefs at this reserve and the spokesman for the hereditary chiefs there has declared that they are the only leaders who can make decisions about land use in their territory. 

The current impasse suggests that this may be the best time for Canada to take a hiatus to resolve the panoply of issues that have been nagging the body politic since the beginning. In the most recent times this country has been coping with the tragedy of the Iranian rocket strike of a commercial flight that killed all 57 Canadians aboard, the international panic over the Covid-19 virus and the spontaneous blockage of rail traffic by sympathizers of Indigenous political and climate concerns. There have also been ongoing and unresolved issues of trade sector problems with the US, clarity of the role of our Canadian Armed Forces and an inability to collaborate effectively with the Provinces.

And what about doing something constructive to alleviate the homeless issue? Is it so hard for someone to design a pre-fab, starter studio apartment for under $1000? Is Corrections reform no longer on the agenda? Is it only prejudice that keeps our society from creating safe and supportive communities for our mentally and physically disabled.? Why not start with safe havens for veterans with PTSD? As the philosophers tell us, “If you want to make progress, stop hacking with a dull axe, pause and sharpen the blade.”

Communities thrive when they collectively share responsibility for one another. Human dignity demands having a space that protects you from the elements, gives you privacy and allows you to protect your possessions, stay clean and prepare food. Often this is a difficult challenge in any society where there is economic inequality and a substantive part of the population that is not always capable of looking after itself without appropriate support systems.

A factor throughout the dilemma of the mental health issue is the unacknowledged number of individuals who have had their coping capacity limited by Prenatal Alcohol Exposure. Current studies indicate that the prevalence rate for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is at 4%. FASD is 2.5 times more prevalent than Autism and the presence of this disability throughout the land represents an issue of pandemic proportions. With over 1.5 million Canadians trying to cope with a disability they have acquired through no fault of their own, we have a brain trauma problem that is the most common, most expensive, yet most preventable of all disabilities in the industrialized world.

Silos of solitude is not a fictional concept. Competition for resources is a natural phenomenon but can effectively compromise the collaboration that would achieve positive results. The frail, the mentally challenged, the different, the homeless, are our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers, our very own children. Why can’t we, as a mature nation, take a step back, review our options and make the decisions for our future wellbeing that will allow us to be masters of our own fate. Otherwise, we will never be able to make that great leap forward.

(Thought this was worth repeating…)

When we started, we thought we were just another incompetent pair of parents. As it turned out, we had been counseled by professionals who were just as ignorant as we were. When Bonnie Buxton saw a program on CBC of interviews with families who had adopted children just like our daughter Colette, we suddenly realized that there was something beyond our own lack of understanding. Our problem was Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

That was 1995 when we called it FAS/FAE. FAE or Fetal Alcohol Effects was considered to be FAS Light because there was no obvious facial dysformology. We know that FAE, better known as Alcohol‐Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND), can be even more debilitating than FAS. We couldn’t find anyone to give us a proper diagnosis until we worked with Dr. Ab Chudley in Winnipeg who determined that Colette had ARND. That’s when Bonnie wrote the article, Society’s Child for Elm Street Magazine that got more reaction than anything else they had published.

During those early years we realized that many people who should have known about FASD, didn’t. Politicians, teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers, lawyers, police and judges had reached their professional levels without any exposure to the most common, most expensive, yet most preventable of all mental disorders in the industrialized world. Then we had the notion that if we did some kind of media event on the ninth minute of the ninth hour of the ninth day of the ninth month of 1999, all those nines would come together to remind everyone that women should avoid alcohol during the nine months of pregnancy. With the Internet, the idea took off and thousands of communities around the globe celebrated the first FASDay and more have been doing so ever since.

We realized that families needed to work together to make change happen and not stay in our isolated silos. Since those early days there has been much research, many conferences and steady, but sporadic, media coverage about FASD. Relying on occasional donations and without core funding, FASworld Canada delivered workshops and interviews wherever we could. When we offered parent support groups and other organizations to work together under the FASworld umbrella, we were told that we were doing so for our own promotion. Some referred to this as “the Tall Poppy Syndrome” and Brian and Bonnie needed to be cut down.

However, we have been glad to collaborate with many organizations that would work with us, and we have sustained our FASD work over the past 22 years without personal compensation. We happily report that Bonnie’s book, Damaged Angels, is still in print and continues to help families cope.

