I lost my 100-year-old grandmother. We’re all losing the ‘greatest generation’

First published at Global News on September 27, 2017.

In July, my loving grandmother, Eva Quinn, turned 100. On Tuesday, with her three children by her side, she passed away.

It was never a goal of hers to achieve centenarian status. In fact, she was so dead set against it that I think it just tempted God. But still, she hit the milestone that is so significant, it warranted letters from the Governor General and the Queen herself.

It was an exceptional moment for a woman who deserved no less.

Any death creates a void in a family, but when someone of this vintage passes on, the world loses something.

Born in the United Kingdom in 1917, Nanny — as we called her — was part of the cohort that Tom Brokaw famously dubbed the “greatest generation.”

After the Second World War, she became a war bride, marrying a Canadian and moving to Ottawa, and later Montreal.

She was the literal embodiment of the phrase “fresh off the boat,” travelling to Canada by freighter — the most affordable mode of transportation — taunting her redheaded friend with the nickname “ginger” for the duration of the voyage.

Nanny lived in Canada for twice as long as she did in Britain, and became a Canadian citizen. Though none of that seemed to matter, as in spirit she remained a Brit until her final breath. Her unabating accent afforded her the opportunity to remind people of her true country.

When she moved to London, Ont., to be closer to family in 2005, she would routinely offend the locals by telling anyone who asked — and even those who didn’t — that she hailed “from the real London.”

But she made a life here, working and raising her and her husband’s three children, who bore grandkids who bore great-grandkids. Earlier this year, she met and held my brother’s infant son, born nearly a century after she was, in an entirely new world.

She did everything one is supposed to and witnessed tremendous change around her in the process. Her life was remarkably ordinary, which, in this day and age, is what made her so extraordinary.

She was special, most definitely, but not atypical of her generation.

Though she wasn’t particularly political, she had no time for political correctness and its increasing foothold in society.

She would unapologetically tell of how she once had to get off a bus in Montreal because the smell of garlic was so strong after picking up workers in Little Italy.

She would also be the first one to tell a young me to dust myself off and get back up after a fall.

Her British wit could be deadly, but the good news is that most lacked the extensive vocabulary to understand their tongue-lashings. (Which they likely deserved.)

I regret never asking her whether she thought she was leaving a better world than the one she inherited. I’m not sure whether she even knew.

She was critical of many of the West’s social shifts, such as the move to excessively coddling children and people taking offence to everything.

I know she never envisioned a time in which speaking about what had always been black-and-white truths was somehow controversial.

But she also saw advances in economic opportunity, safety, and science that were foreign to her parents and grandparents.

This is why the perspective of the Greatest Generation is so valuable.

Despite living through the air raids, bomb threats, and the overarching uncertainty of wartime, her war stories often devolved into complaints that she wasn’t able to buy oranges. (On principle, she would have at least one a day for the rest of her life, totalling just shy of 28,000 navels.)

The history I learned from her was more valuable than that which I received from my public school education. This period wasn’t about places and dates to her, but life itself.

That living testimony is becoming harder to find.

Death is inevitable for all of us — certainly for anyone whose age reaches triple digits. That doesn’t soften the loss, but it does provide comfort that a life was lived to its fullest.

I am sad because of Nanny’s departure from this earth because of her impact in my life, but also because she is one of the last holdouts of the generation that quite literally saved the world.

When I last saw her, I knew it would be the last time. I had the privilege of saying goodbye on Monday, too. She is gone, but her legacy and that of her generation persists.

I’ll miss Nanny’s wit, charm, and self-deprecatory humour. I’ll also miss the perspective that only someone who has lived for the last century can provide.

Free speech can’t be a casualty of Canada’s ‘whole-of-government’ approach to Islamophobia

First published at Global News on September 22, 2017.

When the House of Commons passed the contentious anti-Islamophobia motion, M-103, earlier this year, critics feared the vote could be a death knell for free speech. I was one of them.

