Assisted suicide is an affront to mental illness, not a cure for it

First published at Global News on April 21, 2017.

After a years-long battle with mental illness, 27-year-old Adam Maier-Clayton committed suicide last week.

His dying wish was to make it easier for other people in his situation to do the same.

The Windsor, Ont., man killed himself to end the debilitating physical and mental pain he experienced as a result of anxiety, mood disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.

He tried antidepressants, counselling, and even some experimental therapies, but none of it worked, he said.

Before his passing, Maier-Clayton urged government to amend assisted dying laws “so that sufferers of refractory illness (both mental and physical) have the ability to decide for themselves if they wish to continue suffering and enduring their illness or not.

“If not, giving them a dignified, painless way out of their suffering is what we need to do if we wish to truthfully be able to consider ourselves a civilized society.”

This idea that suicide is dignified and painless is a dangerous one. Take it from someone who tried and failed.

Nearly seven years ago I overdosed on dozens of pills — causing multiple cardiac arrests and weeks in hospital on life support.

I survived, but only narrowly so.

Everything from the method to the date and time was meticulously thought out.

I picked the day because I didn’t have any other appointments scheduled — as though missing a meeting would have been the only problem with my plan any other day.

Suicidal people are irrational. This is true even when decisions appear to be made through logic and reason.

I saw suicide as the answer to pain I was convinced wouldn’t abate.

It wasn’t just about picking the easy way out of an unpleasant situation — it was the only way. I saw no way my life would improve.

Spoiler alert: it did.

Like Maier-Clayton, I had tried myriad therapies, medications, and treatment throughout my years-long battle with depression. By the time I tried to pull the plug on my own existence, none had made an impact.

But after the attempt, that changed. Healing didn’t happen overnight, but things that hadn’t worked previously showed positive results.

My circumstances didn’t change, but my outlook did.

When discussing assisted suicide, mental and physical illness can’t be lumped into one category.

For diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often regarded as the poster diagnoses for assisted suicide, a person’s degeneration is linear and predictable.

That certainty is absent for those with depression or anxiety.

There is a difference between a septuagenarian whose best days are behind them and a 20-something who simply might not have found the right treatment yet.

Assisted suicide activists say those with mental illness are being denied the right to die with dignity just as elderly ALS patients were before the Supreme Court struck down the ban on physician-assisted death in 2015.

Exit International founder Dr. Philip Nitschke, who worked with Maier-Clayton in the lead-up to his suicide, maintains the young man was of completely sound mind to make the literal life and death decision.

“Yes he was suffering. Yes he had a mental illness. But did he have rational decision-making abilities? Absolutely,” Nitschke told me. “And I would challenge anyone to have been able to find any flaws in his thinking.”

Being a pretty good debater, I’m sure I could have sold my own suicide given how convinced I was that it was the right call. That wouldn’t have made it any less flawed a conclusion.

Despite my illness, I functioned in the world in such a way that most people didn’t even realize there was a problem. I worked, engaged and had relationships with others. I appeared normal, despite not thinking normally.

When illness is in the mind, rather than the body, it calls any decision into question — an irreversible one all the more so.

Maier-Clayton’s family experienced a powerlessness that most could never imagine, seeing such suffering in a loved one and not being able to fix it.

The role of health-care practitioners is to try — not to enable one’s disordered thinking by killing them. State-sanctioned death doesn’t help the mentally ill — it robs them of a chance for healing.

In 2010, no one could have told me happiness was possible. Today, I am married to the love of my life, working in a successful career, and able to look forward each day — all just a few years after I signed my own death warrant.

Suicide is a symptom of mental illness — not a cure for it.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways for getting help if you, or someone you know, is suffering from mental health issues.

Canada’s Parliament wants to fight Islamophobia by killing free speech

First published in the Washington Post on March 7, 2017.

Islamist terrorism may threaten the Western world, but Canada’s Parliament is more concerned with Islamophobia.

