After Wilson-Raybould cartoon, Halifax artist says he’ll stop drawing women in violent situations

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Halifax political cartoonist Michael de Adder says he will no longer depict women in violent situations.

His decision was sparked by a cartoon he posted last week on the SNC-Lavalin affair.

« You know your job as a cartoonist is to make your point — not make a point you didn’t intend, » de Adder said.

The cartoon, posted Feb. 15, 2019, is set in a boxing ring and it shows Jody Wilson-Raybould in one corner with tape over her mouth, tied up and sitting on a stool. 

In the other corner of the ring is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, dressed ready to box. Senior political adviser Gerald Butts, shown wearing glasses and a suit, tells Trudeau, « Keep beating her up, solicitor-client privilege has tied her hands. »

The crux of the SNC-Lavalin affair is a question of whether the prime minister pressured Wilson-Raybould — who was attorney general — to resolve the corruption and fraud case against the Montreal-based company.

Wilson-Raybould would not comment publicly on the issue because she said she is bound by solicitor-client privilege.

« The intent of the cartoon was not to attack [Jody Wilson-Raybould] — it was intended to attack the Liberals, » de Adder said.

But many online critics did not interpret the cartoon as intended.

Some on Twitter thought de Adder was trying to make a joke out of violence against women and even encouraging it.

Others said the cartoon was in poor taste, because it didn’t take into consideration violence against women and, in particular, violence against Indigenous women and their families.

Wilson-Raybould is a descendant of the Musgamagw Tsawataineuk and Laich-Kwil-Tach peoples.

On Saturday, de Adder tweeted he wouldn’t depict women in violent situations going forward.

He said there is always conflict in politics and said an effective, visual way to show it in a cartoon is through violent imagery. It could be people fighting in a ring, two people fighting with scissors, people engaged in a brawl.

For future cartoons, de Adder said he’ll put more thought into how to show conflict.

« I’ll tackle it as I go. I’m not saying there won’t be a female politician throwing a punch … it’s going to be hit and miss for me, but I’ll strive to do things slightly differently, » he said.

But he still plans on creating more cartoons about SNC-Lavalin and Wilson-Raybould.

He said the goal of a political cartoonist is to get as close to the line as possible, if not over it once in a while.

« It doesn’t mean my cartoons are going to change very much, » he said. « It just means that I’m going to make the same point a different way. You know life goes on. I’ll just be subtle differences. I’ll still get into trouble. »

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‘I’m in shock’: Toronto police rule out charges after 30 women accuse former RCMP doctor of sexual assault

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Toronto police sex crimes investigators say there are « no grounds » to lay criminal charges against a former RCMP doctor. That’s despite 30 women alleging they were sexually assaulted during mandatory medical exams when hired by the police force in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

« The Toronto Police Service does not dispute that these women felt (and continue to feel) violated, » said police spokesperson Meaghan Gray in an email Tuesday. However, she said investigators reviewed medical standards at the time and determined there is a lack of evidence « to prove there was a sexual purpose » to the doctor’s exams.

« I think it’s a lot of bullshit. I’m in shock, » said Vicki Gravelle, a 911 dispatcher for a regional police force in Ontario, no longer with the RCMP.

Gravelle and two others came forward to CBC News last month, detailing sexual assault allegations against former RCMP doctor John A. Macdougall, saying he inappropriately pinched nipples, conducted invasive vaginal exams without gloves, caressed their legs and pushed his pelvis against their naked backsides as they were told to bend forward during « spinal exams. »

Gravelle and two others came forward to CBC News last month, detailing sexual assault allegations against former RCMP doctor John A. Macdougall. (Rachel Houlihan/CBC)

The women complained to the RCMP, Toronto police and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario at the time, but their concerns went nowhere.

In early 2018, Toronto police reopened their investigation after dozens of women came forward, emboldened by the #MeToo movement, alleging they too were assaulted by Macdougall.

‘No grounds’ for charges

Macdougall retired in 2001. He is now in his mid-80s and lives in a retirement home west of Toronto. According to his lawyer, Macdougall has dementia, suffered near-fatal pneumonia recently and is living with around-the clock care. His family has declined to comment.

But in 1991, when the three women first complained to Ontario’s medical regulator, Macdougall explained he elected to do lengthy breast exams on new recruits in an effort to teach self-examination technique. He was silent on the other allegations of unwanted touching and invasive vaginal exams.

Following the women’s complaints the RCMP banned all staff physicians from conducting gynecological exams and laid out proper breast-exam techniques.

