This year’s General Assembly promises to be an unusually dramatic affair. For the first time in the FEI’s eighty-nine year history, a serving president is being challenged in a re-election exercise, rather than being acclaimed, and all three candidates are grappling with the question of how much campaigning is too much in an organisation unaccustomed to overt electioneering, and how much is too little in a hotly disputed race.
The roots of this contested election are manifold: personality conflicts; tensions between our sport’s historic past and its unwritten future; regional divides between the established European powers, the ascendant New World countries, and the emerging Asian states; and a dispute that convulsed the equestrian world over the probity of the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in competition horses.
All these issues will come to a climax, if not a conclusion, at the General Assembly, the sole forum where equestrianism can become a blood sport.
Less contentious, but certainly no less important, will be efforts to encourage the FEI and individual national federations to link our sport to global humanitarian work.
With this in mind, I am delighted to be working with Jessica Newman of Just World International, to encourage our colleagues at the General Assembly to create similar partnerships between their national equestrian federations and humanitarian organisations. Equine Canada is an enthusiastic supporter of Just World International, and I suspect that by the end of the General Assembly, many others will be as well.
In an effort to keep Canadians abreast of developments in Taipei, I will once again stress my mobile to its limits, and post regular Twitter tweets and Facebook updates from the floor. I invite anyone interested in posing questions, offering advice, or keeping the Canadian delegation accountable to contact us directly through either social medium as debate unfolds.
Vancouver’s Downtown East Side is Canada’s ground zero in the plague of injection drug addiction. Its rates of substance abuse have led to catastrophic incidences of HIV infection, crime, and morbidity. And over the past decade, all three levels of government have poured one-and-a-half billion dollars into those ten square kilometres in an effort to stanch the bleeding.
The most controversial initiative of all has been Insite, a clinic providing addiction treatment, medical attention, and mental health counselling. It is able to bring addicts off the streets and into the health care system, because it provides a medically-supervised environment where they may inject themselves with cocaine, heroin, and morphine.
I empathise with the revulsion many Canadians feel at the use of public facilities to shelter drug use. I sympathise with the anger many diabetics nurse when they must purchase needles that would be gifted to them if they were injecting opiates instead of insulin. And I share the anxieties many parents harbour that the state is offering their children mixed messages on the probity of narcotics.
But the efforts by the current federal government to place emotion above reason and shut down Insite are unworthy of our country’s better traditions and higher responsibilities.
The overwhelming conclusion of scientific study is that Insite and other harm reduction programmes reduce addiction, decrease overdose deaths, curb the spread of disease, and diminish drug-related violence.
The federal campaign to shutter these programmes is little more than an effort to purchase easy political popularity at the expense of a wretched and unpopular segment of society.
I grew up in Toronto's Parkdale neighbourhood, when it was most beset by drug abuse and its companion crimes. It is a storied community, with an architectural heritage that speaks of easier times, and a local culture of defiant pride born of having weathered the storms since.
One warm summer afternoon, walking home from middle school, I literally tripped over the corpse of a young woman, protruding from sacks of roadside garbage. It was a grotesque but hardly unique sight. She was riddled with needle tracks, and in her final moments of life, her body had tried to evacuate its poisons by expelling all of its fluids. A final rictus of terror remained carved on her face.
Even as a child, I understood that she had died alone, in agony, stripped of all dignity, and left to rot in the sun with the trash. But she wasn’t trash. She was someone’s daughter; she had been someone’s little girl. And howsoever she had lived her life, she didn’t deserve to die like that.
Years later, I volunteered as president of the Parkdale Community Health Centre, whose mandate included addiction treatment. I saw first-hand the disgust, anger, and fear that harm reduction programmes provoke. But I also saw that these programmes provide the only thread of hope for too many of our neighbours trapped in the abyss of addiction.
As a civilised nation, we can not place our personal discomfort with the idea of safe injection sites ahead of the hard reality that they save lives.
The federal government has announced that – despite consistent rebuffs from the courts and in defiance of pleas from the Canadian Medical Association – it intends to pursue its efforts to close Insite all the way to the Supreme Court.
The government’s decision is wrong medically, it is wrong morally, and it will judged to be wrong legally.
Because if that woman’s death wouldn’t be acceptable for my child, it shouldn’t have to acceptable for anyone’s child.