Last month, Canadian lawmakers debated a motion put forward by a Liberal member of Parliament — part of the governing party — to condemn Islamophobia and study its effect on society. Though a number of Conservative MPs have pledged to vote against it later this year, the motion, M-103, is guaranteed to pass.

The motion’s sponsor, MP Iqra Khalid, said we “need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear.” Khalid has called for a “whole of government approach” on the matter, which includes analyzing data surrounding hate crimes, singling out those against Muslims.

This comes just weeks after six Muslim men were killed by a shooter at a Quebec City mosque, a tragedy that the National Council of Canadian Muslims (formerly CAIR-CAN, the Canadian chapter of the American organization) exploited to lobby for mandatory anti-Islamophobia education in Canadian public schools. The motion itself is non-binding, calling on parliamentarians to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.” Supporters have said it isn’t a Muslim-specific motion, though Islamophobia is the only phenomenon identified by name. The “and all forms” that follows is merely an afterthought.

A similar motion was passed unanimously in Ontario’s provincial legislature last month. Though a number of legislators were conspicuously absent, no one stood up to vote against the pledge to “recognize the significant contributions Muslims have made” and “rebuke the notable growing tide of anti-Muslim rhetoric and sentiments.” No list of Muslim accomplishments was provided, nor evidence that anti-Muslim bigotry is running rampant. Even the Conservatives in the chamber were urged by their leader to support the motion, lest they all look like bigots.

In fact, the Ontario motion didn’t even pretend to be about all forms of bigotry, referring solely to “hate-attacks, threats of violence and hate crimes against people of the Muslim faith.” And, of course, the apparently ubiquitous “Islamophobia.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is putting Muslim feelings above free speech. Without defining Islamophobia — a term often applied to legitimate criticisms of radical Islam — these motions tell Canadians that their government deems some types of speech off-limits. Americans may shrug off this legislative virtue signaling, assured of First Amendment free-speech protections. Canadians aren’t so lucky, however. Our 35-year old Charter of Rights and Freedoms — part of our Constitution — does afford us “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression” — but only with a catch. The very first section of that charter sets out “reasonable limits” against which all of our supposed freedoms are measured. This caveat has given other arms of government carte blanche to curb allegedly offensive speech in the past decade.

Federal and provincial human rights tribunals have gone after authors, bloggers and radio hosts — the most notable of which is Mark Steyn — for “hate speech,” even when comments fall short of the criminal threshold, which requires incitement to violence and public disorder. Steyn and his then-publisher, Maclean’s magazine, faced a slew of complaints over publication of an excerpt of Steyn’s bestseller, “America Alone,” which Muslim groups said was Islamophobic (despite how prescient Steyn’s message was.) Ezra Levant similarly found himself in front of a human rights tribunal to defend his right to publish the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons in 2006. Both Steyn and Levant emerged victorious, but the process itself was the punishment. Both cases came about because the government had been empowered to enforce incredibly loose definitions of hatred.

Toronto Sun columnist Tarek Fatah said the anti-Islamophobia motions will target moderate Muslims like himself; he fears his criticisms of sharia law, radicalization and the Muslim Brotherhood’s widespread influence in Canadian Muslim organizations are effectively being stifled.

Where are the motions to condemn anti-Semitism in Canada?

The parliamentary debate on M-103 happened the same week that a McGill University student leader was allowed to remain in office after tweeting “punch a Zionist today.” Also making news that week was publication of a 2014 sermon by a Montreal imam calling on Allah to “destroy the accursed Jews” and “make their children orphans and their women widows.” And just last week, chalk drawings of swastikas were found in a York University classroom in Toronto, triggering a police investigation.

When a Peterborough, Ontario, mosque was vandalized in 2015, Trudeau flew to the mosque to speak about the dangers of “fear, hatred and division.” No such call has been issued in support of the Jewish community. When a Muslim terrorist shot a Canadian soldier on Parliament Hill in 2014, Trudeau, who was not yet the prime minister, assured the Muslim community that Canadians “know acts such as these committed in the name of Islam are an aberration of your faith.”