This photo of John A. Macdougall was taken when he graduated from the University of Toronto in 1963. (University of Toronto)

Toronto police on Tuesday told CBC News that they « know that many involved in this case are angry and frustrated. » But they say they have closed the file after review of the 30 women’s statements and are « confident » in their decision not to lay charges.

« Our investigative efforts were unbiased and extended beyond these statements to include a review of documentation, consideration for case law and research into what may have been acceptable medical practice at the time, » said Gray in her statement.

« We had to determine whether or not grounds existed to prove there was a sexual purpose for the actions that took place. Without those grounds, we simply could not lay charges. … We know that many involved in this case are angry and frustrated but, pending any new information that is brought forward, we are confident in the decisions we have made. »

‘I am flabbergasted’

Sylvie Corriveau, one of the three women to complain about. Macdougall in the 1990s, says she is « disillusioned » by the Toronto police decision.

« You have 30-odd strangers stating the same thing, and the doctor’s word means more, » said Corriveau, a senior RCMP employee based in Ottawa. « Many of the victims are still serving peace officers, do their sworn statements not mean anything? »

Watch Sylvie Corriveau describe when she knew the doctor was abusing his authority:

RCMP ‘OVERLOOKED’ COMPLAINTS OF SEX ASSAULTS DURING EXAM, RECRUITS ALLEGE 1:09

She flatly rejects that Macdougall’s actions were in any way legitimate and maintains he was seeking sexual gratification during her exam.

« If the investigators did in fact state that his techniques were acceptable medical tests back then … I am flabbergasted, because they were not, » Corriveau told CBC News.

Gravelle says she can’t understand why Macdougall’s medical training has any bearing on the allegations by the 30 complainants. « I don’t understand what any of that has to do with anything. If he’s archaically been trained … it’s still inappropriate behaviour, conducted to a woman in an office, behind closed doors in secret, and still under the threat: « You do this or I’m going to have your job. »

Complaint filed against Toronto police

Helen Henderson, who received compensation last month from an RCMP class action fund for abuse victims based on her encounter with Macdougall, says she is enraged Toronto police will not lay criminal charges.

« It’s absolutely devastating after all of our efforts, » Henderson said.

She’s filed a formal complaint with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director demanding a review of the Toronto police investigation. 

Henderson says she is enraged Toronto police will not lay criminal charges against Macdougall. (Rachel Houlihan/CBC)

« They didn’t do their job, » Henderson says.

Another woman, Laurel Hodder, describes the Toronto police decision as « devastating. » She is pressing ahead with her own lawsuit against Macdougall and the RCMP. Hodder was sent to see Macdougall despite senior brass being aware of complaints against the doctor.

« It makes you feel like you don’t matter, » said Hodder.

Send tips to dave.seglins@cbc.ca or rachel.houlihan@cbc.ca  
 

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Grammys 2019: Women in the spotlight, hip hop makes history and tributes galore

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Female artists dominated at the Grammy awards Sunday night, with the spotlight of « music’s biggest night » firmly focused on powerhouse performances by women.   

The Recording Academy — which has been trying to address criticism around the lack of diversity at its annual celebration of music — has made some strides when it comes to nominating more diverse musicians. That was on display Sunday, as the Grammys registered several historic wins for rap artists and saw female acts triumphing with two of the night’s top trophies (album of the year, best new artist), as well as in categories including rap album, country album, R&B album and pop vocal album.

Producers of this year’s Grammy telecast chose to, for the most part, turn the show over to female artists, highlighting the talent of host Alicia Keys and honouring musical icons like Dolly Parton, Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin.

Then there was the noticeable boost in top-nominated female acts (including Kacey Musgraves, Janelle Monae, Cardi B, H.E.R., Dua Lipa and Brandi Carlile) performing — and commanding attention with their time onstage.

« I just wanted to say how honoured I am to be nominated alongside so many incredible female artists this year, because I guess this year we really stepped up, » Dua Lipa quipped upon winning best new artist, a clear retort to outgoing academy head Neil Portnow’s infamous comments backstage at last year’s telecast.

That said, the show wasn’t without mishap. Here’s a round-up of some memorable moments from the night.


Musical matchmaking

Grammy telecast producer Ken Ehrlich is simply addicted to star-studded matchups and duets. Sometimes it truly works, as with Camila Cabello’s high-energy opening performance of Havana, featuring J. Balvin, Ricky Martin, Young Thug and Arturo Sandoval.

The star-studded Parton tribute had even BTS bopping. Late in the show, St. Vincent and Dua Lipa offered a seductive performance of Masseduction.

But slamming together musical notables of different genres and generations or simply signing big names to perform yet another tribute doesn’t always pay off (more on J. Lo later).

