Spring 2014
Letters to the Editor

Readers share thoughts on the Charter of Quebec Values, psychiatric medication and international aid in conflict zones


Charter Is Good News for Quebec
I felt dismayed after reading the interview with Prof. Melissa Williams on the proposed Charter of Quebec Values (“Whose Values?” Winter 2014). I was born in France and have observed, approvingly, as Quebec has tried to emulate the French system of secularism. The idea has a lot of support in Quebec but is strongly opposed in English Canada, which did not have a “révolution tranquille” and where religious rights sometimes take precedence over other rights.

Historical evidence suggests that a strong separation of church and state is beneficial and that, in most cases, the state’s views should prevail over religious views. In many western countries, Christians have accepted divorce, contraception, abortion and now same sex marriage – issues that seem at least as important as wearing a headscarf. The 30 per cent of Canadians who are either atheist, agnostic or secular Christian have a right not to be confronted by obvious religious symbols when dealing with their government.

A major issue is whether this Charter will reduce negative sentiments against minorities and allow them to fully enjoy Canada – or cause greater antagonism. I believe the Charter will have positive results. Many Canadians remain in favour of a national “mosaic” in which immigrants can keep their traditions.

But this requires everyone, including immigrants, to make an effort to respect the views of others.

Francois P. Jean
MA 1964, Ottawa


 

Quebec’s Demographic Challenge
While I believe the Charter of Quebec Values is doomed to fail, it is important to understand why it has become a hot-button issue in Quebec. It is not, as Prof. Williams suggests, part of a post-9/11, anti-Muslim backlash. Rather, it’s because for decades Quebec has had a below-replacement birth rate. Francophones, because of their minority status within Canada, have always been conscious of preserving their culture. And they are well aware that Muslims are not adding to the Francophone population. However, the Charter of Quebec Values is akin to putting one’s head in the sand: it will do nothing to address this underlying problem. Quebec will continue to be secular; the Francophone population will continue to shrink, and Muslims will continue to immigrate to Quebec.

Peter Wadeck
ThM 2012, Kingston, ON


 

A Memorable Professor
The “In Memoriam” essay on J.N.P. Hume (Autumn 2013) brought back some pleasant memories. In 1952, I was a 17-year-old chemical engineering freshman. Prof. Hume’s lecture was the first one of the day for my class, but nobody was late after he demonstrated a bravura memory feat. At the third lecture, and after only one laboratory session in which Prof. Hume could have met the 150 or so students, he greeted a latecomer by name and thanked him for arriving before the end of the class.

At my tender age, Prof. Hume seemed like an ancient. Now I realize that he was only 12 years older than I, and had earned his doctorate only two years earlier.

James E. Luce
BASc 1956, Warwick, NY


 

The Key to Easy Research
I was interested to read the article on U of T’s Personal Librarian Program (“At Your Service,” Autumn 2013). As a former high school teacher, I spent hours instructing students on how to use research databases and why they should use them. It seemed most of my instruction fell on deaf ears. Imagine how I had to bite my tongue when my own daughter came home from university and announced, Eureka!, she had discovered the key to easy research: the abstracts and conclusions provided in database articles! I am sure many public librarians have also walked students through this process. What a wonderful idea to personalize the service!

Carolynn Bett
BA 1966, MA 1967, MLS 1973, Toronto

 

Psychiatric Meds a Boon for Patients
G. V. Whelan’s letter in the Winter 2014 issue (“Western Arrogance“) made me wonder if the psychiatry bashers have become institutionalized at my alma mater. It is not the first such diatribe I’ve noticed.

Back in the early 1960s, our teachers in the Faculty of Medicine would have considered effective antidepressants miracles. Many people in Toronto’s Queen Street mental institution would have been promptly discharged had safe antipsychotics been available.

Over my many years of private psychiatry practice in New York City, not a single patient of African birth declined to avail themselves of help from medication. And they responded to the medication they received no differently than anyone else.

Harold A. Hamer
MD 1963, New York City

 

Sale of Weapons Supports Conflict
In the interview with Prof. Aisha Ahmad in the Winter 2014 issue (“The Price of War“), she claims that foreign aid can fuel corruption and prolong conflict – an appalling statement because it may compel readers to harden their hearts to those in need in conflict zones.

Money is certainly a huge factor in any conflict, but not as Prof. Ahmad describes. The sale of arms is one of the biggest economic sectors in the world, with Western nations leading the way, even going so far as to finance the purchase of arms. The United States, France, England and Canada are important supporters of global conflict through the sale of arms, weapons materials and war-related research. Canada’s support for war is further revealed in our diminishing contribution to the anti-landmine Ottawa Treaty, ratified in 1999, and our refusal to sign the Arms Trade Treaty, which has yet to come into effect.

A more relevant article for alumni would explore the extent to which the sale of arms contributes to Canadian GDP and how much war-related research is taking place at the University of Toronto.

Martin Gagné
BASc 1984, Toronto

Prof. Ahmad responds:
When I started my research into conflict 10 years ago, I tracked the illicit trade of weapons in and out of war zones. I spent time in the arms bazaars talking to smugglers in porous border regions. It soon became clear that the money to purchase arms came through multiple channels, and that the aid industry was a key source of revenue for militant groups. From Mogadishu to the Khyber Pass, I witnessed powerful militias unload aid convoys and then use these resources to finance arms purchases. I spoke with warlord-parliamentarians who admitted that they diverted donor dollars to their private pockets. Understanding this pernicious relationship between aid and war is the first step toward developing creative and sophisticated solutions to this problem. Doing good humanitarian work in difficult security environments is possible. But this work requires hard facts, not just soft hearts.


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