Regardless of whether Muslims are victims or perpetrators of reprehensible acts, liberal lawmakers rush to smooth things over with the Muslim community. The goal may be to bring about more tolerance in society, but the outcome is simply less freedom.

Omar Khadr’s victim mentality

First published in the National Post on October 31, 2014.

Omar Khadr is gearing up for his forthcoming return to free society. His red carpet to cultural exoneration already has been laid by the NDP, the Toronto Star editorial board and Amnesty International. And now Khadr — whether by his own quill or that of a savvy legal and PR team — is trying to whitewash his history and present himself as an activist, rather than a convicted killer eager to apologize for his crimes and reintegrate into Canadian society.

In the wake of two terror-inspired attacks that claimed the lives of two Canadian soldiers last week, Khadr has taken to the op-ed page of the Ottawa Citizen to call out Canada’s allegedly “misguided” security laws, by which he claims to have been victimized.

In his op-ed, published Wednesday, Khadr had little — nothing, in fact — to say about his own actions in a Taliban-controlled Afghan village that led to his arrest, detainment at Guantanamo Bay, interrogations, and eventually his transfer to Canadian custody, where he is serving the remainder of his eight-year sentence at Alberta’s Bowden Institution, the product of a 2010 plea deal with U.S. officials before his military court trial.

The 2002 firefight in which Khadr (by his own admission) killed U.S. army medic Sgt. Christopher Speer with a hand grenade took place less than a year and a half after the wedding of Osama bin Laden’s son, which was attended by Khadr and his family. That was only 10 months the 9/11 terror attacks, for which Khadr’s father, Ahmed, a high-ranking al Qaeda member until his death in 2003, was a primary suspect.

“I was mired in a nightmare of injustice, insidiously linked to national security,” Khadr writes. “I have not yet escaped from that nightmare.”

Khadr sees himself as the victim. Not once does he acknowledge the gravity of the 9/11 attacks — preferring only to comment on “Canada’s post-Sept. 11 security practices” — nor does he ever mention Sgt. Speer. Also conspicuously absent is an apology, or any veiled sense of remorse whatsoever. Falling in line with the reputation created by so-called social justice activists, Khadr sees himself as the wronged party.

“I was apprehended by U.S. forces during a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002. I was only 15 years old at the time, propelled into the middle of armed conflict I did not understand or want,” he says.

Even to a 15-year-old, the destructive power of a grenade is rather clear
If this conflict was so unwanted, they why has he not condemned it? Why has his leading champion, his sister Zaynab, not deleted her rather concerning Facebook homage to Osama bin Laden, whom she calls “the great martyr”?

More importantly, why has Omar Khadr not distanced himself ideologically from the actions that he took, which his apologists see as excusable on account of his youth at the time. At 28, has he still not learned the difference between right and wrong?

I’ve made many mistakes in my own life. But even to a 15-year-old, the destructive power of a grenade is rather clear.

Khadr has claimed that he should be treated as child soldiers around the world are, and afforded the appropriate protections. Take responsibility for your own actions first, Omar.

If Trudeau is schmoozing with terrorists, why aren’t we arresting any?

First published in the National Post on August 7, 2014.

When the news broke that Justin Trudeau had made a 2011 campaign stop at a Quebec mosque where, as United States military documents put it, “known al-Qaeda members were recruited, facilitated or trained,” I was shocked. Not by Trudeau’s political indiscretion in visiting a place of worship with allegations of terror links, but because of the Canadian government’s misguided anger.

Indeed, the Conservative government seemed far more concerned with Trudeau’s visitation of the mosque than it did by any terror-related activities that took place there.

I’m not defending Justin Trudeau. This is, after all, the man who absurdly pontificated on the need “to look at the root causes” of the Boston bombing while refusing to acknowledge it as an act of terrorism. It is also the same Trudeau who addressed the radical Reviving the Islamic Spirit conference in 2012.

But I’m most disappointed in Stephen Harper, the tough-on-crime and tough-on-“Islamicism” Prime Minister whose office, on Wednesday, offered up Roxanne James, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety, as a guest on my radio show on London, Ont.’s AM980 to specifically discuss Trudeau’s visit to the mosque.