Obama in the house

To help kick things off, Keys shared her time onstage with some major names, inviting « sisters » Lady Gaga, Jada Pinkett Smith, Jennifer Lopez and — seemingly garnering one of the night’s biggest and longest ovations — Michelle Obama.

« Music has always helped me tell my story, » Obama said. « Whether we like country or rap or rock, music helps us share ourselves. It allows us to hear one another. »

Drake’s real talk

In one of the night’s surprise appearances, Grammy-and-Juno-snubbing hip hop star Drake was actually in the house to accept the Grammy when God’s Plan won the trophy for best rap song.

« If there’s people who have regular jobs who are coming out in the rain and snow, spending their hard-earned money to come to your shows, you don’t need this right here, I promise you, you already won, » Drake told fellow artists from the stage after his win.

But just when we thought perhaps his beef with award shows had ended, producers bluntly cut off his real-talk speech, sending the show to commercial at what they subsequently called a « natural pause » (with Drake apparently declining the offer to come back and finish his thought).

Well Grammys, that’s likely the last time you’ll see Champagne Papi at your show.

Historic hip hop wins

Cardi B, seen performing Money during the ceremony, is the first solo female winner of the best rap album Grammy. (Matt Sayles/Invision/Associated Press)

And speaking of no-shows, Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover) made history with his blistering track This is America winning both song of the year and record of the year.

It’s the first time in Grammy history a rap song has won either category. It was an embarrassing moment for Grammy organizers that such a major winner didn’t feel compelled to attend. (The song also won best rap/sung performance and best music video)

Another historic win came when rapper Cardi B became the first solo female rapper ever to win best rap album (for Invasion of Privacy).

Motown by way of Sin City

Jennifer Lopez performed with Smokey Robinson in a tribute to Motown. The choice was controversial before the show even happened, and even more so after her performance. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

A decision that was maligned by many from the moment it was revealed was the Grammys’ decision to have Jennifer Lopez lead a tribute to Motown. A major complaint was that the tribute to the label that brought the world artists like Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Glady Knight and Stevie Wonder, should come from a black artist.

And then there was the performance question.

Though widely acknowledged for her phenomenal dancing, J.Lo has never been considered an incredibly strong vocalist, so building a multi-song tribute around her (even with the assistance of Motown legend Smokey Robinson, Grammy host Keys and R&B singer-songwriter Ne-Yo) felt inexplicable to many in the audience.

It’s not surprising that the set, which seemed to channel her Las Vegas residency, earned a significant backlash on social media — especially when a tribute to Aretha Franklin later in the show appeared to get truncated to just one of the Queen of Soul’s songs.

Host with the most

Host Alicia Keys was a major part of the show, putting on her own performances as she carried viewers through the star-studded night. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

When you land a 15-time Grammy-winner as host, you want to make the most of it — and Grammy producers definitely showcased Keys as much as they could.

She shared personal stories, offered upbeat optimism about the music industry and, delivered a terrific two-piano bit that showed that lengthy musical medleys don’t have to be stuffed with cameos to actually be enjoyable.

Coming together on the red carpet

And lest you think major moments only happen onstage, Canadian nominees Young Spirit brought the roar of the red carpet to a momentary halt and drew everyone’s attention with a Cree round dance.

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2 Canadian women with children surrender to U.S.-backed forces in ISIS-held Syrian territory

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Two Canadian women who had been living in ISIS-held territory with their children have surrendered to U.S.-backed forces in Syria, according to the head of a non-profit organization that urged them to turn themselves in.

Alexandra Bain, director of Families Against Violent Extremism (FAVE), told CBC News that one of the women, a mother with two children, contacted her over the weekend from the city of Baghuz as Syrian Democratic Forces approached the area. 

Baghuz, in eastern Syria near the Iraq border, is one of the last remaining pieces of land under the grip of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. 

Global Affairs Canada said in an email statement to CBC News that it is « aware of Canadian citizens being detained in Syria, » but its ability to provide consular assistance is « extremely limited » given the security situation on the ground. 

« Canadian diplomats have established a communication channel with local Kurdish authorities in order to verify the whereabouts and well-being of Canadian citizens, » said government spokesperson Richard Walker. 

Bain, speaking on the phone from Fredericton, said the woman who contacted her said she was with a second Canadian woman who also has two children.

CBC News has been unable to independently verify the identities of the two women and their children.

FAVE, which works with families whose members have been exposed to or joined violent extremist groups overseas, says there may be as many as 27 Canadians being held in Kurdish-controlled areas of Syria. 