My opposition to the motion wasn’t rooted in a belief that it amounted to a Sharia-compliant overhaul of Canadian government, rather that it played to the worst form of identity politics.

Even though Liberal MP Iqra Khalid’s M-103 has no censorship power, my concern was that it opens the door for policy that does.

To those who accused me of peddling conspiracy theories for such a claim, I can say as of this week, “I told you so.” Though I take no delight in this chest-thumping; I would much rather have been wrong.

Canadians should have been leery that M-103’s supporters framed the motion as both symbolic and essential in the fight against Islamophobia. How something could be purportedly toothless, yet also imperative, escapes me. It was disingenuous for the Liberals to present this as merely a benign dalliance no more impactful than parliamentarians holding hands and belting out John Lennon’s Imagine.

In addition to condemning “Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination,” Khalid’s motion also ordered the government to “develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centered focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making.”

Khalid’s motion rationalizes its own existence by citing, though not quantifying, an “increasing public climate of hate and fear.”

On Monday, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage began hearings on “systemic racism and religious discrimination,” opening with testimony from Khalid herself.

There was nothing particularly controversial about her remarks, though it is worth noting her change of tone from M-103’s earlier days. Then, she rejected any and all proposed amendments — including a request from Conservative MP Erin O’Toole to de-politicize the text by making it about all forms of hatred and discrimination.

On Monday, she was far more placatory, telling committee members that the balance of Islamophobia with other forms of discrimination was entirely in their hands, and those of the experts slated to testify after her.

One such expert was Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former CSIS manager and RCMP officer. In his testimony, he mused about revoking broadcast licenses for “radio poubelle” (a Quebecois phrase meaning “trash radio”) that he says feeds Islamophobia in his home province.

Toronto Sun columnist Anthony Furey linked Juneau-Katsuya’s comment to a CBC story, published in the wake of the Quebec City mosque shooting, castigating radio stations that “often air segments voicing concerns about Muslim immigration and the threat of Islamic terrorism — programming that leaves many local Muslims feeling alienated and misunderstood.”

As a conservative Christian, I feel pretty alienated and misunderstood whenever I’m exposed to CBC programming, but I don’t think that’s grounds to yank the network’s broadcasting rights.

This recommendation from one of the heritage committee’s star witnesses substantiates the fears that the government’s efforts to target Islamophobia may well go after people and platforms raising legitimate criticisms of radical Islam or immigration policy.

As I predicted, the goalposts are being moved. Between Canada’s Criminal Code already outlawing violent hate speech and there being no constitutional right to freedom from criticism, I’ve yet to see where the government can intervene to tackle the Islamophobia boogie man without curbing legitimate and necessary liberties.

It’s important to note that this is the testimony of just one witness — but that this testimony was sought in the first place gives us a chilling look at what the government considers on the table in its pursuit of an all-encompassing antidote for Islamophobia.

Especially when one considers that Juneau-Katsuya also said the government should prosecute more speech crimes, rather than “letting it go under the blanket of free speech and letting things go too far.”

I refuse to give the benefit of the doubt to a government that has so fervently emboldened pandering and identity politics, especially when it comes at the expense of one’s right to criticize a religion.

I don’t think we’re headed towards the construction of speech gulags, but we should all be cautious that the government doesn’t look to bolster the power of human rights commissions and tribunals across the country, several of which already have a mandate and framework to legislate and prosecute allegedly offensive speech.

Remember it was within the last decade that bestselling author Mark Steyn and Maclean‘s magazine were forced to defend themselves against charges of “hate speech” for publishing an analysis of Muslim migration and demography, excepted from Steyn’s book, America Alone (and laying out predictions that have proven true, I’d add.)

Though Steyn and Maclean‘s emerged victorious, as did Ezra Levant when he was prosecuted for publishing the infamous Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons in the Western Standard in 2006, the process itself is the punishment.

