Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Latin flavour missing in the House

With Hispanic Canadians scattered across the country, it's been difficult to develop an organized political voice. Click here

Monday, December 1, 2008

A friend for Dylan

For many years now, guide dogs have been used to assist and protect people with certain disabilities.

These clever companions are highly trained and are most often seen alongside someone who is visually impaired.

But now, several new programs in Canada have begun training assistance dogs for a different purpose.

The 25th Hour's Ryan Hicks explains.

© Ryan Hicks/Carleton School of Journalism and Communication

Saturday, November 15, 2008


As the US economy verges on recession, Canadians can take some comfort in key numbers released by Statistics Canada this morning.

Ryan Hicks reports.

(From CJTV News, March 2008)

© Ryan Hicks/Carleton School of Journalism and Communication

New Voter

Understanding the electoral process can be difficult as it is.

But imagine if you are a newcomer to Canada or a new Canadian voting for the first time.

Ryan Hicks reports on how newcomers and new Canadian voters are learning about the electoral process.

© Ryan Hicks/Carleton School of Journalism and Communication

Friday, October 10, 2008

Recalling the recalls

OTTAWA -- Last November, Michel Dumont discovered that his five-year-old son Sterling had been chewing on recalled Thomas the Tank toys covered in paint that contained high levels of lead.

Dumont says the public simply does not remember the magnitude of the problem.

“The public has a short memory,” said the stay-at-home dad from his home in Thunder Bay. “The average Canadian working family doesn’t have enough time to sift through the recall list. It’s the size of a text book.”

Since the beginning of this year, Health Canada has recalled 84 children’s products, including 10 since the beginning of September. The issue of toy safety exploded at this time last year when major toy manufacturers, such as Mattel and Fisher-Price, issued voluntary recalls on Thomas the Tank Engines, Dora the Explorers, Barbies, and Big Big World 6-in-1 Bongo Bands – to name a few. At the time, the issue was top of mind across the country.

But since the election was called, the alarm bells have been silent.

“It was last year’s big story,” said Kathleen Cooper, a senior researcher with the Canadian Environmental Law Association. “I think people like to think that it’s been dealt with. And they want it to be dealt with.”

The Harper government introduced the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act last April. This bill would have given more power to Health Canada to pull unsafe products off store shelves and to levy steeper fines against manufacturers who do not comply with safety regulations.

Cooper thinks that this led Canadians to believe that the problem was solved.

“When the announcements come out that legislation is going to be reformed, as they did last winter, people who aren’t aware of the details of the legislative process might not necessarily realize that it was just an initial announcement and that there’s a lot of work to do before anything is changed. And all we had was an initial announcement,” said Cooper.

The legislation, which died when the election was called, “modernized product safety legislation up to a minimal point,” added Copper, and it was, “still fundamentally reactive.”

“It wouldn’t prevent toys with lead in them for example from being put on the shelf, it would only give them the power to get them off the shelf,” said Cooper.

Back in Thunder Bay, Dumont says he was scared when he realized his son was playing with toys containing high lead levels.

“When I found out there was lead paint in my son’s toys that he had been chewing since he was three years old, I just hit the roof. I know what lead does to growing brains. It lowers IQ points and lots of parents don’t know that or they’ve forgotten,” he said.

He immediately took Sterling to get his blood tested for excess lead levels. Sterling’s results came back normal.

“We dodged a bullet,” said Dumont, adding that he went through Sterling’s toy box, removing all the toys that were covered in paint that contained lead.

Lead in paint coating children’s toys has been the leading cause for issuing recall notices on children’s products. Of the 84 children’s products recalled in 2008, more than half contained high levels of lead.

Children and infants are most susceptible to the harmful effects of lead exposure because their brains are developing, making it easier for lead to be absorbed in the brain. Health Canada’s website said lead “can have harmful effects on the behaviour and development of children even at very low levels of exposure.”

Consumer safety has come up during the election campaign due to this summer’s contaminated meat crisis. However, most of the attention has surrounded Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz’s controversial jokes and off-colour comments about the crisis, which has claimed the lives of 18 people.

Bringing attention back to what was once the number one consumer safety issue in the minds of Canadians and the media is challenging right now says Cooper.

“It’s pretty hard to get attention from a public interest group’s perspective from the media in the midst of a campaign when you have five different leaders to hear from. It also hasn’t been in the news much,” she said.

Eighty per cent of toys sold in Canada come from China, where Cooper says manufacturing at the lowest cost is the bottom line and where there is little oversight into manufacturing processes.