‘Her final chance’

Bain said that over the course of her exchanges with the Canadian woman — conducted with a messaging service over a spotty internet connection — she learned the woman had virtually no idea about the dangerous political situation around her.

Bain described the woman as « uncertain » and « afraid. »

Leaving them there only feeds the ISIS narrative that the West hates Muslims, that the West hates Islam.– Alexandra Bain, Families Against Violent Extremism

Initially, the woman said she intended to walk to the nearest camp in Iraqi territory, said Bain, but she advised against it, saying many children had lost their lives on that cold walk and she would likely face punishment by death if apprehended by Iraqi forces.

Instead, Bain encouraged the woman to approach a Kurdish militia vehicle that would take her to Al Hol, a displacement camp in northeastern Syria — advice the Canadian woman heeded.

« She said she had been trying for the past seven months to escape ISIS with her children … I guess she saw it as her final chance, » Bain told CBC News by phone.

Alexandra Bain of FAVE told CBC News that one of the mothers, who has two children, contacted her over the weekend from Baghuz. Bain described her as ‘uncertain’ and ‘afraid.’ (CBC)

The FAVE director described the woman as sounding like she had been « in a bubble » and, « She would have only been getting news from ISIS over the past several years. »

The woman didn’t disclose her reasons for travelling to Syria, Bain said. 

« She just knew she wanted to get out. »

Unknown where women travelled from

Bain declined to disclose where the women were from in Canada, saying their names and stories would likely come to light should they be criminally investigated. It’s unclear why or how long the two women were living in Syria.

The researcher said that of the Canadians in ISIS territory, the majority are children who had no choice in their parents’ decision to go to Syria.

Amarnath Amarasingam, a Toronto-based senior research fellow with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, told CBC News he knows of at least four men, five women and 11 Canadian children who are still in Kurdish custody in Syria. 

In many cases, those Canadians have left family members behind. Bain said every family she’s spoken with has found itself in that position and is « horrified. »

« It’s broken their hearts. »

Canada won’t immediately act to repatriate

News of the two Canadian women’s surrender comes just days after the U.S. State Department issued a statement calling on its allies to repatriate its citizens detained in the conflict — something Canada’s Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told CBC News this week he would not risk Canadian lives to do.

Global Affairs Canada confirmed in a statement there is no agreement in place to repatriate the Canadians detained in Syria.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told CBC News this week he would not risk Canadian lives to bring foreign fighters or their families home. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Responding to reporters’ questions on Wednesday, Goodale said the government is « considering the best way forward to make sure that Canada and Canada’s national security are properly protected. We’ve heard the request or the suggestion from the United States. But at this point, the fact of the matter remains that is a dangerous and dysfunctional part of the world, in which we have no diplomatic presence. »

Bain argues Canada should act quickly, citing a UN special rapporteur who has said the Canadian government has a legal obligation to repatriate its citizens. 

She said leaving the Canadians in Syria also raises another problem. 

« Leaving them there only feeds the ISIS narrative that the West hates Muslims, that the West hates Islam, » Bain said. 

« Bringing these kids home, and healing them and allowing them to lead productive lives encourages them in the future to stand up against violent extremism — to be a voice against joining things like ISIS, and that’s really what we’re hoping for. »

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MPs call for criminal probe of coerced sterilization cases of Indigenous women

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Two federal MPs are calling for a criminal probe into cases of Indigenous women who say they’re victims of coerced sterilization.

NDP MP Don Davies and Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette called for the criminal probe Thursday after the House of Commons health committee decided to begin a study on the issue.

We are talking about alleged torture and widespread systemic assaults on women — very vulnerable women.– NDP MP Don Davies 

Davies said the federal government needed to either direct the federal prosecutor’s office, known as the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, or the RCMP to probe cases of forced sterilization that have surfaced since the filing of two separate lawsuits.

« We are talking about alleged torture and widespread systemic assaults on women — very vulnerable women, » said Davies, following a hearing on the issue before the House’s health committee.

The committee decided Thursday to launch a study into coerced sterilization which would involve multiple witnesses and lead to a report that would be submitted to Parliament with recommendations.

Davies said he was pleased the committee has finally decided to study the issue, but believes the federal government shouldn’t wait for the committee’s report to trigger a criminal probe into the issue.

« It’s our obligation under international law, and we owe it to the women who have suffered in this country, » Davies said.

Davies said the names of potential victims and perpetrators are already known as a result of existing civil action.