If the government is making Islamophobia its target, censorship cannot be its weapon.

The $15 minimum wage debate is a battle of math versus feelings

First published at Global News on September 15, 2017.

I was never much of a math fan in school, but I’ve always understood its relevance and fixity. Those wanting a $15 minimum wage don’t share that deference to quantitative truths.

Alberta will have a $15 minimum wage next autumn, while Ontario’s Liberal majority government is pushing through labour reforms that will hike the minimum wage to $15 an hour on Jan. 1, 2019.

When Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne proposed the increases, she did so in the name of “fairness,” a buzzword shared by most advocates, including Fight for 15 and 15 and Fairness — two groups that have been championing the wage across North America.

That alone should tell us that 15 is an arbitrary number: activists from rural and urban communities from Missouri to Ontario cling to it as the ideal wage, despite how different these jurisdictions are. This comes in spite of a body of research telling us how damaging such increases are.

Consequently, governments that adopt this cause find support from people prone to voting on emotions, rather than facts.

This week, Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office — an independent and impartial agency — published a report predicting 50,000 job losses due to the increase to $15 per hour.

Such a finding should give anyone cause to question the policy. But when people have already decided to disregard the numbers, it makes little difference.

The emotional nature of the minimum wage discussion conflates intrinsic worth with economic value.

Lots of people may seem worth $100,000 a year based on character, integrity, and work ethic, but simply don’t hold jobs warranting that value. (Conversely, I’ve encountered many workers worth a heck of a lot less than minimum wage.)

I’ve worked in the service sector for minimum wage. Some of the hardest working people I know plug away in similar jobs for years. Many have even bought homes and raised families on that income, challenging as it may be.

I love the idea of hardworking employees in unskilled, lower-paying jobs being rewarded with more money, but no matter how good one is at their job, earnings have to be measured against productivity and output, not social justice.

People like to compare the income of a large company’s lowest paid employees to that of its CEO, who likely has a compensation package in the millions; one must remember that each of these executives makes decisions that can earn — or cost — a company billions of dollars. Entry-level employees are more replaceable, and there’s a limit to how much value they can produce.

But supporters of a $15 minimum wage — including Ontario’s labour minister, Kevin Flynn — say it’s not fair for someone to work full-time hours and still have trouble making ends meet.

I’d say it’s not fair to force businesses into situations where they can’t make ends meet because they have to pay workers above market value, but that’s just me.

Flynn acknowledged, in a rare moment of candour, that price hikes or job cuts are inevitable. This goes against Wynne’s earlier suggestion that businesses can simply adapt.

Her supporters are ignorant of the fact that any increase in expenses must come from somewhere, and most small businesses simply don’t have a profit margin that can absorb this. It’s not that it would be cutting it too close, or that entrepreneurs don’t want to pay up. The money simply isn’t there.

Paying drastically higher wages just isn’t an option for many employers.

It’s a noble idea to pay people more money because it’s the “right” thing to do, but this perceived moral imperative doesn’t trump fiscal realities standing in the way of these inflated wages.

If raising the minimum wage is supposed to be rooted in economics, rather than emotion and politics, why not use a number more closely aligned with the cost of living?

Round numbers are rarely the answers to complex problems, so $15 has no significance apart from being memorable and marketable. A cost of living calculation would be likelier to yield a necessary wage that looks more similar to $12.32332958 per hour. (Full disclosure: I’ve done zero calculations to come to that number, but then again, neither did the Ontario and Alberta governments to reach theirs.)

How is $15 an hour a fair, livable wage for someone in the boonies of Alberta and also for someone in Toronto or Ottawa?

It would make more sense to implement a system of municipal and regional minimum wages. It sounds convoluted, but there is precedent for such a mechanism. Seattle infamously put a local $15 minimum wage into effect, which, studies show, had negative consequences for employers and employees alike.