When the PMO arranged my interview with James, I was looking forward to hearing what the government had done or was doing to address the radicalization alleged at the Al Sunnah Al Nabawiah mosque. Shockingly, what I presumed was the most relevant question to the discussion, appeared to dumbfound James, who skirted it no fewer than three times, offering up only scripted condemnations of Justin Trudeau.

“I think it was completely outrageous. I think it’s completely unacceptable that the leader of the Liberal Party, Justin Trudeau, would associate with a group that allegedly radicalizes Canadians to join al-Qaeda and has even been listed by the Pentagon as a location known to them,” James told me during the live interview.

I asked, “Why is this a politics question and not a question of Canadian public safety and intelligence?”

I was expecting anything but the answer she gave.

“I thank you for that question, but as you know, I probably —I cannot comment on operational matters of national security, Andrew,” she said. “But I think the real question is here — Justin Trudeau knew about this. He knew about this and instead he went into this mosque, did a whole lot of handshaking and trying to win votes. He will stoop at nothing to try to win over terrorist organizations. I can’t believe this.”

Different approaches to the issue produced the same result.

Politics should never trump national security, if genuine public safety concerns exist within this discussion.

As has come to light since the original story broke, the terror connection of Al Sunnah Al Nabawiah came from several captured terrorists associated with the mosque — including its former Imam — in the late 1990s.

Does the mosque preach radicalism or hold any connections to terrorism now, or when Trudeau visited in 2011? I have no idea.

But if the only anti-Canadian event at the mosque that troubles Conservative government is an invitation to Justin Trudeau, the partisan attacks are far more “inexcusable” than Trudeau accepting it.

Stop work-shaming me!

First published at Huffington Post on February 12, 2014.

“What do you do for you?” is a question I’ve heard umpteen times in various forms over recent years. When I first started being posed this question, I’d embarrassedly wrack my brain in a futile attempt to determine my last socially acceptable recreational activity.

“Um, I saw a movie last month.”

Now, as my own self-awareness has evolved, so has my answer to that questions.

“I work.”

Cue a confused look from the asker.

It seems like a depressing — or, at least, hopelessly misguided — concept to many, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that I enjoy work. I derive pleasure from working. And yes, I’m proud of it. Why shouldn’t I be?

My many hats — radio broadcaster, writer, public speaker, reality television contestant — fill my morning, afternoons and evenings logistically and mentally. Even when not working, I’m thinking about what I will do when I get to work again.

You read that correctly. Get to work.

In recent years, the media has branded numerous phenomena suffixed by “-shaming,” much like “-gate” has been affixed to every genuine and faux political scandal.

Criticizing a female for dressing provocatively? Slut-shaming.

Criticizing someone for being overweight? Fat-shaming.

Criticizing someone for criticizing someone for being overweight? Thin-shaming (See: Maria Kang.)

The remedy in all of the aforementioned shamepidemics is the same: be proud of who you are and screw all the haters.

Surprisingly absent from shame-related discourse has been work-shaming: the frequent sententious condescension directed towards those who enjoy schedules filled with vocational commitments.

The only conclusion I can surmise is that, for many people, it is an unconscionable notion that anyone could enjoy work.

If you don’t, I feel bad for you. But don’t take your occupational self-loathing out on me because I enjoy what I do.

That doesn’t mean I don’t get stressed out. Nor, for that matter, does it mean that I function without frustration.

At the same time, I have a great deal of difficulty understanding how productivity has become a quality to be looked down upon rather than one to revere. Perhaps the work-shaming naysayers do so out of an inability to balance work and family in their own lives.

When people talk about the need for a “work-life balance,” I’m always perplexed at why ‘work’ and ‘life’ present as mutually exclusive concepts. To me, work is a part of life, just as faith, family and friends are. Yet there is little perceived nobility in taking “me” time away from those commitments as people seem to think there is with work.

Lest anyone accuse me of judging, I’m not. I don’t expect everyone to approach job or career with wide-eyed enthusiasm, but don’t work-shame me for doing so.