« We know who specifically performed these procedures and how this happened, » he said. « There should be an investigation. »

UN called for criminal probe

The UN Committee Against Torture released a report in December calling on Ottawa to investigate « all allegations of forced or coerced sterilisation » and hold those responsible « accountable. »

The UN report also called on Ottawa to criminalize coerced sterilization, but the federal government has said it wouldn’t amend the Criminal Code to outlaw it, saying existing criminal provisions are enough.

Two separate lawsuits have been filed in Saskatchewan and Alberta seeking class action certification on behalf of women who have claimed to be victims of coerced sterilization.

Maurice Law, an Indigenous-focused law firm with offices in the Prairies and Ontario, filed the first court action in 2017 on behalf of two women. The filing named the Saskatchewan government, the Saskatoon Health Region, medical professionals and the federal government.

Winnipeg Centre Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette supported calls for a criminal probe into coerced sterilization cases. (CBC)

The firm has since received inquiries from more than 100 mostly Indigenous women who say they have suffered from coerced sterilization.

The women are mostly from Saskatchewan. The firm has said it also heard from potential victims in other provinces like Manitoba and Ontario. At least one of the cases stems from 2017 while others range from the 1990s to the early 2000s. 

The historical record shows that coerced and forced sterilization of Indigenous women regularly occurred in Canada throughout the first half of the 1900s.

In Alberta and British Columbia, it was legal to force women deemed to have mental illnesses to undergo forced sterilization up to the 1970s, said Tom Wong, executive director and chief medical officer of public health, during testimony before the committee on Thursday.

Health Canada official says it may not be widespread issue

MP Ouellette said the RCMP needed to look into the contemporary cases.

« That sounds pretty criminal to me. The police force needs to find out what actually occurred, » Ouellette said. « For me, it’s important … that we use the appropriate instruments of the state to make sure that this doesn’t occurred again but we give justice to those who suffered and are still alive today. »

Alisa Lombard of Maurice Law is representing at least 60 women in the lawsuit. Each woman is claiming about $7 million in damages. (Submitted by Alisa Lombard)

Abby Hoffman, assistant deputy minister for Health Canada, said a federal, provincial and territorial task force is being created to study the issue. Hoffman said the first meeting is scheduled for some time in March.

Hoffman told the committee that, at first blush, the data does not seem to show that coerced sterilization is a widespread issue in contemporary Canada, but it may need deeper analysis.

« I can’t say any examination would have suggested from the data that there are anomalies, » Hoffman said. « I am not certain at this point that one would see a pattern in Saskatchewan. »

The Saskatoon Health Region apologized in 2017 for the past coerced sterilization of Indigenous women following an independent report. The report, based on anecdotal evidence, said that Indigenous women felt coerced by doctors, nurses and social workers to undergo sterilization.

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Women led Alberta’s economic recovery in 2018

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Female employment in Alberta is rapidly rising, as are average earnings. Today, more Alberta women in their prime working years are participating in the labour market than ever before.

In our fast-approaching election, the economy and jobs will be central issues.

Is our economy strong, or is it weak? Is the recession ongoing, or is recovery underway? Simple questions, but the answers are complex.

Overall, the economy is indeed growing and the recession is over. But not everyone experiences recovery in the same way. 

There are deep pockets of pain for some, but areas of genuine strength for others. And there’s perhaps no greater strength in Alberta’s recovery today than recent employment gains among women.

In short, Alberta women led the recovery through 2018.

That’s worth celebrating.

Gains by gender

Every month, thousands of Albertans start a new job while thousands of others lose one. There’s a constant churn of flows in and out. But by the end of 2018, over 21,000 more Albertans had jobs than one year earlier. 

For the economy as a whole, this isn’t a large gain — and it was barely above what was necessary to keep pace with population growth.

But when you split the gains by gender, the data tells a whole other story.

As I show below, roughly 23,000 more women were employed at the end of 2018 than were employed one year earlier. This more than accounts for the province’s total employment gain.

The gains for women in their prime working years, 25 to 54, were especially strong.

During the recession, we saw the share of women aged 25 to 54 with jobs fall from just over 77 per cent to a low of 75 per cent. 

But today, nearly 80 per cent of women in that group are employed — a significant increase. One has to go back to the 1990s to find an improvement in employment rates this large or this rapid.

To be clear, the economy is not a zero-sum game. Gains to one set of workers do not imply losses to another.

During the recession, job losses for men were larger than those for women, as oil and gas, construction, and so on, are male-dominated sectors. Now, during the recovery, gains elsewhere in the economy, in other sectors, are disproportionately benefiting women.

Where are the jobs?

These are broad-based gains that reflect a genuinely strong labour market. Employment in health and social services is up significantly, with nearly 23,000 more women employed there than one year ago.

