Letters: 'Why not Silken Laumann’s strength and courage?'

Maclean's readers on Laumann’s secret, the safety of senior citizens and when boys will be girls

Photograph by Brian Howell

Abuse is not the child’s fault

Having grown up as a child in a very similar home situation as Silken Laumann (“Silken Laumann’s secret,” National, Jan. 27), I believe publishing her story was the right thing to do. One comment caught my attention: “I know I must have done something wrong, but I don’t know what.” As a child, this thought is with you and remains there through your adulthood, until you gradually realize the problems were not your fault. Any problems the release of her book may cause to her family relationships should prove trivial compared to Silken finally ridding herself of the demons she has carried in her head for so much of her life. I wish that I, and anyone else raised in similar circumstances, could be so lucky.

Terry Horne, Hamilton

As someone who had witnessed Laumann’s gloriously odds-defying medal performance at the Barcelona Olympics, I cannot hope to understand the compulsion that has led her to publish such a nihilistically self-lacerating memoir at this point in her life.

Zoltan Roman, Victoria

I am greatly disappointed with Maclean’s choice of wording for the cover of the Jan. 27 issue: “Silken Laumann’s shocking secret.” A decorated Olympic athlete comes forward with a painful recounting of abuse and struggle with mental illness—and the Maclean’s cover does not give the story the respect it deserves. Why not “Silken Laumann’s strength and courage”? We are slowly making progress in reducing the stigma of mental health issues. We need to applaud and honour every attempt to do this.

Sherry Garber, Thornhill, Ont.

Good point

The Ontario government handed out $100 grocery gift cards to select families who lost the contents of their fridge during a recent power outage in below-freezing temperatures (The Editorial, Jan. 20). If it was freezing outside, was it not possible to put the food in a container outside on a balcony to preserve the food? What has happened to common sense and resourcefulness? People complain about government, yet during a disaster or emergency they are too quick to expect the government to come to their aid, in every way, complaining all the while about too little coming too late! The populaces of Third World countries seem better able to cope with disasters.

Moira Greaven, Bowen Island, B.C.

Respect your elders

We are throwing everyone into our long-term-care (LTC) homes, grouped together, without any regard for their mental or physical health (“Old and dangerous,” Society, Jan. 27). Working at an LTC facility, we have residents striking one another or staff almost on a daily basis. No one is at the front end, assessing or triaging these people. It’s only after we have these residents for days, weeks or months that we find out they have serious conditions and need serious antipsychotics to settle them. In LTC, the nurses are not trained to deal with these illnesses. Our doctors come in once a week. We simply write down the symptoms and wait. Meantime, our cognitively ill residents strike out, push and verbally abuse others. The more violent and cognitively ill need specially trained nurses and care centres—not a nursing home.

A.H. Watson, Brantford, Ont.

I work in a mental health hospital with a unit that cares for people with advanced dementia and behavioural issues. It is very difficult to get people placed into long-term care, even if they have improved. Homes often are not adequately staffed or equipped to manage people with difficult behaviours. All homes need to be built with locked, specialized units for people with difficult behaviours, which may include aggression. Many people get stuck in hospitals, as the LTC homes are selective about who they accept and there are few homes who will take them.

Christina Seely, London, Ont.

Marijuana is used in seniors’ residences in Israel to help reduce incidences of violence in Alzheimer’s patients suffering from anxiety. Medicating with marijuana seems the safest and most viable option open to us in the future.

E.M. Schooff, Orangeville, Ont.

Is this the best Canada can do for our aged and deranged? House them in inadequately supervised, unsecured shared rooms? Few sleep quietly, or peacefully, in such places, and it is no wonder there are sexual and violent assaults, given this environment. The Conservatives have taken a strong position outlawing assisted suicide, a merciful choice for some, and yet have taken no position on the welfare and care of our most vulnerable citizens.

Allan Winks, Nanoose Bay, B.C.

Equality for all

You are right to see York University’s interpretation of Canadian human rights law as an opportunity to debate religious freedom and gender equality (The Editorial, Jan. 27). Our human rights laws were drafted to protect the core principle of the equality you so eloquently defend, particularly between men and women. We disagree, however, that human rights law is at odds with common-sense solutions. Indeed, the Canadian Human Rights Commission holds that an accommodation inconsistent with the purposes of human rights legislation should not be regarded as acceptable. The Canadian Human Rights Commission regularly dismisses complaints that it considers to have no merit—just as it dismissed a 2007 complaint against Maclean’s.