I’m not suggesting this, as I’ve previously argued abolition of the minimum wage altogether. But if governments aim to tackle inequality through managing earnings, they shouldn’t pursue the easy way out.

The Ontario and Alberta governments are more interested in winning over low-information voters than solving poverty.

Feelings are powerful things, but as author Ben Shapiro has noted, facts don’t care about them.

Facebook insists it doesn’t eavesdrop, but I keep seeing ads for things I’ve discussed

First published at Global News on September 8, 2017.

Whenever I download a new app, I tend to accept whatever demands it makes of me. This admission may make privacy advocates cringe, but such is the price of benefiting from whatever convenience these apps offer.

Especially now that fewer and fewer apps will function without having access to location data and other personal details from your phone.

Perhaps the worst offender is Facebook, whose apps require — depending on how you use them — access to everything from your photo galleries to your contact list.

Doubtless, it’s Big Brotherly, but most of us shrug because we value connectivity more than privacy. This trade-off is what makes Facebook so profitable.

A few people have remarked that if you don’t pay for a product, you are the product. With Facebook’s ad-driven revenue model, the company’s algorithm helps sponsors maximize their investment by targeting users based on relationship status, musical interests, method of commute, and other factors we don’t even think about.

Is talking about something out loud part of that algorithm? Facebook says it isn’t.

Last month, I came across a Facebook advertisement for a private jet company hours after my wife and I had a conversation about private air travel — not a regular occurrence, I assure you.

Within the last week, a conversation between my mother and I about pillows was followed a day later with pillow-related advertisements in my Facebook newsfeed.

When I shared my concerns about “Big Data” — the commercialization of our personal information — dozens of people shared their own experiences of eerily similar occurrences with me.

Speaking on background, a Facebook Canada spokesperson categorically denied that the Facebook app even hears verbal conversations, let alone uses them for ad targeting. The spokesperson said Facebook uses elements of our digital footprint such as browser history and profile information, but the microphone is only on when someone is using features that require it.

After asking the spokesperson if it was just a coincidence that I saw certain ads after speaking about those subjects, I was referred to a 2016 statement Facebook issued.

“We show ads based on people’s interests and other profile information — not what you’re talking out loud about,” it reads.

British math professor David Hand said in an interview with BBC that such phenomena could be explained as coincidences, charging that we simply pay more attention to things that are already on our minds.

In other words, I may have already been getting private jet ads but only noticed one because of an earlier conversation. There is merit to this given how many of us skim our news feeds on autopilot.

We also have to account for the hundreds of ads we may see that have no connection to our personal conversations. Sometimes the improbable happens, and there isn’t always a reason, Hand argues.

Though even if Facebook isn’t tuning into our private moments, we should still be cautious.

As an iPhone user, Siri — the device’s virtual assistant — comes to attention when I say “Hey Siri.” (Also, when I discuss the phonetically similar Syria, which has made for some awkward background noise during my radio show.)

For Siri to respond, my iPhone must always have one ear open, so to speak.

Amazon and Google devices have similar features, though all companies insist their technology isn’t spying on anyone.

But technologically speaking, it’s possible. The same feature that sends a text for me when I’m too lazy to move my fingers, could result in my most private moments being saved or observed by a machine — or even a person.

We will soon have to decide — if the point hasn’t already arrived — whether these compromises to our own privacy are worth the supposed benefits. I’m not convinced we’ll make the right decision. Especially when the technology has advanced to such a point where these privacy-encroaching features are automatic.

I connected my phone to my new car through Bluetooth to take calls through the vehicle’s sound system. But now, I get a notification on my phone every time I get in my car telling me how long it will take me to home or work.

I’ve never programmed my office’s address into my phone — it just knows from my daily visits there.

This isn’t an indictment of any technology companies. After all, we’re all too willing to hand over this information to them. We just need to have a conversation about where this trend is headed.

And let’s leave our phones in the next room when we have it.

Asking for her father’s blessing before proposing is respectful, not sexist

First published at Global News on September 1, 2017.