But the majority of these are private-sector jobs or self-employed women operating their own businesses.

Female employment is up by 9,000 last year in business support services. Manufacturing and transport/warehousing are each employing nearly 6,000 more women than one year ago. In professional and scientific services, the number is up 3,500.

Overall, more than 90 per cent of the gains were in the private sector.

Earnings are up too. 

In 2018, the average weekly earnings for women were nearly $38 higher than in 2017 and $52 higher than in 2016.

That means women made on average about $2,700 more in 2018 compared to 2016.

Actively looking

Given such strength, more women are joining the labour force and looking for work. Many, many more.

Roughly five in six women aged 25 to 54 either have a job or are actively looking for one. This is a larger share participating in the labour market than at any point in Alberta’s history.

This matters. A lot.

Not only because these gains for women represent roughly 40,000 more individuals now searching for jobs, gaining employment, and earning income as a result, but also because it’s an important positive development in the provincial economy as a whole — and one you may not have heard of before.

It should change the way we see the recovery.

Though weak for some, the recovery is indeed strong for many others.

It’s also important because it reveals why one common indicator of recovery — the unemployment rate — shouldn’t be taken at face value.

In December, 5.8 per cent of Alberta’s prime-aged women were unemployed — barely lower than the 6.2 per cent one year earlier. But, and however counterintuitive this may sound, that isn’t a sign of weakness, and it is consistent with the strong gains displayed above.

We only count those who are looking for work as unemployed.

If more people join the labour force and begin looking, the unemployment rate naturally goes up. But that’s a good thing. I estimate that, had the participation rate for Alberta women aged 25 to 54 remained unchanged, their unemployment rate today would have been closer to an impressive 3.5 per cent — better than before the recession.

What this means for Alberta

None of this is to say Alberta’s economic situation is rosy, or that all women are seeing an improved labour market. 

The gains are larger in Edmonton than in Calgary, for example, and are exclusively among those with more than a high school diploma. Employment is down for both men and women among those with only high school education or less.

And young workers face the largest challenges.

Last March, I highlighted their difficult situation, and it hasn’t yet improved. Today, if the recession never happened, roughly 40,000 more Albertans would have a job. Young workers ages 15 to 24 account for three quarters of this.

These challenges deserve attention, of course. If we’re to have any hope of addressing them, we must understand where they are. But Alberta’s large and complex economy is not uniformly strong or weak.

It’s neither. It’s both.

Despite real challenges, there is much going well. For Alberta women in particular, recent gains are very real and worth celebrating.


This column is an opinion. For more information about our commentary section, please read this editor’s blog and our FAQ.


Calgary: The Road Ahead is CBC Calgary’s special focus on our city as it passes through the crucible of the downturn: the challenges we face, and the possible solutions as we explore what kind of Calgary we want to create. Have an idea? Email us at calgarytheroadahead@cbc.ca

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Many pregnant women don’t think cannabis is harmful, UBC study finds

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A new report by researchers at the University of British Columbia has found that up to one-third of pregnant women believe it is safe to ingest cannabis during pregnancy.

The study, published in the journal Preventive Medicine, pored over data from six U.S. studies and found that some women considered cannabis safe because their health-care provider hadn’t communicated to them that it wasn’t.

Lead author Hamideh Bayrampour, assistant professor in the UBC department of family practice, said the study is important for public health officials to understand perceptions of cannabis use, especially since the drug became legal in Canada.

« What we looked at was perception, not actual risk, » Bayrampour said. 

When women were asked about their perception of general harm associated with cannabis use, 70 per cent of both pregnant and non-pregnant cannabis users responded that they perceived slight or no risk of harm.

In one study, when asked if they believed cannabis is harmful to a baby during pregnancy, 30 per cent of pregnant women responded « no. » When women were asked to identify substances most likely to harm the baby during pregnancy, 70 per cent chose alcohol, 16 per cent chose tobacco, while only two per cent chose cannabis.

« One of our review findings revealed that some people don’t consider cannabis to be a drug, » said Bayrampour.

Treat morning sickness

« With this in mind, it’s especially important for health-care providers to ask specific questions about cannabis use during pregnancy and breast feeding to help spark a productive conversation about the potential health impacts. »

The research found pregnant cannabis users were more likely to be under 25, unemployed, single and African American. Anxiety and depression were also associated with cannabis use while pregnant.

« Based on what we found, their motivation for use was … they wanted to treat their morning sickness, » Bayrampour said.