David Gollob, Director of Communications, Canadian Human Rights Commission, Ottawa

Many have argued that York’s decision is not a slippery slope to gender segregation. They’re right: We fell down that slope a long, long time ago. Witness Valley Park Middle School, where every Friday all students except Muslims are ejected from the cafeteria in the middle of the school day, and religious services commence with boys sitting up front, and girls entering through a back door and kneeling behind barricades. Menstruating girls are considered unclean and are forced into further segregation. This occurs during the school day in a taxpayer-funded public school. Is it any wonder this misogynist attitude has finally reached university?

Allen Shepherd, Toronto

Maximizing mom time

Scrapping or shortening maternity leave in Canada might be better for a mother’s career or finances (“Is maternity leave a bad idea?” Society, Jan. 27), but what about for the baby? Only about 25 per cent of Canadian mothers make it through six months of exclusive breastfeeding. Cutting maternity leave in Canada would make matters worse. In the United States, where there is no mandated paid maternity leave, the rate is a dismal 16 per cent. A lengthy maternity leave also provides mother and child with crucial bonding time. A strong attachment with its mother is key to a child’s sense of security, sense of self-esteem, and even its social and cognitive development. So what if a mother might be passed over for a promotion, or a lose out on a few thousand dollars over the course of her career. I think it’s a small price to pay to have a happy, healthy child—and to be there for those first steps.

Allana (Stuart) Giesbrecht, Ottawa

Who’s counting?

I am concerned about various trends that appear to be supported by many educators in math (“Something doesn’t add up,” National, Jan. 20). Together with many other professional mathematicians, I have no time for the “inquiry-based” math curricula mentioned in the article. I was astonished to learn from a university educator that the “broader global education movement” referred to in the article is in favour of “problem-solving,” but that their definition of the term does not include solving real problems. There is nothing wrong in memorizing important facts and concepts that form the basis of further progress. Many bright students, on whom the future of the country depends, are being shortchanged by not being sufficiently challenged.

John Nuttall, Parkhill, Ont.

If Canadian authorities disagree about how to remedy the decline in math skills, why not examine the policies and practices in Quebec? It leads all the provinces and, when ranked directly beside other countries, sits eighth in the world, immediately behind the seven East Asian countries that top the list.

Gil Ross, Canton de Hatley, Que.

If today’s math educators were put in charge of teaching speaking skills to infants, they would begin by sitting them in classrooms for detailed instruction on the history of language, sentence structure, grammar and the role language played in Canadian history. And when the children emerged confused and unable to speak in complete sentences, the educators and their supporters would conclude that the problem was inadequate funding.

Dale Dye, Bragg Creek, Alta.

Got it wrong, bro

The photo component of the Jan. 27 quiz features a quote from Don Everly, the elder of the truly great Everly Brothers (“I always thought I’d be the one to go first”), and then posts a picture of the late Phil Everly and labels it as “Don.” Their hypnotic harmonies were deliciously close and massively influential, but c’mon, they don’t look alike.

Peter Feniak, Toronto

In another life

They may be no better evidence of reincarnation than this: that young boys insist with such certainty that they are really girls (“Boys will be girls,” Society, Jan. 20). Why else would they refuse the obvious physical evidence that they have a male body? They are remembering a previous life. It is too bad that Western religions no longer teach reincarnation, because it would help our materialistic society by putting life into proper perspective. It would remind us that we have different lessons to learn in each lifetime. In this lifetime, these children have been incarnated as boys precisely so that that they can gain new life experiences as a boy and later as a man.

Brian Neal, Ottawa

I find it shameful that Maclean’s Jan. 20 issue has a cover photo of an 11-year-old child, who has struggled mightily with her issues, posed with a bare shoulder and a sultry gaze. This story is about gender, not sexuality. This photo is not only exploitive and ill-considered, it conveys a meaning far beyond the age and experience of the subject.

Judy Langford, Victoria

The Harvey legacy

We read with great interest your article on Ivan Babikov’s return to his homeland as a member of the Canadian Olympic cross-country ski team (“Making up for lost time,” Society, Jan. 27). You mentioned that Ivan would be joined on the team by Pierre Harvey. Although Harvey, who retired in 1988, remains an inspiring leader and has represented Canada at the Olympics, it is his son, Alex, who will represent Canada in 2014. Alex is a medal contender at Sochi after several recent World Cup podium finishes. We will be cheering loudly for Alex, Ivan and the rest of the Canadian cross-country ski team at the Olympics. We hope they will draw on the inspiration of Pierre Harvey in their quest for gold!

Tyler, Luke and Claire Allan, Ottawa