Recent startling research appears to indicate that the prevalence of FASD in Canada is at least four times larger than we had assumed. In spite of the shortage of diagnostic services, we’re looking at 1.4 million Canadians — over five hundred thousand in Ontario — who are costing society billions annually. Yet, awareness of the damage that Prenatal Alcohol Exposure can do has only increased slightly. Binge drinking among fertile women has grown, as they appear to want to behave as intemperately as some men.

Our experience with families and the Canadian establishment has convinced us that all the brochures, posters, workshops, conferences, media stories and research are not doing the job. In most cases, FASD is not recognized officially. Professionals graduate without any formal training about Prenatal Alcohol Exposure and the resulting devastation of FASD. Many youth are getting mixed messages from people who should know better and persist in the mythology that “light” drinking won’t hurt. This is why our children need realistic information about FASD starting in the primary grades.

Today, beverage alcohol is an accepted, if not welcomed, part of our social fabric. Although alcohol is a neurotoxin it is never labeled effectively as any food product or substance that could be a problem for health. The alcohol industry, by deliberate design, has avoided responsibility for identifying its products and educating users to the detriment of society and at a horrendous cost in dollars and grief.

FASworld Canada (SAFmonde Canada) has gained an international reputation, well known across our country and has federal charitable status. If family support groups would be interested in working under the umbrella name of FASworld, we would welcome that. In fact, some support groups already have affiliated themselves with FASworld and continue their work independently.

Of singular importance is the fact that Bonnie and I need to retire from active management of FASworld. For health reasons, Bonnie is unable contribute her time and I want to pass the care and enrichment of the FASworld mission to a more energetic and ambitious individual or team. Although I plan to keep working with families and to support them any way I can, the management of this charity should be in fresh, resilient and enthusiastic hands for the betterment of babies to come.

Call me. Let’s talk.

Brian Philcox Chairman
FASworld Canada
416‐264‐8000
brian@fasworld.com
2019/06/28

Although we have been around since 1998, FASworld Canada has campaigned specifically for education about FASD in the classroom since 2016. Bill 172, Education Statute Law Amendment Act (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder), 2020 has recently received First Reading in the Ontario Legislature at Queen’s Park and is a significant baby step forward. This private member’s bill, brought forward by former Premier Kathleen Wynne was inspired by former MPP Sophie Kiwala. If we are to believe the supportive remarks by Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, Todd Smith, then this bill may be on its way to Third Reading and final approval by the Provincial House.

The bill requires boards of education to develop policies and guidelines with respect to FASD. Teachers’ colleges and early childhood education programs shall be required to provide training with respect to FASD.

The volunteers at FASworld began as educators about FASD and as advocates for families and individuals affected by Prenatal Alcohol Exposure in the mid-90s. In 1999, we created FASDay to remind everyone, on the ninth minute of the ninth hour of the ninth day of the ninth month that women should avoid alcohol when planning and during the nine months of pregnancy. Started in Toronto, FASDay is now observed in over 64 countries in every time zone around the world.

Current research advises that FASD is four times as prevalent as we thought. This pandemic affects over 1.5 million Canadians at huge cost to society and at great risk to the family fabric.If children can learn to buckle up, to recycle, to beware of tobacco, they can learn about the dangers of drinking in pregnancy. We must also educate students before they graduate from the faculties of Education, Law, Medicine, and the Social Sciences in readiness for their professional careers.

Including FASD information in existing curricula will not add to the budget burden but will build a better, stronger and more productive citizenry.

Go to http://fasworld.com and click on FASD Advocacy where you can learn how to advocate with elected officials and together, we can change the world, one baby at a time.

My Neighbourhood

when my wife Bonnie and I moved into MasarykPark Home (MPH) in Scarborough over three years ago, she was furious with me. She was really upset that I was selling our house down the street. It was our seventh residence since we got together and our fourth house. Her favourite house. Although we had made the decision together to move to MPH, she was upset just the same. However, less than two months later, at the residents’ quarterly meeting, she was telling everyone that she loved living in our new community.