Cooper says all non-essential use of lead should be banned. “The amount of evidence that we have to confirm that lead is a problem would fill a large ballroom, floor to ceiling. There’s no doubt at all and yet we still aren’t regulating it properly,” said Cooper, who has been fighting for stronger chemical regulations for over 23 years.

She said that whichever party forms the next government will have to prioritize the health of Canadians when dealing with product safety regulations.

Right now, “trade trumps health,” said Cooper. “The most significant problems are with cheap imports. We are not willing to regulate in the way that we need to.”

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"We don't offer that service"

On Friday, I left the Internews office around noon to go home for lunch. As I walked from our office to the main road, there was a group of six people standing around a man lying on the ground.

When I got to the scene, I asked if the man, whose name I later found out was Adrien, was OK. No response. One of the bystanders went up to the man and poked him a few times to see if he was sleeping. He wasn’t, he was unconscious. The crowd stood there. Some people walked away.

I tried to call 112, the Rwandan equivalent of 911. Even though 112 only applies to the police, I thought that if we could get them here, they could take him to the emergency room at the hospital, only five minutes away by car. 112 wasn’t working. I tried to get through ten times, no answer. I ran back to the office to tell our security guard. He said, “this happens all the time.” No big deal for him.

I ran back to the scene and a security guard from the neighbouring Novotel, one of the top hotels in Kigali, had come over. I asked him repeatedly to call someone to come and help Adrien. He must know someone to call in case of an emergency, he’s a security guard! Adrien then started to regain consciousness, saliva dripping from both sides of his mouth. Eventually he called his supervisor and then moved Adrien to the other side of the street where he thought there was more shade.

I told the security guard I would be right back. I went to the Novotel to get a bottle of water. When I went past the front desk, I got the attention of one of the female staff members who was checking in a guest. I told her there was a very sick man on the street beside the hotel who needed help and I asked if she could call someone to take him to the hospital. With no sense of urgency, as though it happens everyday, she said, “Yes, I will. Thank you.” Then, she went back to checking in her new guest.

When I went back to the scene, Adrien was sitting hunched over, back against a wall. I opened the water, handed it to him, and he drank the whole bottle in 3 gulps. Then, I asked the Novotel security guard where his supervisor was. He pointed to across the street, where I saw the supervisor watching everything transpire. The Novotel is located on the other side of the street, but raised about four metres above the road. I went over and shouted up to him, “can you call an ambulance or someone to take this man to the hospital?” “We don’t offer that service,” he replied.

So I went back to the office and got Valentin, one of our cameramen/editors. I explained everything to him and he came back with me to see what we could do. When we got back to Adrien I got Valentin to translate for me. He asked Adrien what happened and Adrien said that he fell and that he has a brain disorder. He said he has family in the area and that he was going to visit them, but he was so disoriented he had trouble explaining to us exactly where.

Then, a guy (I’m pretty sure he said he was in town from Uganda) came over and stopped to see what was going on. He said, “I help people like this all the time,” and gave him a 2000 RWF bill and went on his way.

Finally, I put my foot down and said, “We have to get this person transport to a hospital right now.” Adrien then told us that his hospital was in Kinamba (?), near the airport. At this point, he was sitting up more than before, still hunched a bit, but was able to hold himself up somewhat. A couple of minutes later, a moto driver came by and agreed to take him to the hospital for 1000 RWF. Probably not the safest modes of transportation of a sick person at the moment, but given the heat (one of the hottest days in the last two months), and the fact that, by that point, he could stand up, we decided to send him on his way.

To this day, I’m still astonished, and angered, by everything that transpired in those 45 minutes (and if you saw me at home right after this incident, my housemates would say I was “livid”). I just couldn’t get my head around it. I know that sometimes there are people that lie on the side of the road here because they are doing manual labour nearby and are taking a nap. And there are even some who might be faking sick to get money. But this was not the case and it was obvious. In a country where I’ve seen nothing but people helping people and people looking out for one another during my time here (something that Rwandans are known for), what made this situation different? Why didn’t any of the 20-30 that passed by in those 45 minutes (as well as during the time before I arrived) try to help Adrien?

That question then led me to think of all those times we hear in the news – all over the world -- of people turning their heads in the other direction when their fellow citizens are in distress. The problem is universal. What propels people to make the conscious decision to cover their eyes to the plight of their fellow citizens?

I don’t know, but maybe you do, so feel free to share you comments below.

Canadian journalists in Rwanda

Click here to listen

Canadian journalists from the Rwanda Initiative are in Rwanda teaching journalism and are filling the shortage of journalism educators. Take a listen to this radio documentary I did on the program, which aired on Rwanda's newest current affairs show,
Amakuru Y’Iwacu, on City Radio, one of the country's most popular radio stations.