The 2010 World Equestrian Games Click logo for Canadian Equestrian Team social media
We have now passed the mid-point of the 2010 World Equestrian Games (WEG), the quadrennial global competition at the apex of international horse sport. I have been at the Games in my capacity as Chief Executive Officer for Canada's national team since competition began on 24 September, and I will continue through to the closing ceremonies on 10 October.
Thus far, fortune has been kind to our country.
Our Endurance riders have had their best WEG results since the founding Games. Our Reiners have won an individual Bronze, maintaining their tradition of medalling at every WEG. Our Dressage riders have had their best WEG team and freestyle results ever. Our Eventers have brought back a team Silver, our first medal in the discipline for thirty-two years, on the strength of arguably the finest cross-country run in history.
This week, our Para-Equestrian, Jumping, Vaulting, and Driving athletes are taking to the field, and despite the pathological modesty of Canadians, we remain steadfast in our determination to continue wrecking merciless defeat upon all other nations (but in a polite and self-effacing way).
I have been employing social media to offer our team's supporters a moment-by-moment ground-level view of the Games. Anyone who wishes to follow our team's progress can therefore do so via my Facebook, Twitter, or Barnmice updates.
We are well on course for these to be Canada's most successful World Equestrian Games of all time, but whatever the medal tally, I hope that we will be judged to have represented our country with honour and integrity.
I am grateful for the large number of kind e-mails I have received since the broadcast. I knew the essay risked controversy, especially because of the strong language necessary to convey its point. However, I was impressed by thoughtfulness of the responses I received from critics and supporters alike.
The question of the appropriate balance between freedom of action for the individual, and the responsibility of the state to shield the vulnerable, is at the heart of an immortal debate in every liberal democracy. I have made my own position clear in my essay, but I concede the strength of many of the arguments made by individuals who hold the opposite view.
I can not help, however, take a bit of sly satisfaction from the knowledge that those who disagree with my thesis are able to do so publicly and effectively precisely because of the freedoms I advocate.
The original text of my essay is below.
* * *
In a just and democratic society, there is no higher ideal, no greater ethic, no more sacrosanct imperative, than freedom of expression.
Peace, order, and good government; liberté, égalité, fraternité; life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – all are impossible, unless they are built upon a foundation of free public discourse. If we are to preserve any of our rights as citizens, then even the most modest abridgements of freedom of expression can only be justified by the severest extremities.
Because of this, the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s submission to Parliament that its Tribunal be allowed to continue regulating public expression is fundamentally misguided.
Freedom of expression becomes meaningless if it does not include freedom to offend, freedom to outrage, and quite frankly, freedom to make a public ass of oneself.
There are undeniably those who use our ideals against us, from fulminating bigots to subtle whisperers of hate, who trade upon the very freedoms they would deny to others. But the price of being the kind of society that would allow one person to say against all others that the earth moves around the sun, is to be no less the kind of society that would allow another person to say against all reason that the earth is flat.
Years ago, when I was younger and almost as foolish as I am today, I stood for the presidency of my university’s student government. In the entire history of that nine-hundred year-old institution, there had never been a visible minority president. As election day neared, however, it became clear that history was on the cusp of changing. In convulsions of disbelief, a marginal group of my peers began a campaign denouncing the spectacle of a Canadian barbarian at the gates, which they summarised with the motto, “No niggers at Oxford.”
Did it hurt? Oh my God it hurt. It cut deeper than I could ever explain. It tore open old scars and awoke old terrors I thought I had left behind as I outgrew my childhood in 1970s Toronto. It left me wounded, cold, and alone.
But democracy is creed for the brave, and it is especially at a time of crisis that people of principle have the greatest responsibility to stand by their beliefs, not in spite of the difficulty, but precisely because of the difficulty.
To this day – to this very day – I should defend the right of those vulgar little cowards to call me a nigger. The test of our convictions is our willingness to defend our ideals even for those least deserving of them.
If we are true democrats, then we must place our faith in the wisdom of the many, and not in the repressive power of the few. Our greatest weapon against those who abuse freedom of expression is not less freedom, but more freedom: freedom for the merchants of hate to condemn themselves before Canadians with every word they utter; freedom for other Canadians to make reply, and to slay their lies with the truth; freedom for the mass of decent people to recognise nonsense and to starve it of the oxygen of public attention.
As our country has grown more diverse, it has grown more sophisticated, it has grown stronger, and it has grown up. The time has come for us to end the role of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal as our country’s national censor.