Despite my undying love for my wife, I learned this week that our engagement began with an “egregious” act of sexism and misogyny – according to Cosmo, that is.

The night before I proposed to my then-girlfriend, just over two years ago, I asked her father for his blessing.

“You’ve had it for a long time,” he said. We shook hands, cried and laughed. It was a special moment, though not as special as the question I asked his daughter the next day. (We’ll celebrate our first wedding anniversary in a few weeks.)

Asking a would-be bride’s father for permission or a blessing, a practice steeped in tradition and respect for her family, was castigated this week in a Cosmopolitan column by feminist writer Jill Filipovic.

“It’s not a sign of respect. It’s a deeply sexist practice,” she said, citing the history of a woman’s desires being secondary to more economic catalysts for marriage.

There’s no denying that throughout history – and even today, in some cultures – marriage has dealt women a raw hand. But that doesn’t mean traditions, when embraced for the right reasons, are anachronistic.

My father-in-law’s blessing was meaningful, but also symbolic. It was my wife’s affirmation that really counted, and all three of us knew that.

Filipovic treats the pursuit of paternal patronage as theft of a woman’s agency, which is nonsensical.

My wife has two degrees and an incredibly successful career. She also kept her maiden name. She’s her own woman, and her father’s blessing on our union didn’t change that.

Just as it didn’t mean he was literally transferring possession of her to me when he walked her down the aisle.

Such traditions simply underscore that a marriage is a union of two families as much as it is of two people.

Marriages are as old as humanity itself, so it’s impossible to separate tradition from them.

I asked my female Facebook friends for their thoughts on the matter, though some men chimed in as well. (Cue “mansplaining” accusations.)

From left to right and atheist to evangelical Christian, most women seemed not only tolerant but excited, about the practice.

“It’s not so much permission as it is respect for the patriarch of a family,” a married grandmother wrote, citing Christian tradition.

Filipovic’s feminism may reject the significance of that, but for Christian women — all Christians, in fact — the biblical framework for marriage is immensely important.

“A father is the first man a girl ever loves, and most times, the measurement of all other men in her life,” said one friend, the mother of a teenage girl. “I think it’s important for the two most important men in her life to give her the gift of support, from both.”

Another said it “signaled that my father trusted him and believed he would fit in with our family, which is very important to both of us.”

Support for the practice was overwhelming, but not universal. A co-worker told me it would be a deal-breaker in her relationship if her partner sought permission from her father.

“Today, women are equals. They hold prominent positions in society and in the workforce,” said another. “As a woman, it is important to stand on your own two feet and make your own decisions.”

Interestingly, this approach was shared by a conservative Christian friend — the kind most likely to embrace these sorts of marital traditions — who told me that despite her love for her father, his life decisions disqualify him from having a say in who she marries.

“No one owns me,” she said. And she’s right.

It’s worth noting that the objectors in my straw poll seemed to dislike the lack of independence implied in the practice, rather than a presence of sexism. They would just as likely oppose a partner asking a mother or both parents for the permission or blessing.

So I’m at a loss for why Filipovic’s feminism excludes marital tradition, even when a woman wants to embrace it.

If feminism is about choice and equality of opportunity, that must include the right of a woman to decide for herself whether these traditions should be accommodated. But to Filipovic, that would be anti-feminist.

“Those of us in feminist relationships should reject that norm – or at least understand that by partaking in it, we’re reinforcing a deeply sexist practice,” she said.

This worldview would also deny women the choice of taking their husband’s surname — which I’ve known progressive feminists to do as well.

Filipovic claims she’s liberating women from the shackles of the patriarchy, but she’s content to limit women to the narrow confines of her radical feminism. This has less to do with choice and more to do with exporting joylessness to women whose loving families and marriages incorporate the tradition she despises.

She and her partner retain the choice to eschew these, or any other, traditions. But that doesn’t make them wrong for everyone else.