Health Canada requires cannabis companies to have warning labels on all their products. (Canada.ca)

In an effort to get ahead of marijuana legalization in Canada last October, earlier in 2018 the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) warned pregnant and breastfeeding women that legal pot doesn’t mean safe pot.

The society says THC, the main psychoactive component of cannabis, crosses the placenta into fetal tissue and can also accumulate in breast milk — whether from vaping, smoking, or eating.

Potential effects, according to the SOGC include:

  • Pre-term labour.
  • Low birth weight.
  • Lower IQ scores.
  • Impulsivity and hyperactivity in childhood.

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Boozeless parties? Alberta women launch groups for sober fun

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Kira Dunlop says she can’t count the number of times she’s been called boring.

She stopped drinking this past year but still likes to have fun. That concept, of socializing while sober, seems strange to many, she says, and outright offensive to others.

« You have a hard day at work, you go out for a beer. You know, your girlfriend dumped you, your truck broke down, you go out for a beer, » Dunlop told the Calgary Eyeopener on Thursday. « If I came, either it was a total buzz kill or, alternatively, like I just felt super, super uncomfortable and I had to leave. »

Dunlop, 23, founded organized a group in November called the Calgary Boring Little Girls Club, a tongue-in-cheek name. It’s dedicated to running events for young people who want to have fun without drinking, from skating to enjoying live music.

Kira Dunlop founded Calgary Boring Little Girls Club, a tongue-in-cheek reference to people who’ve called her boring for not drinking. (Kira Dunlop)

There is a similar group in Edmonton, Sober Saturdayz, that puts on bar events with nonalcoholic beverages.

The founders of both groups say they tried to curtail their own drinking, after seeing the negative impacts of it, but found their social lives disappeared. Dating, as well, became difficult for Sober Saturdayz founder Katie Degen, 26.

« People don’t know where to take you or how to talk to you. Suddenly it gets really awkward just because you’re sober, » she said. « Especially like at this age they’re like, ‘well, what do you do then?' »

‘Free-for-all’ drinking

In Canada, 78 per cent of people over the age of 15 drank sometimes in 2017, according to the Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey, a figure that’s remained steady in recent years.

Young people aged 20 to 24 show signs of riskier alcohol use, the annual survey consistently finds. Twenty-nine per cent of that age group exceeded the amount of drinking required to be considered chronic risk. According to the guidelines, chronic risk means drinking up to 10 drink a week for women and 15 for men.

The positive response to the events has been overwhelming and unexpected, Degen said. She’s heard from people of all ages who love the bar scene but not the drinks.

« No one teaches you how to drink. They tell you you can’t drink until you’re legal and then all of a sudden is a free-for-all, » she said. « Until it’s a problem — and then suddenly you’re supposed to be embarrassed about it. »

The two groups are teaming up for a joint event. Each city will host Love Fest, a night of live music with complimentary hair and makeup, plus non-alcoholic cocktails and treats. Calgary’s event is on Feb. 9 and Edmonton’s is on Feb. 23.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

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Has #MeToo sparked an era of women falsely accusing men? No, and that’s why we still take elevators

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What is the future of #MeToo?

If you want to stop reading right there, I won’t blame you. It is hard to find another recent story that has garnered so many words, such debate, angst and politicking. I apologize for adding more.

But when asked by the Toronto Star to write a companion #MeToo column, the temptation was too great. Full disclosure: the Star’s Vinay Menon, who wrote the other column, is a good friend of mine. We once had a lively debate about Jordan Peterson. We agreed to disagree.

Thing is, this just doesn’t seem, as Vinay opines, #MoreComplicated.

There is a familiar pattern to how both men and women warn about the dangerous fallout of #MeToo. The columns usually start with a couple caveats: Of course this movement was needed to give voice to sexual abuse victims; Harvey Weinstein was obviously a predator, and, thank heavens, he has been stopped.

Good. Now, let’s move on to the “buts.”

But … what about men who say they now have to worry about being on elevators with women?

Read more:

Opinion | Vinay Menon: #MeToo won’t last if it isn’t fair

That was the breaking news this summer in a flurry of gender-Armageddon articles. These men are “genuinely worried,” according to a National Post story, that a woman could “ride the elevator with you for 20 seconds or so, then accuse you on Twitter the next day of groping them.”

Gentlemen, the fear is real. Just yesterday, one of my editors gave me a Tim Hortons with cream and sugar. I asked for milk. What a rapist. I took to social media to denounce that caffeine pervert, saying he grabbed my breast. #DoubleDoubleDick.

I’m kidding, obviously. I don’t drink Tim Hortons.