In 2016 we had finally received confirmation that Bonnie was in the early stages of Alzheimer Disease. Our previous address was 250 Scarborough Golf Club Road, just south of the tracks where we had a wonderful diversity of neighbours. Not surprisingly, we also had wonderful neighbours in Toronto’s Beach, in Ottawa’s Glebe and in Montreal West. Of course, that was mainly because of Bonnie’s manner of embracing new friends. The reason that living at MPHhas been so specialist because this is a unique neighbourhood. When I first came to look the place over with real estate agent Louise, everyone I encountered had a hello and a smile.Once we moved in, we were soon on a first name basis with virtually everyone in the building. And that is why this place is a neighbourhood. We talk to each other and we share our mutual concerns. Everyone I know who lives in other kinds of condo buildings doesn’t know his next door neighbour. This is what makes a great neighbourhood: we are welcoming; we are sharing; but we are not intruding.

We are a varied lot, we who have enabled a community of fellowship at MPH. And this community succeeds because we do not allow our superstitions and mythologies to conflict. Yes, we are neighbours, but we have found a way to grow beyond and have become friends.We may not agree on everything, but that is what enriches every community. And I am glad to be part of this one.

Orenda or Not

God is what we make of him, or her for that matter. But, what if god is not a person, super, divine or otherwise. Some say god is always with is, is everywhere. A person, however omnipotent, cannot be everywhere. Ah, but you say god is a spirit. A spirit may have energy but no substance. OK, let’s say god is a spirit and that spirit is everywhere. That sounds a lot like nature. That is how things grow and evolve. Perhaps, instead of a creator we have creation.

The god concept has evolved from local animist practices to the all-encompassing God of the big religions. As the French essayist Montaigne once said, ” Man cannot make a flea, but he creates gods by the hundreds.” We are the creations of our myths are we not? and that is why I favour the term Orenda to describe the essence of what is homo sapiens, the dominant hominid of the last few millenia.

Orenda won’t be found in the Oxford dictionary. It is Iroquoian for the magic power, force of energy or spirit inherent in every being or object.

The real question is, if we are so sapiens or wise, why is the world such a cock-up?

It’s been 100 years since the first Remembrance Day and too many of us have forgotten why or how our leaders managed to screw so many things up in battle management and arbitrarily creating the geopolitical chaos that remains with us. After the “Great War”, soon followed by World War II, we have indulged in numerous regional wars. Have they all been spawned by territorial greed, the need to dominate others, or simply the capitalistic empirical that growth matters most. Historians will tell some of the reasons but leaders will continue to make decisions based on short term gains rather than long term benefits for their own people and societies at large.

The residents in my building gathered last evening to hear reminiscences of personal experiences — most of us lived through WWII — and to sing some of the songs of both World Wars. It left me sad to think of the waste of life to satisfy the call to honour that so many bad decisions were wrapped in. To a man and woman in our group, we agreed that war is not just hell, it is simply stupid.

I was asked to open the evening reciting In Flanders Fields. This is what I said:

The red poppy had long been associated with war and bloodshed but John McCrae’s poem helped establish the poppy as the symbol of remembrance.

My relatives have been warriors since the Boer Wars. John McCrae had also served in South Africa and, even though a doctor, he volunteered as a gunner and medical officer in World War One at the age of 41.

Although I had four years with the Canadian Navy, my attitudes about war have radically changed since then. I praise our warriors, the men and women who have served our country so valiantly. But I abhor the decisions of leaders who have led our brave comrades to slaughter.

That war, the Great War, the War to End All Wars, ended with the great cock-up we call the Middle East.

By 1918, the Canadian Expeditionary Force had mobilized 620,000 troops of whom 39% were casualties: 67,000 dead and 173,000 wounded.

Please share these lines of Lieutenant-Colonel McCrae in light of the futility of war.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies grow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place: and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunsets glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie,

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, Though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

This Fall, when you see geese heading south for the winter, flying along in “V” formation, you might consider what science has discovered about why they fly that way.

As each bird flaps its wings , it creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in a “V” formation , the whole flock adds at least 71% more flying range than possible if each bird flew on its own.

People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they arguing more quickly and easily because they are travelling on the thrust of one another.

When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone… and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front.

If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in formation with those who are headed the same way.

When the head goose gets tired, it rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point.

It is sensible to take turns doing demanding jobs, whether with people or with geese flying flying south. 

Geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

What do we say when we honk from behind?

Finally — and this is important — when a goose gets sick or is wounded by a hunter and falls out of formation, two other geese fall out with that goose and follow it down to lend help and protection. They stay with the fallen goose until it is able to fly or until it dies. Only then do they launch out on their own or with another formation to catch up with their group.

If we have the sense of a goose, we will stand by each other like that.

*Origin unknown