But the idea that #MeToo has ushered in a terrifying new era of women falsely accusing men of sexual abuse, is based on the underlying principle that women belong to a hysterical, vindictive tribe, hell bent on destroying lives, while a chorus of sisters belt out “You go, girl!” That just hasn’t happened.

Which brings us to Aziz Ansari, who was skewered in a controversial 3,000-word online column penned by an unidentified 23-year-old who characterized their date as “the worst night of my life.” As Vinay writes, the piece “did not dovetail with the spirit and exhaustive reportage of so many 2017 investigations.” Exactly. This is why it was published on babe.net, not the New York Times or the New Yorker, whose brilliant journalism was the kindle for the #MeToo fire.

Was Aziz Ansari ruined? I’m sure he is happy to see 2018 behind him, but he recently announced a 28-show North American theatre run. In February, he will headline Vancouver’s Just For Laughs.

Closer to home, Vinay raises the case of TVO’s Steve Paikin, accused by former Toronto mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson of sexually propositioning her over a lunch meeting. I know Steve through journalism circles. The allegations were hard to believe and when I saw him at an event, I gave him a hug. It was evident just how difficult the experience had been.

But Steve was cleared by an independent investigation, is back hosting the show he loves, and it is Thomson’s reputation that took a hit.

In defending himself, Steve wrote: “the #MeToo movement is too important to be undermined by spurious allegations.” He’s right and that is exactly why a handful of false allegations should not derail the movement, throwing us back into the dark after we’ve seen the light.

#MeToo didn’t invent false accusations, and it certainly is not the first time that the court of public opinion has acted as judge, jury and executioner. For women, especially those with public careers, ignoring spurious attacks on their character has just become part of the job. Take a swim in the cesspool of social media and risk being pulled under by the riptides of ignorance.

When I was reporting at the Toronto Star, readers who disagreed with my articles (which were about terrorism, not feminism) would regularly denounce me with sexual or demeaning comments, allege conspiracies on my “fake news” reporting, and a precious few even said they hoped I would get raped or killed on my next foreign assignment.

This wasn’t abuse by men, but by dangerous misogynists, who are hopefully among those now most bothered by #MeToo.

But looking back over this year, it was the Supreme Court hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, and the ensuing #HimToo “movement,” which really embodied where we are today and why it is so important to not “exhale and poke holes” into #MeToo, as Vinay suggests, but to push forward.

Like many women I know, I surprised myself by crying while listening to Christine Blasey Ford testify. It wasn’t so much her allegations — as devastating as they were — but the way she comported herself, her obvious discomfort, her deep respect for the proceedings, and most heart-breaking, her seeming need to please those gathered in that Capitol Hill room.

Contrast that with Kavanaugh’s disrespectful, feverish and bullying demeanour. Forget the allegations, his performance should have disqualified him to sit in the highest court of the land. If he were a woman, it may have.

Those hearings made all of us look inward and re-examine our past and present relationships. No one likes to be cornered, and, perhaps even subconsciously, to feel defensive about what we once believed was an acceptable norm.

Comedian Louis CK may not have said sorry in his apology letter, but he did say something that resonates for women: “When you have power over another person, asking them to look at your dick isn’t a question. It’s a predicament for them.”

Thankfully, just as there is not a vengeful tribe of women armed with false accusations, men are not rampantly whipping out their willies for show-and-don’t-tell. But he’s right, in the sense that women are often left to second-guess their actions: rebuff a boss’s advance, and wonder how it may affect your job or reputation; have a relationship, and face accusations of sleeping your way to the top.

But we haven’t stopped riding elevators.

For those anxious men, it is not the #MeToo movement that they need to question, but their own relationships with women.

If you’re still afraid guys, take the stairs please.

Michelle Shephard is a journalist, author and filmmaker and the Toronto Star’s former National Security Reporter. Follow her @shephardm.

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Missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls inquiry holds final hearings in Ottawa

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The national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls concludes its evidence gathering activities this week as final submissions from parties with standing will be heard in Ottawa.

Watch live here throughout each day.

The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls holds hearings in Ottawa December 10-14. 0:00

The inquiry granted official standing to approximately 100 parties, including persons or groups who demonstrated they had a substantial and direct interest in missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, as well others with expertise and perspectives deemed essential for the inquiry to fulfil its mandate.

On Monday, the inquiry is expected to hear from representatives of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, Quebec Native Women, Native Women’s Association of Canada, and Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada.

Later in the week Amnesty International Canada, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action and Partners Canada Without Poverty, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and other national and regional parties will address the commissioners.

The full schedule is available here.

Commissioners are expected to submit their final report to the federal government by April 30.

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